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February 23rd, 2010

So I’m at work, making a phone call and referring to my Macbook Pro as I do. Just as the service rep comes on the line, my Mac crashes. I restart, but as the call goes on, the gray pre-startup screen (the one with the Apple logo) just grinds and grinds… and grinds. I give up and restart–same thing. 10 minutes later, after the call, the computer still won’t go beyond that very early startup screen. Something is wrong.

I take it home, hoping that I can revive it with the Snow Leopard install disk. Sure enough, it’ll start with that disk, but nothing beyond that–the Disk Utility tells me there’s an “invalid node structure,” and won’t repair it. A quick search of Apple’s forums tells me that such a disk error generally marks the demise of the HDD. An attempt to run a disk repair program on a bootable DVD is to no avail–it starts, sets up, but then immediately shuts down, as if it couldn’t latch on to anything. I try to use the Macbook Pro in Target Disk mode, connected to my 24“ iMac. The ”Macintosh HD“ shows up… and again… and again… until there are no fewer than nine apparent ”Macintosh HD“s sitting on the Desktop–and none work. Nor will the disk repair app do anything with them.

At this point, I was pretty bummed–I hadn’t backed up in more than a month, and most of the semester’s work from school was on that disk. Argh. All the email, my students’ papers and grades, everything.

But finally, late at night, I get a data recovery program on another bootable DVD to work, and the files begin to spill out. Not in the unnamed, fragmented mess you sometimes get, but in pristine form. It takes forever–well, overnight and then some, at least–but I am able to extract most of the hard disk onto an external drive with enough space. I can’t get everything, but hell, before that breakthrough, I swore that I’d be ecstatic just to get the right handful of files off the thing. Instead, I wind up getting most of the disk.

Late, late at night, as the files were decanting, I started looking at replacement drives–my Macbook Pro is 4 months out of its 1-year warranty. While Apple is often generous, it’s not 100% of the time. I find that Western Digital has a widely praised HDD, 500 GB (twice my current drive’s size), for about $90 at Amazon.co.jp.

But just to make sure, I made an appointment at the Genius Bar for this evening. I take the faulty Mac in with me to work (along with the HDD with the backed-up data), and spend much of the day teaching while I transfer the recovered data onto my old Powerbook G4 (coming in quite handy now), and right after work, I head out to Ginza’s Apple Store. I get there in time to wait maybe 5 minutes, and get served by a guy who speaks fluent English. I describe the situation to him, noting the expired warranty. He gets on his computer and confirms that it’s not covered any more, but spends a while trying to make something work–and sure enough, tells me they’ll replace the drive for free despite the lapsed warranty. I am actually almost disappointed–I was getting jazzed at the idea of a 500 GB HDD in my laptop–but I’ll take the free 250 GB replacement disk just fine, thank you.

Seriously, if you can tell me a maker in Japan who will (a) sell English-ready versions of Windows on their machine for the same price as Japanese-language versions (with an option for an English-language keyboard), (b) provide face-to-face tech support, in English, the day after something goes wrong, and (c) will almost as often as not give you free repairs months after the warranty expires, I’d love to hear about it. But outside of Apple, I don’t think anyone does that.

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  1. February 26th, 2010 at 04:01 | #1

    Apple can afford it because they overcharged you for the hardware in the first place.

  2. Troy
    February 26th, 2010 at 05:16 | #2

    Yes, I’m a bigger fanboy than you, Luis, but I agree with Paul.

    While Apple is not running obscene hardware margins like they were in the late 80s, they’re more than halfway there, compared to Dell et al.

    One week before my MBP’s warranty expired I took it to the Palo Alto store to get a battery exchange since it was beginning to bulge, making the back of the housing no longer even.

    My attitude was polite and meek but inside I was certainly thinking with $30B in the bank and the $2000 I paid for this laptop Apple can certainly afford to replace the iffy battery under warranty.

    As you now have internalized again, laptops MUST be backed up religiously. All that bouncing around just isn’t good for the hard drives.

    Since you have the ExpressCard MBP, I’m very happy with my:


    connected to an SATA external drive.

    SSD is still a bit iffy (and slower for writing) so I wouldn’t go there.

    Best strategy maintaining backups on dotmac volume perhaps. Kinda slow usually.

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