Update on the 12″ Powerbook Review; Altitude Problems?

OSNews featured two reviews of the new 12″ Powerbook from Apple last month. Using a machine and more fairly evaluating it, is a continuous process, so when new facts emerge, we should be reporting them back. So, what I discovered this weekend is that my 12″ Powerbook doesn’t like… the mountains. Read on, it is an interesting issue. Update: The issue is now logged at Apple’s tech support db.So, we spent this weekend at the mountains, in the Tahoe City (in the borders of California and Nevada). The city is at 1900 meters high from the sea level. In the two days we spent there, my Powerbook would work fine for the first 15 minutes and after the hard drive would start becoming warm (not even hot just yet), a very abrupt and clear sound would come out of it: “clong, clong”. Needless to say that I panicked and got pretty angry, thinking that my drive is near a death toll, after only a few weeks of owning this laptop (a value of about 2000 USD).

I restarted the machine several times “just in case” of bad hdd initialization, I used the disk utility to fix any problems that might have happened, but to not avail. The drive would do that “clong, clong” all the time (followed by restarting of the hdd fan, everytime!!), and the funny part is that as much hotter the drive would become, the more frequent the head of the disk would do this noisy sound. In the beginning you would get these every 20 seconds, but as the drive gets hotter they happen every 5-6 seconds! And needless to say that for the 2 seconds that this “clong, clong” sound would happen, OSX would freeze (this is pretty normal behavior actually, as the drive was doing stuff in the low level, so the OS has to wait for these actions to get completed).

Last night we came back to the Bay Area, and the problem has completely disappeared. The Powerbook now works just fine, as it did before we left for Tahoe. The only thing I can think of as an answer to the problem is the altitude in Tahoe City. Up there, there is less oxygen and the air pressure is much lower (25% less), so devices can have hard time to operate properly. In fact, for the first time since I received the Powerbook, I heard the CPU fan turn on, only after an hour of using the machine, and while the room temperature in the hotel was normal.

I searched for the specifications of the Fujitsu 40 GB drive (Model: FUJITSU MHS2040AT D, Revision: 8105 ) that comes with the Powerbook and found that Fujitsu claims that the drive can go up to 3000 meters altitude. Well, obviously, they should test it more thoroughly, or give me a refund or a free replace, as this drive doesn’t work according to the specs (or at least, so it seems).

Please note that the 12″ Powerbook comes with either a Toshiba drive or a Fujitsu drive, depends what the Apple manufacturer in Taiwan has in stock. Other customers will find in their “Apple System Profiler” application that they have the Fujitsu drive, and others that they have a Toshiba one. Right now, I wish I had that Toshiba one as I am planning to go to mainland Greece and spend some time with my family there in the mountains, and I like to have the laptop with me…

Please note:
1. The mountain pressure is not the same as inside the airplane, where there is more “artificial” pressure than outside the plane.
2. Don’t start to worry about your iBook/Powerbook, unless you have a Fujitsu drive (and even then, you shouldn’t be too worried). I got reports that at least the Toshiba drive found on some 15″ Powerbooks works fine even at 4000 meters.

Also, in my previous review, I mentioned about the poor LCD quality, same as the iBook’s, and many people replied “it’s good enough” and “I don’t see a difference”. I was able to verify with the several laptops they had on display in Palo Alto’s Apple Store, that the 12″ Powerbook LCD quality (contrast, viewing angle, “refresh” speed etc) does not hold a candle to the superb 15″ Powerbook LCD quality. The 20″ Cinema Display is impressive as well. I am not too unhappy about this LCD anymore (at least not as much anymore), as by using this great utility, really saved the day (didn’t fix the problem in its root of course, but it made the overall experience more bearable).


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