Shop Smart: Before You Replace It, Repair It

Your Mac has serious problems, or maybe it's just outdated. In either case, if your equipment's original warranty has expired, consider repairing or upgrading it before you replace it. With a little bit of information and the right tools, you can save yourself a lot of money.

Diagnose the Problem

Before you can fix a problem, you need to know exactly what's wrong. There are several ways to find out; we've included a few of our favorite troubleshooting resources here.

AppleCare: Knowledge Base Check the AppleCare channel in Sherlock or go to http:// kbase.info.apple.com.You can search the Knowledge Base documents by keyword or browse by subject. Unless your problem is unique to your equipment, Apple may have the answers you need.

MacFixIt The MacFixIt site ( www.macfixit .com ) is divided into free and subscription areas. The troubleshooting information you'll gain is well worth the $25 yearly subscription fee.

Accelerate Your Mac Roam this site ( www.xlr8yourmac.com ) for a huge amount of Mac-tweaking information provided by the site operator, Computer Resources, and site readers.

Forums The Macworld forums (go to www .macworld.com and click on the Forums tab) are another resource for diagnosing problems. You can search past entries for similar problems and post your own dilemma -- people with comparable experiences can often tell you how they resolved their issues.

Old Manuals Though many of us don't read them, equipment manuals can be very helpful.

If you've lost your manual for an Apple product, search for it at www.info.apple.com/support/manuals.legacy.html.

Print and Online Books Because they are applicable to general Mac maintenance as well as to specific problems, books that give troubleshooting advice can be good investments. Check out Mac OS X Disaster Relief, updated edition, by Ted Landau (Peachpit Press, 2002); Mac OS X Help Desk, by Ted Landau (Peachpit Press, 2004); Mac 911, by Christopher Breen (Peachpit, 2002); and Macintosh Troubleshooting Pocket Guide, by David Lerner, Aaron Freimark, and Tekserve Corporation (O'Reilly, 2002).

If you don't have time to go to the book-store or order print copies from an online seller, you can preview and buy electronic copies of many of these titles on the publishers' Web sites. As a bonus, it's easy to search for specific text strings in digital books.

Repair Tools

The right tools are crucial when you're making repairs. Here's a list of the tools I keep in my toolbox:

* a multitester to test for voltage and resistance
* a Torx wrench set
* small Phillips screwdrivers with magnetic tips
* containers to hold screws
* a label maker
* a digital camera so I can take pictures of original configurations
* a wire cutter with a stripper
* needle-nose pliers
* a static strap to discharge electricity
* static bags
* double-stick tape to keep things from slipping off work surfaces

Upgrade Guides

Even if your Mac isn't broken, pokey performance or an inadequate drive can make you want to break something. There are several upgrades you can perform to keep the peace.

One of the easiest improvements is to add more RAM. But if this simple operation doesn't net the results you're after, you may want to upgrade your processor. This can be more complicated. For a little help, see "Upgrade Your Processor" (www.macworld.com/2001/08/bc/20howtoupgradeprocessors/), which has step-by-step instructions for the blue-and-white G3 and beige G3 tower. To learn how to goose Power Mac G4 models from 1999's graphite AGP-graphics model through the 2001 Quicksilver model, turn to "Make Your Mac Faster" (Secrets, October 2003).

Not enough hard-drive space or the wrong kind of drive can also be the impetus for upgrades. If your desktop Mac has brackets for two internal drives, adding a second hard drive is straightforward (see "Starving for Storage?" How-to, January 2001). "Soup Up Your PowerBook" (Secrets, January 2003) walks you through internal hard-drive upgrades in the PowerBook G3 (Wall Street) and Titanium PowerBook. Instructions for the Lombard and Pismo laptops are at www.macworld.com/ 2003/01/features/upgrade/index.html. You can even install an internal DVD-RW drive in a Power Mac G4 and create your own version of Apple's SuperDrive (see "Install a SuperDrive," in "The Do-It-Yourself Mac," August 2003 ).

When even upgrades like these aren't enough, you may want to go the thrifty route by keeping your old Mac and using it for secondary tasks -- such as a backup server, a Web server, a kitchen assistant, a home-automation command center, or an MP3 jukebox. There's detailed advice for doing just that in the Macworld series "Old Mac, New Tricks" (go to www .macworld.com, and type Old Mac, New Tricks in the Search box).

Finally, if you do decide that it's time to say good-bye to your Mac (and if that Mac is in good condition), consider donating it to a charitable organization (and claiming the donation on your taxes). For details, see "Recycle Old Macs" (Secrets, January 2003). -- alan graham

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