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ATPM 13.04
April 2007





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Mac About Town

by Mike Chamberlain,

Who’s Got Your Back?

Shh! Don’t tell the PC people, but the truth is that sometimes our “designed in Cupertino” but “assembled in China” Macs have…how shall we put it? Problems. I had intended to say that thankfully these seem rather rare, but the truth is that depending on the model of Mac that you own, repair experience can be surprisingly high. A quick look at MacBook and MacBook Pro reliability statistics over at MacInTouch, for instance, reveals some surprisingly high percentages for laptop repairs. As you might imagine, user comments and experiences range from the sublime to the terminally aggravating. Will it not ever be so?

I’m writing this month’s column on my “newly returned from AppleCare” MacBook Pro. I am, thankfully, one of the happy campers.

About a week ago, I began to notice some quirks with my left mouse button. When I began to experience the same problem with the trackpad button, I called Apple support and was led through the standard series of resets and restarts. One new tactic (to me, anyway) was to remove the battery and hold the power button down for 10 seconds. Evidently, this resets something at a deep level, and I will now add it to my list of button-pushing, chicken-waving, incantation-chanting approaches to life’s digital glitches. In any event, the solution worked only temporarily, and before the weekend ended I was back on the phone with tech support. We went through the same drill with the tech finally pronouncing that I had “a hardware problem.”

The response to my problem was excellent and would have been available to me even if I did not have AppleCare since my MacBook Pro is less than six months old. I was issued a case number and an empty box was dispatched so that I could return my MacBook Pro for service. The box arrived the next morning, and I packed my Mac and had my secretary call Airborne Express. By 10:30 the box was on its way.

As a side note, the tech asked me if I had my data backed up. I had to smile smugly, as I have been faithful to the resolution that I made in my January column to back up more regularly. My entire drive was backed up one day before with SuperDuper! (hat tip again to Richard Albury). As far as I was concerned, tech support could feed my drive to the wolves. I was golden.

The following day I received an e-mail that my computer had arrived and was being repaired. When I checked the enclosed link, I discovered that the repair was already complete and the computer was waiting for shipping back to me. This morning at 9 AM it was delivered. Total elapsed time from dispatch to return: 42.5 hours. The diagnosis: a failed top-case assembly, which was replaced (parts: $230). It’s worth noting that had I been outside the warranty period and not had AppleCare, the repair total would have easily been more than the $349 AppleCare price tag.

I’m not sure about you, but I can put up with a lot when responsive service is available. People on my staff who have to deal with Dell, Sony, Toshiba, or Best Buy were stunned at the turnaround on my computer (and thankful as well since I can get cranky without it). I was just thankful that it was Apple that had my back.

So what experiences have you had? Have they made you more, or less, likely to point a friend to a Mac? Feel free to share the thrill (or the pain) with your postings.

See you around town.

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Reader Comments (6)

Chris Dudar (ATPM Staff) · April 2, 2007 - 10:48 EST #1
I used to have a Quad G5 Power Mac (you know, the generation with 9 fans and a liquid cooling system ABOVE the power supply...[!]). I didn't have it a week before I hear a slight ticking inside under heavy CPU load. I brought the +50 lbs beast into the not-so-local Apple store, and had to leave it there for a few days. On picking it up I discovered they replaced the entire processor core/radiator assembly, as it ONLY came as a single unit. Price tag? $1600 parts alone... I quickly got Applecare, and then nearly a year later sold it for a MacPro (you know, the kind without the liquid cooling system... :).
DBL · April 2, 2007 - 13:46 EST #2
Why does China get a bad rap? Believe me, having something manufactured in California is no guarantee of reliability. Sometimes, just the opposite.
Mike Chamberlain (ATPM Staff) · April 2, 2007 - 15:21 EST #3
No offense intended. I was just quoting Apple's own distinction regarding design and manufacture. Since the problem could be design just as well as assembly, either one of them could be at fault. Or perhaps I was just on the wrong end of the reliability bell curve.
Jeff Chapman · April 2, 2007 - 16:58 EST #4
I bought my first Mac in October 2004, an iMac G5 "Rev A" (the first of its kind). About a year and a half later, it stopped sleeping at night - would turn itself off instead. So, I configured it not to sleep and instead just black out the screen.

Fast-forward another year (it's now almost 3 years old and nearing the end of the 3 year warranty I paid the extra bucks for). After a neighborhood power failure, it failed to restart. It took a bit of coaxing but I finally managed to bring it back to life. Another few months later and it happened again - another power failure - but this time, the iMac was dead.

I followed Apple's support page instructions and determined it was the logic board (motherboard). I brought it to the local Apple store and within a week got it back good as new. They replaced the logic board, the CD/DVD burner and the power supply. Total cost I *would've* paid was almost a thousand dollars! I could've bought a new computer for that much! Man, I'm glad I had that extended warranty!

One thing though, does this mean I can only count on my iMac lasting another 2.5 years??? I'm a little worried.
Michael Dingerson · April 8, 2007 - 12:26 EST #5
This PowerBook G4 has been sent to Apple twice for repairs: First for the screen problem that plagued this model during it's early production run, and seecond for a misbehaving AirPort antenna. Both were similar to Mr. Chamberlains description--after a brief and fairly painless support/voodoo session with a tech on the phone, the laptop was shipped in and returned to me in less than 48 hours, fixed. I purchased this Mac after a failure on the previous iBook would have require repairs that I thought were greater in cost than the value of the computer. This time I bought the AppleCare warranty, and I'm very glad I did. Although I cannot give Apple a perfect score for the manufacture of their products, when combined with the AppleCare warranty, they remain the best computer experiece I've encountered either personally, within the network of people for whom I am tech support, or at the tech businesses I am a part of.
Angus Wong · April 12, 2007 - 23:21 EST #6
Whereas the iPod can be considered "mass market", the Mac has yet to get there. I'm curious what the RMA rate is for iPods now that Apple's had a few years of market leadership under its belt. I think we all remember some of the problems in the "early days" (my, how fast time flies for us tech watchers; if only our biology wasn't inverse to Moore's Law ;-)

Right now Apple is probably doing a fine balancing act between addressing demand and not overspending on production. Until Macs are shipping like how Dells used to be, we might still be in for short-term hiccups. Personally I've actually never had any hardware problems with any Apple product. Note that I've had quite a few Macs over the years. So either the reports and blogs that complain about Mac stuff being faulty are overblown, or I am either lucky, or clueless!

I was really worried about dead pixels on my recent MacBook Pro, but thankfully didn't have any, and I have carefully checked. Even my iBook G4 batteries are OK (the same ones that were recalled) and I haven't even had time to get them replaced.

Don't think for a second that I am not going to rant about any Apple product I buy that gives me any hassle. But fortunately, so far, that has not been my experience.

(Just to give some color on the other side of the story, I know this guy who had his iMac motherboard replaced twice by AppleCare and he is not a happy camper. He said he think Apple just gives him a refurb motherboard whenever there are issues, and he said the replacement then gives him new sets of issues even when the old ones are resolved. He even said this experience is making him think twice about buying Apple again. He did not clarify if that meant he will get a HP computer next time around although I highly doubt that will happen.)


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