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#645: Mac Damage, Adjusting Your Trackpad, iChat Screen Real Estate, $599 MacBooks


Happy Tuesday,

After a week at Macworld making connections, sourcing parts, and attending meetings on every possible service-related topic, it’s great to be home. It’s always weird being away from the dogs. In the office, it seems one is always either at my feet, in my lap, or jumping on me; we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Small Dog service departments are seeing unusually high volume right now, but we’re keeping repair turnaround to an industry-leading five business days. I learned a lot while I was away, and have some great ideas to improve your experience with our repair team. From sourcing less expensive parts of equal or greater quality to better data recovery tools, there’s some great stuff in the pipeline.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  Damage and Your Mac  

We see a ton of damaged computers in the service department. It seems more common in our South Burlington tech room, as it’s right down the street from the University of Vermont and, well, it’s a college town. There are two primary types of physical damage: liquid spills and impact damage.

Liquid spills often mean the end of a machine’s useful life. If you spill anything in your computer, immediately turn it off by unplugging the MagSafe and removing the battery. Open it up and turn the machine upside down. Leave it alone. FOR A WEEK. If you bring your spill-damaged machine in for service, we will not begin testing for a week; this ensures that all the water has evaporated.

If you drop your computer, it’s safe to try turning it on in most cases. Depending on the impact, the machine will probably have obvious denting and perhaps even a shattered screen. I’ve seen quite a few dropped MacBooks come in with a dim screen, very little denting, and functioning external video.

Dim screens can be caused by a failure of the LCD itself, the inverter board, various cables, main logic board, or a loose connection anywhere along the line. In the MacBook that inspired this article, a very severe drop caused the connection from main logic board to inverter cable to come loose, resulting in a dim screen.

Of course, the best way to prevent impact damage is to keep your laptop in a well padded case.

  Adjust Trackpad Travel on Unibody Laptops  

The newest Apple laptops feature a glass trackpad that supports many useful gestures. Made of glass, it feels great and the whole trackpad is the trackpad button. You can press in certain areas to accomplish simple tasks like right-clicking, and the supported gestures are, I’m sure, only a precursor of what’s to come.

I received a few e-mails from customers asking whether the feel of clicking can be adjusted at all. They find that the noise from clicking is too loud, and that there’s too much travel in the mechanism for their comfort.

This is a rare hardware hint, and as such your mileage may vary and you’re wholly responsible for any damage that might be caused!

Start by removing the battery cover of your unibody MacBook or MacBook Pro. Remove the battery by pulling on the clear plastic tab – it’ll pop right out. You’ll notice a screw on the underside of the trackpad with a Y-shaped head. Using a small flat screwdriver, turn it clockwise about an eighth of a turn. I’d advise reassembling the unit, testing for the desired tactile feedback, and continuing or backing off as necessary.

Be sure not to turn the screw too far in one direction or the other, as you may either lose the screw or cause irreversible damage to the trackpad. Neither of these outcomes would be covered by your warranty!

  Tip of the Week: Save Screen Real Estate in iChat  

In the office, my MacBook Pro is always connected to a 23” Cinema Display, and I use every bit of the screen real estate all the time. I’ll often use the MacBook Pro’s screen only for iChat windows in a dedicated space and the external screen for spreadsheets and analysis in our homegrown inventory/customer relations management/accounting/do-it-all program we call K9. This doesn’t work well while I’m on the road. I could get a 17” MacBook Pro, but I find them too large for comfortable travel.

I’d never explored iChat’s preferences until a few days ago, when I discovered the “Collect chats into a single window option.” It does just what you’d think, saving millions of pixels in the process. It’s typical Apple: an elegant solution to a problem that need not even exist. You’ll find this tip especially helpful if you spend tons of time in iChat like I do, and particularly if you have a smaller screen.

  White MacBooks, $599.99 With One Year Small Dog Warranty  

We recently took delivery of fifty white first-generation MacBooks. I’ve been refurbishing them myself these past few days, as the technicians in South Burlington and Waitsfield are experiencing some extraordinary volume right now.

They came to us with some stickers identifying their former owners, so that has to be stripped away. I’ve found that denatured alcohol, a Mac mini opening tool, simple green, and paper towels do an extraordinary job at removing the goopy sticker residue.

In the course of testing these units, I verify each and every function, and make sure each unit is one I’d be happy buying or giving a loved one. I test Bluetooth, ethernet, AirPort, FireWire (yes, these have FireWire!), every key, trackpad button feel, hard drive, and USB ports. I then stress each machine for 24 hours by running two instances of my favorite stressing command in terminal: yes > /dev/null. Simultaneously, the MacBooks are set to display examples in the Grapher application located in their utilities folder.

I wasn’t really surprised to find that each of these machines held up incredibly well. They’re from late 2006 and early 2007, 1.83GHz Core Duo MacBooks with 60GB hard drives and 1GB of RAM. They’re a steal at $599.

I’m have great confidence in these units, and am protecting them with a one year Small Dog Electronics warranty. And, they all come with Leopard AND iLife ’08!

  From the Archives: The Great Bondi Blue iMac Project  

Originally written by Art,

The Small Dog iMac refurb. project continues here in Waitsfield. Now that I have touched every part inside of one of those machines, I can say that they are designed quite well. Apple’s design team did not want customers to be able to take them apart on a whim, but never the less, they are still relatively easy to work on.

On the average, from beginning to end, it takes about one solid hour to diagnose, repair, and make ready these Bondi blue machines for stock or for shipping to you. The warehouse crew all takes a part in opening, pretesting, diagnosing, repairing, cleaning and packing the many iMacs that are moving through here.

Why am I talking about this so much? I have worked with Macs for nearly ten solid years now and this is the first big time assembly line project I have had to work on. There are over 500 iMacs in total, and attention to quality is a must. 233MHz iMacs are here for sale at $789. Get in line quick as they will be all sold out and gone by the second week of September!

  Special Buy: 17" MacBook Pro, $1899.99  

MacBook Pro 17in 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo 2GB/250/Superdrive, Free Isis Case!


Want a 17” MacBook Pro, but don’t need all the features of the new unibody model released last week? Or, more likely, want some of the features of the older 17” MacBook Pro that aren’t available in the new model – such as removable battery, traditional DVI and FireWire 400 ports?

If so, we picked up a limited quantity of 17” MacBook Pros with the 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 250GB hard drive. These have matte, non-glossy, 1680 by 1050 resolution screens. We’re offering them with free shipping and a free Isis case, while supplies last.


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