As those of you who follow me on Twitter or those who have heard the Mac20Q Roundtable Podcast or the International Mac Podcast will know I am the *not so* proud owner of a sick iMac right now. Many of you have contacted me with advice and/or support for which I publicly thank you all now. I thought for posterity I should detail the whole sorry saga, here goes …

My iMac is a late 2006 built to order 24 inch model, 2gb RAM, 250gb hard drive and a 256mb graphics card.

The main built to order element was the graphics card. Important to me since I work in Creative Suite extensively and you can never have too much RAM or a graphics card with too much memory.

Since arriving in December 2006 it has served me well.

The Problem

Or at least it had served me well until late in 2008 when an intermittent, but annoying, fault developed.

The first indication there was something wrong was a string of multi-coloured pixels appearing inside various windows. It wasn’t something I had seen before and resizing the window or moving it between monitors in my dual monitor setup cured the issue, at least temporarily. As stated it was annoying but not a show stopper at that stage.

Screen Problem 001

I have AppleCare on all my equipment but even so running off at the first sign of an issue the occurrence of which couldn’t possibly be reliably predicted or forced would only frustrate the repairer and me.

By January the problem had been more frequent and more severe. Instead of just a single line of rainbow pixels I had whole patches of the screen showing various things: either a solid block of colour, static or distorted windows.

Screen Problem 004

However, despite the fact the symptoms were worse they still weren’t predictable. Moving a window between monitors or resizing it still rectified the issue. The system was fully up to date and it happened in various applications or even just running Finder at times.

The increasing severity of the issue meant I was coming to terms with the realization that I would have to be parted from my baby while it went in for repair but, and this was a big but, other than describing what I was seeing how could I prove what I was seeing? Obviously, I’d tried capturing it in screenshots but using the built in screen capture tools didn’t work as activating them often forced the screen to redraw which corrected the display prior to the capture.

Taking photographs was fine but I felt they weren’t really clear enough to show the issues. LittleSnapper came to my rescue and I managed to capture the various issues I was seeing over the period of a few weeks.

Screen Problem 006

Screen Problem 009

Screen Problem 010

While resizing the affected window and/or dragging it to my second monitor tended to clear the problem, over time the only way to clear them was to go into the System Preferences Desktop settings and selecting a different wallpaper before changing it back again. This was fast becoming tedious.

It still wasn’t an easy decision to take it in for repair as I had no idea how long I would be without it and there’s never a good time to be without your main machine.

Making the Decision

The decision was made for me when I was about to deliver the opening address in an online conference and the machine threw a kernel panic … I can assure you it wasn’t the only one throwing a panic!! I dashed from my office into my studio and managed to persuade the MacBook Pro to play ball just in time to calmly introduce the evening’s speaker.

I spent the hour long presentation considering my options with the iMac. The conclusion was there really was no option other than to take it in for repair.

Preparing for Repairing

Reaching that sad realization was one thing but the next hurdle was completing all the necessary things that you generally only recall after the event! At a minimum I would have to:

So ensued a long period of cloning, backup, and software engineering.

This process was even more complicated than I had anticipated.

I managed to deactivate the necessary software and create an image but then the machine began to fail even more drastically.

The first thing that happened was that the iMac screen froze and the machine refused to turn off. There were numerous pixels stuck on various colours at this stage. I pulled the plug, waited 5 minutes, then plugged in again but it refused to boot at all. Leaving it off overnight I was able to boot it again and after taking the time to remove some data I was able to boot using the Leopard DVD but then when I reached the screen where you select the destination for the install there were no drives shown at all. I loaded up the Disk Utility and although this could see the drive it could not see any partitions on the drive so the space where I could choose my destination was completely empty.

I’d decided at this stage to just take it in as it was but I did leave it stood at the Leopard “select partition” screen for 2 hours while I did other work. Deciding I better turn the thing off before it completely self destructed I turned round to see my single partition was now displayed as an available installation location!!

I selected it and did a complete erase and install. This did not cure the problem and the whole machine is now seriously too erratic to use. Unfortunately the symptoms were intermittent enough that I was still worried about being without the machine only to get it back with them unable to find the fault. Hence, taking all the screenshots.

I then needed an appointment at the Genius Bar. This appointment based thing is a beautiful system until you need an appointment urgently and the first they have is days away but I managed to book myself and my iMac in for first thing Monday morning.

The Big Day

My nearest Apple Store is only 2 miles away at the Trafford Centre, in South Manchester, so leaving the house with 30 minutes to spare what could possibly go wrong?

Oh dear with the benefit of hindsight that’s a rhetorical question if ever I heard one!

My first problem was that the traffic on the motorway was being slowed down to 30 miles an hour with all the overhead signs insistently flashing “incident”. Luckily I was leaving at the first junction so there I am breaking my arm patting myself on the back that I’d missed the worst of the traffic. They do say pride comes before a fall don’t they?

The Trafford Centre entrance I use is only yards from the motorway so minutes later I was making my way to the car park, or I thought I was. As I reached the actual car park entrance I could see the barriers were locked down, all of them, including the barrier that is actually broken and provides quick entry when the Centre is shut. Not only were they locked but they were also guarded, lest the peasants revolted I suspect.

I navigated my way from car park to car park until I could see this wasn’t some isolated problem it was centre wide and necessitated some shrewd manoeuvers to extricate myself from the queue for my preferred car park.

Now anyone who has visited the Trafford Centre can testify the surrounding roads were never intended to carry the volume of traffic the centre generates and this is especially acute outside Selfridges where the narrow road also carries all the local traffic for Asda and CostCo. Suffice it to say it’s never quiet and this was not a normal amount of traffic.

My only option was to divert into the Asda car park and re-group. I managed to locate a perfect parking space with a full view of all that was happening at the Trafford Centre opposite.

There were people streaming out of the Centre, which had only been open for 10 minutes at this stage. The place was also crawling with police and the force helicopter was insistently buzzing overhead.

Luckily my iPhone was fully charged. My first call was to the Apple Store to inform them I couldn’t get in to the Centre never mind the store. They were aware of an incident but had no further details. I asked them if it would be possible for me to bring the machine in later in the day once the situation had resolved itself. He went away to check and returned telling me I could take it in anytime that day and they would deal with it. He even apologized for the inconvenience … sadly that proved to be the high point of my dealings with Apple in this regard.

The next call was home to advise I would be late back. This was followed by a swift Twitter to see if anyone had any idea what was going on. No-one local could find anything but Gav came to my aid with details suggesting there was an armed gang on the loose and the police were giving chase … yes around the Trafford Centre! Ever had one of those days? 😉

The traffic was unrelenting and with no sign of the Centre opening again or the police having caught their man I made the decision to go home and try again later. That was when I tried starting the car … notice the tried in there? Yes, the car was not having it. It was turning over nicely but showing no sign whatsoever of actually starting the engine. Cursing I vacated the vehicle and got the bonnet up. I checked all the basics, no sign of trouble in there. It was going to have to be a job for the RAC.

The RAC had kindly provided an 0800 number, free from all phones except mobiles (handy when you’re in a car … NOT). Luckily I was speaking with Mike at the time and using that fantastic site SayNoTo0870 he found a landline number I could use. The RAC were most helpful, I explained the problem, outlined where I was and gave them details of the ongoing police incident to pass on to their mechanic prior to his arrival.

Within minutes they had rung back and apologetically told me it would be an hour and 15 minutes before they could get to me. I didn’t think that was too bad in the circumstances. I settled down to wait when my eyes alighted on a sign in the car park informing me that there was an automatic fine for cars staying in the car park over 2 hours. Needless to say I’d been there well over an hour already. So ensued more phone calls. I located a telephone number for the actual store via their web site and explained my predicament to the Customer Services representative. She was most obliging and assured me I’d be fine and incur no penalty. Very understanding of them I thought.

Now all I needed was one of the armed gang to jump out of the adjacent shrubbery and issue a directive to “drive”!! The way my day was going that would have made it complete 😀

Luckily that didn’t happen and in fact I’d no sooner hung up on the Asda Customer Services representative when my phone rang and it was the RAC engineer telling me he was 5 minutes away. What fantastic service, 15 minutes from my initial call and he was under the bonnet agreeing with me it wasn’t anything engine related.

He tracked it down to an electrical fault which he could bypass to get the car started but it would need a long term repair. The mechanic knew of a local auto-electrician and we headed off to their garage … with my iMac still in the back I might add.

I was having visions of dragging the thing back home on a bus when the RAC man said he’d take me and it back home. A kindness I think he had second thoughts about when he saw the size of the box. It took a bit of a reorganization of his van to make enough room for it but finally we managed to squeeze it in between his trolley jack and a large tool box. Oh boy I really know how to enjoy myself don’t I? LOL

I spent the rest of the day waiting for the call that my car was ready and with only minutes to go before closing it was done. As good as new and the garage owner even said he’d stay at the garage until I could get there to collect it. Again, what great service.

Finally There

So off I go again, iMac in the back and high hopes of getting it into Apple before close of business.

We arrived in the Apple Store at 17:20, I explained what had happened and explained what I had been told on the phone earlier in the day. For clarity that was, bring it in anytime today and we’ll deal with it.

Trouble was they had no intention of dealing with it without me rebooking a Genius Bar appointment with a Mac Genius. Despite two of these being stood at the Genius Bar doing nothing I was told the earliest they could arrange an appointment was 20:30 … over 3 hours away. Are they joking? Sadly, they weren’t.

I asked why I’d been told anytime that day was fine when there was an at least 3 hour period with no one available to deal with anything Mac related without an appointment. No answer. He returned to the Genius who again refused to do anything to assist.

I couldn’t believe that the worst service of the day was from the company I’d expect the best service from. I again explained why I was so unhappy with their suggestion and finally they agreed to take the iMac in for service.

I gave them as much information as I could, it went on for pages and was complete with screen captures. I was then assured they would call me with their diagnosis as soon as possible.

Now I know they had the correct phone number at that point because I’d just hiked all the way back to the car when they rang and asked me to go back because they had completed the paperwork incorrectly. So back I go and wait around for another 25 minutes while they correct their mistake.

I get back to the car for a second time to discover that in transferring the information from one system to another they had managed to remove my phone number from my repair and replace it with a completely different number. I immediately rang them to get them to rectify this fundamental mistake but no-one answered the phone. Constantly on hold for 40 minutes before I gave up.

The next morning I try again and finally get through to someone who assures me he has corrected this and they’ll be in touch as soon as they have tested it.

Waiting … and Waiting

With all the information and screenshots I was able to provide I didn’t think there would be much argument that there was in fact something wrong with it. However, I hear nothing on Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday. Just how long does it take to test an iMac anyway? And while I’m ranting, the lack of communication either directly or via the AppleCare web site is very poor and not what I expect from a premium service I pay extra for.

I decided to ring them on Thursday night to see where they were up to.

The Bad News

I was horrified to be told they could find nothing wrong with it. Nothing wrong with it? It’s barely usable!

This of course meant I had to arrange another Genius Bar appointment, to do precisely what I wasn’t sure as I didn’t have any further information to give them. It’s broken, I know it’s broken but it’s not my job to tell them what’s wrong with it. All I can do is give them as much information as I can and exclude various causes by a process of elimination.

I attend the appointment to be told that it’s not Apple’s policy to repair machines unless they have personally seen the issue reported. How this relates to an intermittent fault is not explained.

I detail all I have done, yet again, but it’s like facing a cross between a brick wall and a parrot. They are not prepared to do anything without personally seeing the issue.

He takes the machine out of the box, boots it up on the Genius Bar and does precisely nothing to force any kind of failure. He looks at the screenshots I have provided and assures me that the issue is NOT hardware related but is a software issue.

Now I have a few issues with that.

  1. The issue got worse over time without changing the software on the machine
  2. The issue was present irrespective of what software I was running
  3. The issue got worse the longer the machine was running
  4. The issue got worse the hotter the machine became
  5. The issue persisted after a clean install of Leopard, with no other other software installed
  6. How could a software issue explain the iMac’s inability to see the drive during the Leopard reinstall?

His attitude bordered on both rude and aggressive, just repeating that it was not Apple’s policy to repair a machine unless they personally had seen the issue.

What Next?

Eventually he agreed to put the machine on test for longer, over the Easter weekend.

Redux

So here I am back to where I started on Monday, no machine and no idea when or even if the Apple Store will fix it. In fact no idea whether they will even acknowledge that there is something wrong with it.

Looks like it’s going to run and run …

Progress?

So despite promising me faithfully they would call me on Tuesday (14th April) to let me know the results of the testing conducted over the Easter weekend, they didn’t, I had to ring them.

After a long wait while the Concierge found the necessary information he informed me that that despite initially finding nothing wrong with the machine they had since discovered a fault with the graphics card. He further stated that a replacement was now on order and would be arriving in store the next day (Wednesday, 15th April). I was assured that the repair would be dealt with in a timely manner and I would have my machine back in working order within a couple of days.

After showing as “No Status Available” for 9 days the status of the issue finally changed on the AppleCare web site to “Repair in Progress”. Now what exactly does repair in progress mean? Seems simple enough but if you look at the lexicon of status messages on the AppleCare web site each status message has a very specific meaning and “Repair in Progress” means “Repair work has begun on your product.” Compare that with “On hold – Part on order” which means “We are waiting to receive a part necessary to complete your repair. We will continue with the repair once we receive the part.”

Wow, they finally came round to my way of thinking … i.e. There’s something wrong with it and they’re actually fixing it right now. Yeah, right … did I mention deeming it wise not to hold by breath? 😉

Progess? I Don’t Think So

Wednesday, 15th April? No news, status “Repair in progress”

Thursday, 16th April? No news, status “Repair in progress”

Friday, 17th April? No news, status “Repair in progress”

Saturday, 18th April? No news, status “Repair in progress”

Sunday, 19th April? No news, status “Repair in progress”

Monday, 20th April? No news, status “Repair in progress”

Seeing a pattern here?

The repair is actually in progress, they’re working on it. Really? They’re working on it? If they are then they’ve been working on it according to the AppleCare web site for 7 days solid!!

Tuesday, 21st April? No news, status “Repair in progress”

OK, my world renowned patience is wearing somewhat thin now, well it was somewhat thin days ago so now I’m far beyond annoyed.

I put all the pertinent details in an e-mail marked for the attention of the store manager. Within minutes I had received a reply. From whom? Your guess is as good as mine. It was signed simply with a first name. No surname, no title, no position within Apple.

Since when is that acceptable in a corporate scenario? But I digress.

The reply assured me that my criticisms would be passed on to the responsible person and they would contact me shortly.

Indeed they did contact me at just after 9am on Wednesday, 22nd April, assuring me that as a matter of urgency they would be investigating the issue and contacting me again shortly. Yet again I notice it is signed off by only a first name, no title, no position. Do all companies allow such lax communications with customers? If I ring Apple they want all sorts of details from me before they will talk to me about my repair, but it seems institutional anonymity is rife within Apple’s corporate culture.

And for the sake of completeness:

Wednesday, 22nd April? No news, status “Repair in progress”

Thursday, 23rd April? No news, status “Repair in progress”

They’re still working on it? Still? For, according to the AppleCare web site, 11 days solid now!! Good grief it didn’t take that long to build the thing and ship it to me, from Shanghai, when I bought it.

BTW, Friday, 24th April? No news, status “Repair in Progress”