Elementary, my dear Watson

For quite some time, my 12” Powerbook G4 has been crashing (kernel panic) erratically. I finally narrowed down that when the left front part of the case (across from the battery) flexed (like when I picked it up on that corner), it crapped out!

After discussing this with some techs online and off, I came to the conclusion that the most likely problem was a miniscule crack in the motherboard or in some of the traces on the mobo. When the board flexed, the traces no longer made a connection, and the computer crapped out. Made sense, it fit the symptoms, and mobo damage from flexing has been known to happen with various laptops that don’t have totally firm cases. (i.e. All plastic, aluminum and titanium ones.)

So, I remembered where the kill spot on the case was, and handled my Mac more gingerly to avoid the kernel panics.

Then I dropped it. Right on the corner next to the kill spot. Dented the case nicely.

Next thing I know, Airport (wifi) went haywire. If the computer woke from sleep, it would fail to find any access points.

I figured this was all related. The airport card connects around the kill spot part of the case, and it made perfect sense that if the mobo was damaged, the wifi would suffer for it.

But then the wifi died entirely. “No airport hardware was detected”, said Internet Connect. Grr…

So, I pulled the airport card. Took a look at it. It looked fine, but what the hell do I know? So I put it back in. (The old unplug and plug it back in again trick!)

Guess what? It works now. Moreover, my computer doesn’t crash when I flex the part of the case right under, yeah, the airport card connector.

So what I think REALLY happened was that my airport card got jiggled loose. I’d flex the case and effectively unplug my wifi card while the computer was on, causing a kernel panic. Eventually the card worked its way even looser, which finally got me to zero in on the problem.

So, I’m psyched things work now. But boy, strange problem there.

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Written on December 10, 2006