Gut reno

Ah, nothing like digging into a full-scale internal renovation project. Not of an apartment, mind you: I’m overhauling my laptop.

Note that I am not particularly technical when it comes to computers. Despite 15 years on the Internet, I am not far above average when it comes to opening boxes, deciphering configuration ambiguities, or otherwise maintaining a machine.

So it was with more than a little hubris that I went to the hardware store, bought two sets of screwdrivers, and went to work on my 2004 Mac G4 Powerbook.

First up: a new hard drive. Ten days ago, our factory installed 40GB drive stopped working. A top-notch visit by Amy to the Apple Soho Genius Bar gave our drive a 72-hour stay of execution, and I was able to back up nearly all our data before it failed completely.

A replacement drive came in the mail Thursday, and armed with my new screwdrivers and a shiny new Seagate Momentus 5400.3 80GB HD, I spent my Saturday night—and a good portion of Sunday—on the install (instructions with photos here). I managed to perform the install without any issue, until I tried starting up the computer off my original CD-ROMs and ran into a kernel panic, which I managed to troubleshoot and resolve (I tell ya, I’m on a serious roll). Once equipped with the proper OS installer, I discovered that in my laptop reassembly, I didn’t properly connect the trackpad, which led to another round of unscrewing and tinkering and nearly breaking the keyboard and the connecting pins before triumphantly resolving things.

With Humpty Dumpty back together again and Mac OS X 10.4 installed, step two (which is mid-process) is the data and application transfer. Imagine the unbridled joy that comes from moving, rearranging, and reinstalling dozens of programs, hundreds of folders and thousands of MP3s! So far I’ve lost the last three weeks of my email and a few registration codes, but I have capably pulled archives, preferences and bookmarks from old system to new. Once everything is installed, the backup data will be ported to a new Western Digital 250GB external hard drive in preparation for the next hard drive failure.

Step three will be a comparatively simple memory upgrade to boost processing capacity and performance. Our Powerbook has always felt a bit sluggish, due to both a lack of memory and a lack of hard drive capacity, and with increases in both HD space and RAM, I hope to create a noticeable boost. Upgrading memory in a G4 Powerbook is relatively simple, so that will be a home install as well.

When all is said and done, I will have gone from a laptop with 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, and 80GB of external storage to one with 768MB of RAM, 80GB internal and 250GB external. Total cost: just over $300 plus my time (which, with the missus away on business, wasn’t all that precious). Compared with Apple’s $330 starting fee just to replace my dead hard drive, that’s a bargain. And it will give our computer a few more years of usefulness before needing a replacement.

Just wait’ll we buy our next home and I tackle the electrical system.