Another Bad Apple in the Bunch

PowerMac G5

The first Mac I bought for myself was a late 2005, 2.3 GHz  Power Mac. I used this machine as my main computer for two years, before replacing it with a 3.2 GHz Mac Pro (which itself has since been replaced with a 3.4 GHz 27″ iMac).

The G5 was delivered with a paltry 512 MB of RAM, in which Mac OS X Tiger somehow managed to limp along. Of course, I had ordered a RAM upgrade along with the machine, and so on the day of delivery I bumped the new G5 up to 2.5 GB, and so it stayed throughout its full time as my main computer. 2.5 GB seemed like a LOT of RAM in those days!

When I started restoring vintage Macs a few years ago, I decided to do something I had always wanted to do with my now retired G5 – add another 2 GB of RAM. The newly revised machine would then be pressed into service as a household file server and would thus gain a second useful life.


Adding another 2 GB of RAM should have been an easy task, but it was not. After I added the two new memory sticks, the machine would not start. The fans turned on and I could hear the disks spinning, but there was no start up chime, and no outward signs that the CPU was running at all. I had taken all the normal ESD precautions, and so I was pretty sure that the RAM was healthy. I was therefore totally perplexed by the sudden and complete absence of any signs of intelligent life from the newly upgraded machine.

As I tried remedy after remedy, at one point I got a start up chime and the machine sprang into life. “About this Mac” showed that it now had a compliment of 4.5 GB of RAM and all seemed well. I was ready to dismiss the whole episode as some form of upgrade weirdness, and assumed that a reset of the CUDA or a reset of the PRAM would clear this up once and for all. Confident in this belief, I powered down the machine to take these steps.

That turned out to be a bad move. Once again, this clearly healthy machine went silent and cold on me. No start up chime, no signs of intelligent life. I did all the usual things one does in circumstances like this, such as backing out the RAM upgrade, changing the PRAM battery, attempting a PRAM reset, resetting the CUDA and so on. NOTHING worked. The machine just sat there, fans and disks turning over, but without any other signs of life.

After a great many unsuccessful efforts, I eventually gave up, deciding that I would have to take the G5 to the Apple Store for repair. At the time I gave up, I had the new 2 GB of RAM out of the machine, and this was how things stayed until a few months ago. My (by now retired) Mac Pro took on the G5’s intended job of household file server, and all was well enough. The G5 sat silently gathering dust in a corner, awaiting its next chance at life.

A few months ago, I decided to have another go at resurrecting it. I plugged it back in, changed the PRAM battery (again!), pressed the start button and sat back, expecting nothing. Much to surprise, it gave out a robust start up chime and took off. Expecting that this was a “one of”, and that it would never restart again, I shut it down and restarted it. Up it came again, full of life and vigor. Again and again this scenario repeated itself. The machine seemed to have cured itself during its long wait, and with some pleasure I retired the Mac Pro once more and put the G5 into its originally intended role of household file server.


Yesterday, I messed that all up again. Those 2 GB of RAM have been sitting out on a desk near the G5 ever since I gave up on my original effort to install them. Reasoning that the machine was now clearly starting very reliably, I decided to finally accomplish what I had set out to do years ago – increase the RAM to 4.5 GB. You can probably guess the rest. I am right back where I started. The machine once again sits cold and silent, resolutely resisting all my efforts to get it to boot.

I have done all the things I can think of to overcome this unfortunate circumstance. I have backed out the RAM upgrade. No joy. I have reseated all the RAM. No joy. I have taken out almost all the RAM out, leaving only the original 512 MB that came with the machine. No joy. I have reset the CUDA. No joy. I have attempted both PRAM and NVRAM resets. No joy. I have tried all nature of start up key combinations to coax the machine into doing something … anything! No joy. I have even checked all the internal connections. No joy. NOTHING will induce the G5 to rejoin the land of the living.

I have searched the web looking for other solutions, but have found none. What I have found is that this is not an uncommon experience. There seem to be a lot of folks out there who have 1.8 GHz, 2.0 GHz and 2.3 GHz Power Mac G5s that just mysteriously stop booting. Some people report that, like me, after some apparently unrelated step, the machine suddenly springs to life again. It is nice to know that I am not alone, but regrettably this is not of great assistance in resolving the matter!

To that end, I am down to repeating the apparently successful prescription I stumbled upon last time: leave the machine sitting dormant for some time, and then try it again. Am I draining a cap somewhere? Who knows what made this work last time, or if it will work again this time. I hope that it may some day. I have a certain fondness for that G5.


In the meantime, if you should happen to know any specific cures for the “G5 no chime syndrome”, I would be delighted if you would comment on this post and suggest them. I am not sure where to turn next.

As I said once before, even Apple can’t get it right all the time. There has to be a bad apple in every bunch and I seem to have one of them!

2 thoughts on “Another Bad Apple in the Bunch

  1. Here’s a suggestion – I believe those G5s need RAM in matching pairs. I am curious about your break out of RAM. Is it 4 1 GB sticks and 2 512 MB sticks? Or some other variation?

    These G5s are so finicky. I had similar kinds of issues trying to install a newer SSD in it. It acted like the motherboard was dying, but it was just reacting to that SSD like a body might a virus. As soon as I took the SSD out, back to normal operation.

    In the end, it does sound like bad RAM. It happens.

    A similar episode for me – one day, my 2.3 dual core G5 booted up with fans full blast, and I heard a pop. I freaked out, thinking it fried. It booted back up, but it showed a chunk of RAM missing – like 10 GB back down to 6 GB. I went in, reseated all the RAM, and after restarting, everything was back to normal. Very, very weird.

    • Hi Nathan, thanks for the feedback. My G5’s RAM is made of three sets of matching RAM sticks: two 256 MB sticks (these are the original RAM sticks that Apple shipped with the machine), 2 1 GB sticks, which are the 2 GB upgrade I purchased along with the machine (but bought externally to save money – Apple was charging 2X the market rate for the memory at the time) and finally, the 2 new 1 GB sticks that I purchased to expand the memory up to 4.5 GB. All are arranged in pairs, with one of each set in each of the two banks of memory slots, such that one of each of the sets in the same slot in the first bank as the other member of the set is in the second bank (slots conceptually starting at the center and moving out from there on both sides). This is all per the instruction manual that came with my G5 when I first got it.

      I agree that to all outward appearances, it looks like bad RAM, and so if my current test of “let it sit awhile and try again” does not work, I may purchase one new set of RAM and try once more with only the new memory.

      Thanks again for the response. These machines are finicky, but well worth the effort!

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