Sunday, March 29th, 2020

There’s a decade-old iMac in our dining room right now, running dimly in a corner. It’s the machine Sammy’s been using at her desk for years and years, and before that, it was my main machine for cranking out fine, fine television graphics. Right now it’s sitting in the dining room with the brightness turned down but not off, and I peer in every so often to see if the screen has snapped off, which is what it’s been doing with great random frequency of late.

Random and often increasing snapping off is not a good thing. Tends to put a crimp in the workflow.

A lot of people have these exact machines, even today, and this problem, turns out, is not uncommon—or some problem like it. It’s therefore the subject of endless uninformed posts and YouTube videos that take 12 minutes to explain with a badly miked voice in an eastern European accent that it may be this, but it might be that, he or she is not really sure. But click subscribe if you like this video.

This is the quality of tech support that exists on the internet these days, and it can be frustrating. It used to be that you could reliably find at least one soul out there somewhere who has had a matching experience and indeed had five minutes to write down their clever solution clearly and cogently and share it with the world.

At any rate, I think I’ve narrowed it down to one or two possibilities, and in the meantime, I hope I’ve supplied Sammy with a decent workstation, using her laptop with a wonderful new 4K monitor that the folks at MicroCenter were happy to sell me this morning once I slathered on some of their hand sanitizer as I walked in and was assigned a salesperson to tag along with me at a social-distance-appropriate range just to make sure I didn’t, I dunno, start licking the keyboards? It was, in fact, a smooth transaction and before I knew it I was back inside the perimeter foraging for a grocery or two in midtown, and then home.

And as I say, there’s the other machine, parked in time out in the dining room, which has lots of RAM and a decent solid state drive and really works great when it isn’t doing that one blanking-out thing, which might be related to heat. Heat, the nemesis of electronics. These machines have a network of sensors these days to make sure that the heat generated by these modern CPU and GPU chips makes its way out into the room and away from sensitive components where it can do damage. In fact, most modern machines watch their own temperature so carefully, they throttle down—they slow their processing speed if there’s some sign that things are getting too warm inside the box. Phones and tablets do this too. They (those who know) talk about the thermals of a machine, its combination of fans (or not) and clever vents and some very strange sticky paste put just so so that the heat from, say, a graphics chip, is conducted out and away from the chip itself.

This stuff (from my perspective and having watched a bunch of YouTube videos of chip-slathering) is very persnickety and I’m grateful that I don’t think the iMac needs a repair that involves thermal grease or paste. I think I’ve found a possible replacement board (according to one of my theories of the crime) on eBay and in other times, I’d be confident when I ordered it, it would be in my hands in a very few days.

In other times.

Oh, the other theory involves a small quarter-sized NVRAM battery on the motherboard buried so deeply it would strain my abilities to dig the one dollar battery out and replace it, which I guess you should do every decade or so. (It’s a CR2032, probably the same one in your car keyfob.) But there’s a YouTube video where a guy—some guy—shows how he did it—or something like it. Where are my Torx drivers and suction cups?