by Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor
Last Wednesday, Apple requested that owners of some early Macintosh PowerBook 100 computers return the units to the company for a minor modification to the logic board. The company says that the modification, to be made on some 60,000 PowerBook 100s, eliminates the possibility of a safety problem occurring with these machines.
The problem, of which only three instances have been reported, involves an electrical short circuit that results in the melting of a small hole in the bottom of the system's outer case. Apple will make the modification (clipping the relevant component leads) at no cost (save the brief absence of the PowerBook. Apple believes that the problem occurs when a component lead contacts the metallic liner inside the bottom case.
Apple stressed that this problem is unlikely to occur, and that, even if it does, the case is made of a high-grade, flame-retardant plastic composite, but that, in the interest of maintaining a high level of safety and quality standards, they are taking this proactive step to insure that all of the PowerBooks that have been sold are safe.
Apple indicated that only a certain range of PowerBook 100s are affected, and that the 140, 145, and 170 models are unaffected by this problem. Only PowerBook 100s with serial numbers below SQ211xxxxxx or below SS216xxxxxx are affected. (The PowerBook 100's serial number appears on the underside of the computer on a narrow white sticker.) Currently shipping units (including most of the PowerBooks selling under $1000 at the Price Club and some dealers) do not have this problem, but users should check their serial number in case the computer they have just purchased was sitting on a shelf for a while.
PowerBook owners within the United States whose computers fall within the affected serial number ranges should call Apple's dedicated PowerBook 100 Safety Helpline at 800/572-1731 to arrange for the modification. (PowerBook owners who have returned their registration cards will be contacted if their machines are affected. Always wondered why you filled those out, didn't you?) After confirming that the PowerBook in question requires modification, Apple will arrange for an overnight shipping service to pick up the PowerBook and bring it to a special repair center. The unit will then be modified and sent back via overnight service. Apple's plan is that this procedure will take no more than three business days for most owners. Early reports indicate that the procedure is painless.
Apple subsidiaries in the European and Pacific regions will release information to customers in those areas to explain how those customers should proceed.
Asked whether PowerBook owners could perform this modification themselves to avoid being without the PowerBook even for a few days, Apple replied that this was not an option; they would be unable to guarantee the consistency or quality of the modification if customers performed it themselves, even though it is "a simple procedure when performed by trained professionals in a controlled environment." A few dealers have recently become authorized PowerBook repair centers, but Apple does not allow them to perform this modification for their customers. Our experience has been that PowerBook modifications are inappropriate for end users to perform; the PowerBook is too sensitive, and some of its components too fragile for even some technically-oriented users to work on. (See TidBITS-090 "Quadra Quirks" for a warning about opening PowerBooks.)
Based on Apple's descriptions of the problem and modification, it seems that most PowerBooks will never experience this... but since the repair is free, if your PowerBook falls within the affected serial number range, backup your hard drive and let Apple perform this repair.
Apple PowerBook 100 Safety Helpline -- 800/572-1731
Cindy McCaffrey, Apple Computer, Inc.