Mac mini startup woes - Battery?

fjdouse

UNIX - Live Free or Die
Hi fellow Mac lovers

Bear with me while I rattle this story off:

Since this is a Mac and not some PC, I've only had cause to shutdown a few times this year, mainly when going away overnight on a trip (I mean that as in going somewhere, not dropping acid and watching the floor ripple).

I've noticed sometimes that the Mac had problems finding it's startup drive, (the folder with a question mark came up). Battery I thought, battery!!

But there is another side to this, I had bought a powered USB hub - the disco hub as my friend called it, owing to it's rather fetching multi-coloured LEDs which lit up when something was plugged in, into here I'd plugged my 60GB data disk (IDE drive in a USB 2.0 enclosure). This hub did something quite scary when the Mac was turned OFF - it kept the white power light illuminated - the Mac WAS off though.

This didn't look good to me, a current going back into the Mac and keeping it's LED lit - what else was going on? So I ditched it and now have the drive plugged direct into my Mac instead and the problem went away. I've done two overnight tests with the power off (including to the PSU) and the next day it would start up no problem. Disco inferno was over. I was convinced that the 5VDC flowing back into the Mac was causing a glitch.

Ok, last night in some kind of blurred stupour I turned everything off before bed (I know, I'd normally Sleep the Mac but I was a bit knackered) and today it would not boot.

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Power on + OPT + C = NO drives listed, no CD to boot from (even though the Tiger disk was in), so it can't even SEE the disks.

Power on + CMD + OPT + P + R (PRAM reset), THEN Power on + OPT + C = Drives come back - SOMETIMES.

It can take upto 30-40 mins to get the Mac to acknowledge it's got disks attached or even the combo drive.

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OK, here's the beef:

So, does this sound like a battery problem? It did to me, but why would it have problems actually FINDING that it has drives? or is that a normal symptom?

Did the Disco hub, actually damage something? Is it possible, well, yes I guess so.

My mini has just gone out of warranty (FEK!) and I've seen the videos of how to open her up, but that cracking sound is not a sound one should ever have to hear. I guess there is a battery in there, but it's a big step for me to open her up - PC's yes, it goes with the territory, but this a Mac.

I'd just like some opinions, if I need to clarify further then I will, I'd like to see what the consensus of opinion is, either I've damaged something like it's disk controller or it's just a simple case of replacing the battery but I'm not sure myself. Cracking the case open is the last resort. Also I can't help thinking that the Mac has never been off for more than a few days and has virtually been in constant use for over a year, would the battery run down by now? I've had batteries in a PC last a good few years.
 

nixgeek

Mac of the SubGenius! :-)
Is this USB hub an active or passive USB hub? I'm hoping it's not a passive one since you did have a hard drive plugged into that thing. If so, then it might be due to that.

Is this external USB drive the boot drive for your OS X installation or is it a drive only for file storage? Have you tried plugging in the drive directly to the Mac mini?
 

fjdouse

UNIX - Live Free or Die
The USB disk drive is for data only, the disks NOT being found at boot-time are the internal and combo drives.

As far as can recall the hub was an active USB hub. But I can't recall the brand etc. so I can't check (I couldn't find any online info anyway) and I took the offending article back to the shop for a refund.
 

bobw

The Late: SuperMacMod
I doubt the battery is the problem.

Disconnect any devices and try booting while holding only the 'C' key, or the 'X' key.

If you get it booted, open the Startup Disk preferencePane and select your boot drive and see if that helps.

If you can start in Single User Mode (Command-S), run fsck-f
 

fjdouse

UNIX - Live Free or Die
As an update, I've not found a single application which can test the battery, but plenty which will do various things with laptop batteries.

In addition, last night I came home unslept the Mac and used it for a few seconds before it just died, as if someone ripped the power cord out. I could not get it to boot again!

It would come up with the flashing question mark but none of the recommended steps worked, holding Option to get to the boot disk select menu did not work! No drives appeared! Inserting the install CD was disasterous since the Mac couldn't find ANY drives at all! I reset the PRAM about 10 times with no effect.

Then after trying until almost 1AM!!! it suddenly booted, no reason why, I didn't do anything different to what I'd tried before.

I'm terrified now since the Mac could do this again without notice and I can't find a logical reason why it won't startup again.

In my life I've had three Macs, all have died because of hardware problems JUST as soon as the warranty runs out... I'm at a loss as what to do, and I simply cannot afford to spend a single penny more at the moment.
 

olafTN

Registered
My wife's Mac Mini had the same symptoms (folder with a question mark) on returning from vacation (even with our surge protector). Genius Bar quoted ~$300 to replace either HD or motherboard + $50 to diagnosis which. MM fails to boot from HD or OSX CD (D or C mode) and fails to eject OSX CD in Open Firmware (Opt-Apple-O-F). A colleague tried connecting his iPod via firewire - no help....so I opened our MM - trusty Putty knife - easy following video instructions:
http://eshop.macsales.com/tech_center/index.cfm?page=Video/directory.html
Before going further, I ran across your post indicating your Mac came alive! Wow! perhaps mine will to? Is yours still OK? Since mine's open, I can try your battery replacement idea? Any suggestions from you/others on what to try with the case is open??? At least I could remove the OSX CD by removing just 4 CD screws (no paperclip hole anywhere?). We're desperate! Thanks! Olaf
 

jrg

Registered
This hub did something quite scary when the Mac was turned OFF - it kept the white power light illuminated - the Mac WAS off though.

[...]

So, does this sound like a battery problem? It did to me, but why would it have problems actually FINDING that it has drives? or is that a normal symptom?

My Mac Mini (G4, one of the original ones) has just stopped working, and I just found this thread - I've just recently started using a powered USB hub to be able to access more external drives sometimes, too.

I don't think there is a battery on-board - but I do agree that it sounds like something somewhere is getting confused. I saw the (disconcerting) behaviour of the power light being on even when I'd forcibly powered it off, too, and even when I unplugged the power supply from the mains power! Though it did go out when I unplugged the power cable to the mini.

I haven't been able to get mine to reboot, yet. Nor to boot into openfirmware or boot from CD. But I shall see how it goes after being off for a few hours. Reading your later comments gives me some hope.
 
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