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My Dad’s Frozen iMac

This is a story about my father’s iMac. But it could be anybody’s dad, and any 20-inch Intel iMac equipped with ATI Radeon HD graphics cards.

At the end of August, my 85-year-old father ordered one of the new skinny iMacs. A few days after it arrived, I took a train to Boston and helped him transfer files from an ancient Mac running OS 9. It took most of a weekend, but by the time I left, everything was working fine.

On September 26, he sent this e-mail.

The Mac crashed. The pointer did not move. I restarted with the power button and it came up with a white bar pattern. I restarted with the pointer and apple and all was normal. — Dad

It was the first of long string of similar messages. His tale of woe — and Apple’s (AAPL) eventual response — continues below the fold.

This story may, in fact, have a happy ending, but it took some time to get there.

Sep. 29: I crashed again this PM. On restart the screen showed the Apple but nothing else — not even a mouse. I called apple and got right thru. He said to disconnect everything, wait thirty seconds, then hold down option, command, p, and r, and then start. It worked and I am now back in business. He couldn’t explain how it happened. — Dad

Oct. 1: I spent over three hours with tech services trying to find out why the computer freezes every hour or so. I have to take it in tomorrow.

Oct. 3: The iMac continued to crash, so I called Apple again. They wanted me to reload the OS from the CD, but it wouldn’t work. They gave up and made an appointment for me at the Burlington Apple store (from India). We were there yesterday from 2 to 4 p.m. They succeeded in reloading to OS from a simulated hard drive, but it still didn’t work. They ordered a video card which they thought would solve the problem next week and said to try it to see if it still crashes. I took it home and tried to reconnect to the Internet as you told me. No go. I then called Computer Loft and explained the symptoms. They said ‘Oh yes, it’s the logic board-bring it in’ We took it in this noon and the board will be in the first of next week. They also restored all the preferences that the techs had changed.

MACWORLD, Oct. 4: Apple acknowledged on Thursday recent problems with its consumer iMac computer and promised a fix as soon as possible. “A small number of iMac users have made us aware that a recent software update issued by Apple can sometimes cause their iMacs to freeze, requiring them to restart their iMac,” an Apple spokesperson told Macworld. “We are tracking down the root cause of this bug, and will issue a software update which corrects it as soon as we can — most likely later this month.” (link)

Oct. 9: I got a call from Computer Loft this afternoon. They said Apple said the logic board would not be available for three weeks — which Computer Loft found unacceptable. Apple then said they would give a new iMac. He asked what files I wanted transferred and said he expected it to arrive in three days. If there is also a software problem I figure it could be fixed later.

Oct. 12: Brought the new iMac home right in the box. Internet connection and share work. Have not yet checked out old Mac. Files were transfered. I have been using it for 1 1/2 hours with no freezes. Mail looks different, but is essentially the same. I am optimistic.

Oct. 15: The new Mac crashed three times already this morning. One was complete and I had to use the P_R routine to restart. I was in iMac Help in every case. One step forward two steps back.

Oct. 15: I called Computer Loft and Apple. Apple said it may be that too many applications were open. I pointed out that there was a rumor of a software problem. She did say then that Apple was aware of a problem and that they were working on it.

Oct. 17: Now it is the printer which is acting up. This morning it worked. This afternoon it did not. I called hp and was on the phone with tech help for over an hour. Nothing they tried worked — uninstall — reinstall from disc, uninstall — reinstall from download — etc. finally I had to leave. In retrospect the old computer was not that bad.

Oct. 18: I called Hp again this morning and they tried for an hour. Finally they said everything on the printer was normal so it must be the computer. I called Apple at 9:05. They tried all sorts of reinstalls and then added another new account (test) by about 10:30. With this account the printer worked. They then tried installing and reinstalling with different preferences etc, and by 11:30 they finally made it. He said it might have been a faulty font. I spent a total of over 5 1/5 hours on the phone. My ear was tired, but I was happy the printer finally printed.

Oct. 19: I wrote too soon yesterday when I said Apple had solved the problem. I tried to import a photo to Photosmart Studio and it quit. It always quits when I try to do this. Apple had checked to see that it would print and scan, but not import. Back to square one.

Oct. 19: Spent an hour with Apple. They referred me to a senior specialist again. He went thru the second account again and then took every thing off the desktop. That made it OK. He then added file by file. When we added the recent pictures it came back. He put them on the hard drive instead of the desktop and all seems normal. The only picture I added recently was one from an Email. I still don’t know why that could cause a problem, but all seems OK for a while.

Oct. 24: One freeze in three days.

Oct. 24: I spoke too soon. The thing crashed five times this afternoon and I just had a hard crash (P_R restart necessary). It is becoming annoying.

I read your Blogs, and even as a layman found them interesting. How can Apple be so successful with such poor products?

Oct. 27: Last night the ——–‘s were here for dinner. I tried to show them their houses in Google Earth and it froze twice. After dinner it worked. Also, I almost had a freeze last week. I was checking out Photo Booth when all went black. I tried everything and then called Apple.He asked right away whether of not I had touched the screen. (I had). He told me to see that the power plug was in all the way. I was embarrassed. Otherwise I have been getting about one or two freezes a day. I see Leopard was released yesterday. Should I have waited?

Oct. 30: As you suggested, I just signed up for the Apple Protection plan. It is $169 for two extra years but I often need help.

Oct. 31: I spent another 3 1/2 hours with hp techs today. I signed up for three years of extended warranty.

ENGADGET Nov. 2: Not a moment too soon, Apple has apparently delivered on its intentions to squash that annoying freezing bug that plagued some of its latest iMacs. Available now for Leopard (iMac Software Update 1.3) and Tiger (iMac Software Update 1.2), the update reportedly “provides important bug fixes and is recommended for 20- and 24-inch iMac models with 2.0, 2.4, or 2.8GHz processors.” Unfortunately, we’re given absolutely no elaboration beyond that. (link)

Nov. 2: I got your E-Mail and downloaded the update. Thanks.

Our fingers are crossed.