Is your G4 iBook getting hot under the collar?

05ibook14_side

It’s a good question and one that as an iBook owner I can answer with a definite yes. The chances are we have the late Steve Jobs to thank, his reputation for sacrificing good cooling for aesthetics’ is well documented. Anyone who owned a Macintosh in the 80’s will be aware of the hazards of passive heating. Eventually something has to give and usually it’s a component, stressed from excessive heat. The G3 and G4 iBook both share a common hereditary illness, GPU failure. The situation began in 2003, when a group of G3 owners banded together to file a class action suit against Apple. Who would initiate an “iBook Logic Board Repair Extension Program “ the following year.

The G4 also suffers from a similar issue, however some models appear more prone to failing then others. It is generally held that the 1.3Ghz & 1.4Ghz models the more reliable of the G4 range with less reports of screen failures

Symptoms

Signs that your iBook may have a video problem are if the screen freezes or if touching the screen causing it to flicker or if when powering on the laptop, the screen remains blank, but still outputs video from the external video port.

If you experience any of these issues, chances are that your white G3 iBook has suffered a GPU failure. The G4 suffers a similar ailment, but this is due to the Intersil ISL 6225CA power controller chip, which over time looses connection to the logic board. g3 extreme
The only way to fix the G3 iBook is by sending the logic board away for a reball / reflow, tho there are some extreme home brew alternatives. These hacks attempt to warm the solder beneath the GPU, enough to reflow the ball grid array (BGA) that connects the chip to the board. I would only suggest this if you have no other alternative. Given the price of the G3 iBook, it is understandable why some people choose the cheaper DIY route.

Reballing involves removal of the GPU chip, so it can be re-seated with new solder. However this fix is not permanent as the cause for the gpu to fail will still be present.

This is down to a fabrication flaw and compounded by poor ventilation. The temperatures for the iBook’s fan to kick in are set to high to be of any use. The G4’s can be revived, if the Intersil chip has it’s pins retouched with a soldering iron. However mileage varies at to how long this fix lasts. One thing for certain is that both models of white iBook suffer with excess heat issues.

The G3 GPU uses a ball grid array similar to this to connect to the motherboard.

The G3 GPU uses a ball grid array similar to this to connect to the motherboard.

Using an program called G4fancontrol via the OS X console, reveals the settings are set at 56 for the Northbridge, 75 for the CPU, and 85 for GPU. These settings are very high, possibly to avoid the fan kicking except for rare occasions. While this does keep your lovely iBook nice and silent, it also has a detrimental effect on components, which are being baked every time you use your machine. After your turn the machine off, the components will cool, until the next time you use your laptop. Anyone with an elementary understanding of metals, will know that exposing metal to heat, causes it to expand and cold causes it to contract. So the continuous cycle of hot and cold eventually causes fractures in the solder which link certain chips to the logic board. The fractures might be microscopic to the naked eye but the gaps are wide enough to disrupt the iBook’s video display, resulting in no picture.

Prevention

So if your still reading, I’ll assume you either have a working iBook or your have a faulty one and your thinking about the road to recovery. If you have found someone to reflow your logic board and now your wanting to fend off the GPU failing again, then read on, it might just save your machine.

To address the heat problem the first thing you need to do is lower the preset fan settings. 85 degrees is way to high for your GPU, it really isn’t a surprise it fails. You need to drop this down somehow to 65 degrees at least, tho I would recommend 55. Luckily there are ways to tell your iBook to engage the internal fan earlier.

G4FanControl

This application was once freeware but the developer has since decided to ask people to pay for it. I’m running version 0.5 which was the last freeware version before it became commercial. Earlier version of G4FanControl can be found online, should you prefer not to pay. However I should suggest buying the software, at the very least your supporting the developer as well as getting the most up to date version of the applications, with all the bug fixes since the freeware version.

Coming as a Terminal program and OS X application, G4FanControl allows you real time control over the presets that tell your laptop when it should engage the fan. I would recommend setting all three sliders to 55, my iBook G4 1.33 settles at around 44-46 during normal use, which is running Word and listening to iTunes. Watching movies and playing games are area’s where the temperatures a likely to raise rapidly.

Depending on your version, you should have a tick box at the bottom of the screen, which says something like “Remember and set at boot”. This means G4FanControl will remember your settings for every time your computer boots. You need to tick this for your alteration to be permanent.

While I can’t guarantee this will permanently prevent your iBook from failing, it will most certainly reduce the level of stress the logic board is normally subjected to. One thing I do know for certain is that the factory shipped temperature settings are set way to high to be of any use. If you like playing games or watching movies on your iBook, you’ll be use to the left palm rest being rather warm, enough to cook an egg on it. If it’s too warm to rest your hand on, then it surely must be too warm for the computer as well. After installing G4FanControl and adjusting my fan settings, the left palm rest still got warm but nowhere near as bad a before.

If you have a working white, you couldn’t go wrong installing G4FanControl on your laptop. As proven by the Danish Consumer Complaints Board, the G4 has an inherent design flaw, so it’s not a question of whether yours will suffer it, more a question of when. So if your still rocking a G3/G4 iBook in 2014, my guess is you would like to make it to 2015 problem free.

For further reading, please check out the following links:

G4Fancontrol

News Article regarding the Danish investigation

Lab Report highlighting the fault with the G4 iBook

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