TV-PGMay 7, 2001: AirPort Base Stations are dropping like flies, and if you didn't opt for AppleCare (and you aren't handy with a soldering iron) you may be staring at a $299 paperweight...
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They're Dropping Like Flies (5/7/01)
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Okay, so we admit it-- we're hopelessly addicted to AirPort. Take it from us; once you've freed yourself from the shackles of wired access at an icky ol' desk and tasted the freedom of surfing while reclining on the couch, well, it's really tough to go back. We know this because we're currently drenched in cold sweat and shaking like junkies on the way to the methadone clinic-- and it's only been about three hours since our AirPort Base Station threw our happy little wireless world into nightmarish turmoil. Don't be fooled by its happy silver flying saucer exterior, people, because that Base Station is just waiting to rip your heart out by the roots and taunt you with an endless LED dance that seems to chant "Nyaah, nyaah, nyah nyaah nyaaah, you need a cay-ble..."

See, we had been noticing quick little intermittent outages in service while using our AirPort-enabled portables, and checking the Base Station revealed that every so often its reassuring solid green light would change to red, flash, and go back to green. As of this morning, that worrisome behavior was repeating every five to ten minutes. So we unplugged the Base Station completely, waited a few minutes for things to cool down, plugged it back in, and watched our wireless utopia come crashing down around our ears: three amber lights, then a leftmost red, then a leftmost amber, then no lights at all, lather, rinse, repeat ad infinitum. Our $299 Base Station no longer provides a wireless access point (indeed, it doesn't even show up in the AirPort Admin utility, no matter how many times we rescan), but at least it's giving us a kickin' light show in a dim room.

The real story, here, though, is that we're not alone; Apple's support forums are filled with dozens of reports of Base Stations failing in exactly the same manner-- and generally when the units are only just slightly out of warranty. (Insert conspiracy theory here.) Since many feckless AirPorters have since found themselves with a really gorgeous $300 paperweight on their desks (albeit one with pretty flashing LEDs), one fearless gent by the name of Constantin Von Wentzel went so far as to rip his Base Station apart, replace two obviously fried capacitors to the tune of about $3 in parts, and voilà-- he had a working Base Station again. Since then, several afflicted AirPorters have repeated the procedure detailed on Constantin's web site and raised their Base Stations from the dead. If you're handy with a soldering iron and you don't faint at the sight of electronic guts, three bucks' worth of capacitors and an hour's worth of work is a whole lot lighter on the wallet than blowing another three hundred smackers on a replacement Base Station. Or you can go back to using a cable. (shudder)

The bad news is that our Base Station is indeed six months out of warranty. (D'oh!) The good news is that the AppleCare Protection Plan we purchased for our iBook in a fit of well-deserved paranoia last year apparently covers our Base Station as well. (Woo-hoo!!) Fighting back the waves of withdrawal-induced nausea, we called Apple, who told us to get hold of an Ethernet crossover cable and follow the procedure for forcing a firmware reload. Clearly this wasn't going to help, since we can hear those fried capacitors hissing away, but heck, we'll try anything once. As we suspected, no go. So Apple's sending us a replacement, and once it arrives later in the week, we'll be sending the dead one back in a pre-addressed little coffin.

So we're going to be tethered to a hub for the next several days, but at least these blinking LEDs are calming us down a little. We're planning to run a fifty-foot Ethernet cable into the living room so we can share a connection on the couch just to see if we can stop the cold sweats and the hallucinations. And we're willing to wait until our replacement shows up instead of going the Mr. Fixit route, because we're trembling a little too much to wield a soldering iron with any degree of accuracy. Meanwhile, despite the widespread nature of this problem, Apple still refuses to replace any out-of-warranty Base Stations-- so in our eyes, AppleCare is a Good Thing.


 
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