I haven't posted about my Mac experiences in quite a while, mostly because there's very little that's new to report. I've been using Macs and PCs together for about a year and a half now with no real complaints. The reason for this "Macdate" however is because of a new experience involving Vinney's iMac G5.

Around the release of the first iMac G5s Vinney picked one up to replace her aging desktop. She adjusted to the OS without a hitch and began using it as her main computer, alongside her Thinkpad notebook. As with all iMacs her machine carried a 1-year warranty, which happened to expire in December of 2005. And of course in February of 2006, her iMac started having some problems.

She'd get random hard locks on the machine, regardless of what she was doing. They were relatively isolated at first so I just thought it might have been a software issue, but when they started to become more frequent then I began to wonder if it was indeed a hardware problem. I tossed in the Apple Hardware Test disc that came with the machine and booted off of it. Apple's Hardware Test is a basic diagnostic program that's included with all Apple hardware and it'll do a reasonable job of telling you whether or not you've got a hardware error. Unfortunately in the case of Vinney's iMac, the test gave me a SATA error - which I took to mean that either her drive was dying or, far more likely, that there was a problem with the on-board SATA controller.

The first thing I tried was swapping out the SATA drive; since I tend to have a decent amount of spare hardware, this wasn't hard to do ;) With a new hard drive in the machine I gave Apple's Hardware Test another try and unfortunately I still got the same SATA error. I inspected the motherboard for blown or leaky capacitors, which was a problem on some of the earlier iMac G5s but the board looked clean with no bulging caps. And although I do have a lot of spare hardware, that doesn't include an iMac G5 motherboard, so it was off to the Apple store.

Inside every Apple Store is a Genius Bar, it's something I've seen every time I've gone in and something I've always heard of but never something I've ever interacted with. I walked in with Vinney's iMac and immediately I was greeted by some Apple folks asking me what I needed. I told them I needed a repair and one guy kindly took the iMac G5 while another took me over to one of the Macs at the store to make an appointment at the Genius Bar.

I didn't know that you needed an appointment to see someone at the Genius Bar, but you can make one from any of the machines in the store. Just click on the little Concierge button on any desktop and you can input your name and whether you'd like help with an iPod or Mac problem. In this particular store, the list of people waiting to speak to a "genius" is displayed on a LCD screen above the Genius Bar itself. It's a nice little system that makes you feel like they are actually helping people rather than sticking your name at the end of some list you never see.

The concept of the Genius Bar is quite interesting - if you've got a problem with your Mac or iPod, you schedule an appointment either at the store or online and you can talk to someone about it in person, free of charge. If it's something that needs to be repaired, they will repair it for you (and if you're covered under warranty then there's no charge), or if it's just teaching you how to do something then they will also do that. The latter part is particularly interesting to me because it's so much easier to tell someone to go talk to one of the "geniuses" at the Genius Bar when they have a computer problem rather than being the tech support to everyone you know. And since they only work on Apple hardware, their consultation at least is free. From what I could tell, if it's a software question you don't actually have to bring in your computer as they will show you how to do things on a machine that they've got setup at the bar.

I grabbed a seat at the Genius Bar and quietly waited for my turn in line. There were only a few people ahead of me in line, one lady had some keys broken off her PowerBook, another lady was trying to reproduce a system crash on her son's notebook and the person directly ahead of me in the queue had a software question about getting images off of his CF card and into iPhoto. In every case the "genius" helping the customers was very kind and courteous and did a reasonable job, my only complaint here is that there was inevitably some subtle Mac zealotry shining through. I'd hear comments about how doing something would "blow up" your computer if you had a PC or how the Intel iMacs aren't actually lower power than the iMac G5s. It was frustrating but I'm sure you hear the same kind of stuff on the other side about Macs so no one's perfect :)

Eventually it became my turn, I explained to the genius (yes, his shirt actually said genius on it) what the problem was and what I thought was the culprit. Mentioning that I had already run the Apple Hardware Test appeared to speed things up; he took the machine in the back, confirmed that it has problems and then told me that since it was out of warranty that I'd have to order a new logic board. The problem with authorized Apple repairs is that they don't just replace one component, in this case they'd replace the entire motherboard - including the costly G5 CPU. The price? Around $800 - not to mention that you can buy a brand new iMac for a few hundred more.

Luckily the genius I was working with was quite nice and tried to get the repair covered under warranty, since there were motherboard issues on this particular line of iMacs. The clause that would get my machine covered was intended to be for bad capacitors, but the guy got Vinney's system covered anyways despite the fact that I mentioned the caps didn't seem to be the problem.

If I couldn't get it done under warranty, the genius did recommend going to a 3rd party repair center simply because the cost of this particular repair is admittedly ridiculous.

I have heard quite a few negative things about the first model of a lot of Apple hardware, which is honestly a bit surprising to me since this stuff isn't manufactured by Apple. I know ASUS makes a lot of their machines (mostly notebooks) but so does Quanta, and I don't know in particular who's responsible for the iMac G5s. ASUS generally makes some quality stuff, which is why I'd be very surprised if the problem was because of them.

The high cost of out-of-warranty repairs aside, I was fairly impressed with the Genius Bar experience. While I personally prefer to handle this stuff myself, it is great for those who aren't as interested or experienced with computer repairs and troubleshooting. The Genius Bar is even better for you if you find yourself providing tech support for every person you know. Just tell them to get a Mac and send them to the Genius Bar for any questions, it's as easy as that :)
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  • kristof007 - Tuesday, March 7, 2006 - link

    I visited the genius bar a year or so back. They actually did teach me that in short I was short circuting my IPod but that's besides the point. My iPod (to this day) shows up in my computer and not in iTunes. They gave me the low down on what to do but nothing helped. I COULD bring in my computer (super tower so it's bit hefty) but I've got other computers in the house so I just put the music on a thumbstick and drag it onto my connected iPod.

    Also I am getting a new laptop for college soon so hopefully that will work well with my iPod!
    Reply
  • e4te - Friday, March 3, 2006 - link

    I had to make a visit to the genius bar last week too. My iPod had failed several times and I was still under warranty so I figured I would just be able to switch it out. I didn’t know about the genius bar so I didn’t make an appointment. After being told by a really passive aggressive employee that they couldn’t see anyone without an appointment all that day, I just had to leave. Coming back with an appointment the next day wasn’t bad at all though, and I had a new iPod in about five minutes. It was just frustrating to be completely turned away from the store initially. Reply
  • michael2k - Friday, March 3, 2006 - link

    I think the idea isn't to turn you away; it's to make sure you aren't stuck at the store waiting for three hours (like Anand).

    Make the appointment, figure out when to drop by, and drop by later.

    Unless you would rather wait several hours?
    Reply
  • michael2k - Friday, March 3, 2006 - link

    Oops, not three hours; but still, my point still stands, the appointment is a queue management system to try to prevent you from waiting several hours if there is a crowd. Reply
  • Runiteshark - Monday, February 27, 2006 - link

    Wtf? I thought Macs never locked up or had any problems.

    Actually, I have one of my own stories to contribute.

    I wanted a Mac case to mod, and I asked around how much they costed. It was a nice $800 figure, the same one you got. This is wierd, but it seems that all of their crap is a nice $800 bucks.
    Reply
  • xype - Thursday, March 2, 2006 - link

    It's their way of saying "Ever tried eBay?" Reply
  • LanceVance - Friday, February 24, 2006 - link

    You must have really liked the term "genius". You kept quoting it in quotes. Reply
  • overclockingoodness - Saturday, February 25, 2006 - link

    LOL, sounds like he was mocking on Apple's terminology. :) Reply
  • michael2k - Monday, February 27, 2006 - link

    Except that he likes it enough to recommend people using it as a non-self tech support.

    I wouldn't call it mocking... amused probably.
    Reply
  • nordicpc - Friday, February 24, 2006 - link

    So when I was in San Fransisco for the G70 launch, I decided to get my iPod looked at. I had some issues with songs that wouldn't play, and I could hear the hard drive grinding it's gears while trying to access them. I figured it would be a fairly quick thing to run in, move my audio over to a new one, and get on the road. Unfortunately, I had not made an appointment and the SF Apple Store was pretty busy, so it was about a 2 hour wait to see someone. The guy I talked to was very nice, and fairly knowledgable. We went through all the standards, which I had done allready, and then he offered to give me a fresh iPod mini. That was pretty freakin cool. However, there was no way to move my music off onto the new one. I told him, give me about 5 minutes with a terminal, and I'll do it, but it was a no go. Needless to say, I was not about to fly back to NC without my music, so it didn't get fixed.

    The only regret I have about the process was the inability to keep my music and the very long wait. Other than that, it was pretty pleasant, and I learned a lot about Garageband, iPhoto, and iMovie in the process of waiting.
    Reply

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