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Scannerz just gave my MacBook logic board a big fat F!

I upgraded from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion about 3 weeks ago. The system was running short of memory so I upgraded it. The system was running fine for about 2 weeks.

Yesterday the thing started acting erratic. A lot of spinning beach balls, delays, and then some errors saying files couldn't be read to or from the drive. I figured the drive was going because the system is over 3 years old. I ran Scannerz on it and it indicated a lot of errors and irregularities. I rescanned it in cursory mode, and none of them were repeatable, just showing up all over the place in different regions of the scan. I went through the docs and they implied either an I/O cable was bad, a connection was damaged, or the logic board was bad.

I tossed on my backup of Snow Leopard that I cloned from the original hard drive because I figured Mountain Lion was to blame and booted from the USB drive with the clone on it. It wasn't. I performed scans on every single port, and errors and irregularities that couldn't be repeated were showing up on every single one of them. I then, for kicks, put a CD into the CD player. Scannerz doesn't test optical drives but I figured surely that will work. No it won't. More spinning beach balls and messages telling me it can't be read. It was working fine 3 days ago.

I know a lot of people don't like MacBook's, but mine's been great, at least until now. It was working great even with Mountain Lion after the upgrade. The system is a mid-2009 MacBook.

In my opinion, it's a complete waste to toss this system. The display is too good, the keyboard works great, and it still looks good, plus this type of MacBook still uses the FireWire 400 port and I use that for Time Machine backups.

I've tried reseating the RAM, it didn't do anything. I shut the system down and put in the old RAM, booted to Snow Leopard, and the problems persist.

Here are my questions:

  1. The Scannerz documentation somewhere said something about the Airport card not being seated properly, but when I go to iFixit, it's apparent, at least I think it's apparent, that this isn't a slot type Airport card that the user can easily install or remove. If the cables or connections to the Airport card are bad, could they be causing this problem.

  2. How about any other connections that can be intermittent, failing or erratic?

  3. Any type of resets that I could possibly do to get rid of this?

  4. For any of those that have replaced a logic board on a MacBook, if this really is the culprit, are there any "gotcha's" I need to be aware of?

As an FYI, I replaced the hard drive on an old iBook @500MHz that I had a long time ago, and I replaced the drive on a 1.33GHz PowerBook about 6 years ago. You have to be careful, but using some of the info on web sites like iFixit it's not that hard. Time consuming, but not that hard. The Intel based MacBook's to me look like they're easier to service than either of those.

I'm thinking about getting a unit off of eBay that matches mine but has something else wrong with it, like a busted display. I REFUSE to buy a new system. A guy at my office has a 2007 Mac Pro and he can't upgrade to Mountain Lion because his system is "obsoleted." That's ridiculous. If you pay nearly $7,500 for a system it shouldn't be trash just because Apple decides they don't have enough money (sorry for the soap box, but it's true, IMO!)

Any input is appreciated.

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2 Answers 2

"Spinning beach balls" mean that the CPU is tied up. Programs using heavy memory CPU, or drive intensive apps, can all cause spinning beach balls without anything being wrong with the system.

Scannerz I believe, was designed to catch two types of errors:

  1. Drive head crashes/bad sectors.
  2. Developing problems with the system.

The latter is more interesting and the way Scannerz does it is by using surface scan progress as a reference. If a drive has bad sectors, they'll repeat at the exact same location(s). If errors are showing up from another source with no regard to the surface scan progress, then they being caused elsewhere in the system.

I'm not writing an essay on Scannerz, instead check out these if interested:

http://www.scsc-online.com/Downloads_files/Troubleshooting%20With%20Scannerz.pdf

The two common types of problems with a unit are those that lead to catastrophic failure (blown CPU, I/O controller, supply, etc) which leaves the system dead, and the other types are those, as described by the OP that allow the function to operate, but not correctly.

Regarding the troubleshooting, the unit needs to be opened up and all connections, particularly to the Bluetooth and Airport card need to be checked. One way to do this is to remove them completely, and restart the system to see if the problems persist. If they go away, re-install them one by one and see if it can be associated with one device only. The Bluetooth is located in the right back corner near the display hinges. You would probably only need to disconnect the cable to see if that's causing problems. The Airport card is on the left side, probably about 1.5 inches from the back. It seats into a slot and is secured by screws. These don't pop out like they used to on the Aluminum PowerBooks. Once again, I would just unseat it without removing the antenna cables to test it. I've never seen a Bluetooth board cause problems like you're describing, but I have seen Airport cards do it. On the old Aluminum PowerBooks if the cards slipped out a little (mostly on the 12" models) it could actually lock up the system.

The types of shields that you used to see on the iBook are gone. The top shielding is integrated into the top that holds the keyboard and trackpad. I'm sure this is described on iFixit (or other sites) but you need to carefully lift the top up as if you're tilting it towards the display to release the cable.

What you could do is remove the top of the unit, which leaves everything visible, plug in a USB keyboard and mouse, and fire the unit up with the external drive and test it with both Bluetooth and Airport disconnected. If the problems clear up, it's one of them. Plug each one in and see if the problems re-appear. If they do, you've got your problem isolated.

If the problems are the same with the keyboard/trackpad, Airport, and Bluetooth gone, then you've probably got a crack in a trace on the logic board somewhere. The so-called "irregularity" that Scannerz detects is from the system going into constant read/write cycles as the CPU or I/O controller tries to pass data on data lines with an intermittent connection. When the connection is open (not making contact) read/write operations fail. When it closes, they succeed, thus the timing takes longer than it should have.

If I was to take a guess, I would say either an Airport card problem or a crack in one of the traces between the CPU and the I/O controller. If it's actually the Airport card, that can obviously be replaced. If it's a trace on the logic board, it's likely impossible to fix unless for some reason it's highly visible. I suppose the connections to the Airport card's logic board interface could be problematic as well, but I would think that it's unlikely. Believe it or not, just removing and re-seating the card(s) may correct the problem (if that's it).

I would guess that cracked traces on logic boards are responsible for between 30% to 50% of the logic board failures. I also suspect this is the reason that Apple moved away from plastic units and moved strictly to aluminum casings (pure speculation on my part).

As an FYI, I think you'll find the MacBook a lot easier to work on than an iBook. Much better thought out in terms of serviceability.

Good Luck.

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Tldr; But you said 'A lot of spinning beach balls, delays, and then some errors saying files couldn't be read to or from the drive', which means your hdd is the problem, and not ram or anything else

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