Despite being extremely cool machines, the PowerBooks have not been immune to unpleasant hardware quirks. We wrote some time ago about the possibility of destroying your PowerBook's motherboard if you opened or closed the case for service while its power was turned on.
Unfortunately, two new problems have cropped up, one with the floppy drives and primarily on the PowerBook 140, the other with the hard drives on certain models of the 140 and 170. Bill Marshall wrote to tell us about the problems he has found reading certain mass-produced disks (like master copies of commercial software, in all likelihood). After talking to Apple, it turns out to be an interference problem with the backlit display. Turning off the backlighting solves the problem temporarily, and Bill said that Apple told him he could have an RF shield installed for free "if you have the machine picked up and returned to central service." I assume that means Apple has to do the installation, although one would think dealers would be able to do it as well. Bill added later that he had noticed some seemingly random difficulties in formatting disks as well, and remembering the fix for reading disks, he turned off the backlighting, after which all was fine. So if you're having floppy troubles, try turning off that backlighting before you blame either the floppy disk or the disk drive itself. Then complain to Apple.
Here's an odd problem with an easy solution. Apparently, some people have been having troubles with the hard drives in the PowerBook 140 and 170 crashing the system when they wake up from sleep. Apple's engineers have ignored the obvious cause - the hard drives are having nightmares and should be woken up gently - and instead say an incorrect version of the HD SC Driver is installed on the disk. Luckily you can fix the problem quickly and easily by booting the PowerBook with the Disk Tools disk, launching HD SC Setup (Apple has got to rename that program - way too boring!), and selecting Update. This updates the PowerBook hard drive to the correct version of the driver and your hard drive will have sweet dreams again. Like penguins, PowerBooks dream in color. Oh, you don't have to reinitialize the disk or reinstall the System Software or anything nasty like that, and your data should be fine. But still, I'd back up my important files first. Also, you can tell if your PowerBook might be sleeping fitfully if its serial number begins in the range F2140-F2141. I doubt taking it to a shrink would help with the bad dreams - the PowerBooks are awfully small already. :-)
The final oddity that I've run across recently is that there are actually two different fax modems for the PowerBooks, one for the US, Japan, and Canada, and the other for Europe, Australia, and "some South American countries." I wonder what the other South American countries do? Anyway, the question of how you could get a different fax modem stumped the extremely pleasant woman at Apple's help line for a short while, but she quickly returned to tell me that you can request either fax modem when you buy one separately or when you buy a 170 with internal fax modem. You do have to explicitly ask for the European/Australian/some South American one if you are buying it here in the US, since I suspect that many dealers aren't aware of the two versions. The dealer I called, one of the largest in Seattle, certainly wasn't. I presume that if you buy a PowerBook 170 or fax modem in Europe, you get the appropriate version, although you probably pay a lot for the privilege from what I've heard.
Bill Marshall -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Darlene at Apple Tech Support