The G3 “Series” PowerBook is a really good machine for your parents - it looks “mature”, it's “laptop enough” to take it to the cottage if needed, has a big screen (although pretty dim by today's standards), runs a browser and email just fine and is cheap. Ours had a problem with the power connect though, requiring them to wedge something under the power connector for it to work. Obviously just a bad contact - a perfect opportunity for some light hardware work. Not to mention a great excuse to buy some new tools:
- The small Panavise that is simply awesome. I don't understand why they don't recommend these anywhere. Here it's about 40 EUR, but it's well worth it.
- A new soldering iron. I got a fairly cheap Velleman to replace my old iron. Works well but the stand is pretty useless and it doesn't come with a sponge.
- Some soder-wick and obviously some nice, thin lead-free solder
- #8 (50mm) torx. This will be your new best friend if you work a lot with Apple laptops. I got a Velleman which was cheap (3 EUR) and came pre-magnetized.
If you haven't soldered in a while (or ever), there's a really nice tutorial over at Makezine.com as well as a primer on using a multimeter.
The plastic on these old G3 PowerBooks is pretty brittle by now from all the heat and long age, so you have to be extra careful! The problem turned out be a cold solder joint on the power connector. Works just fine now.
Working with hardware can be really rewarding - both in terms of fun and money. It's nice to work on something that you can actually touch, for a change. Sad that, in the long run, PC hw hacking is kind of a dying art because of all the crazy integration going on. I would not have been able to pull this off with a MacBook, I bet. That thing's just one big (actually small) logic board on the inside. So it's nice that there's still things like the Makezine.
My next hardware project's going to be building a RS 232 to USB adapter + some logging software for my trusty and obsolete Protek 506.