Hack Your Mac Back to Life

About a week and a half ago my Macbook Pro’s keyboard and trackpad stopped working upon sitting down at my favorite coffee shop ‘The Dripolator’.  Actually I’m not completely sure if I was at the Drip yet, but I recall ending up in my apartment with a USB keyboard and mouse searching the internet for users with similar problems.  I quickly found dozens of forums, and hundreds of posts, related to this very issue.

To summarize, there is a ribbon cable that attaches the trackpad to the motherboard, power button, bluetooth, keyboard, etc..  It makes the connection to the trackpad beneath the battery (Macbook Pro 4,1 Spring 2008, non – unibody) and there is a visible bulge where the connector slides into the trackpad circuitry.  People reported fixes ranging from taping folded paper to the battery bottom to put pressure on the connection to cleaning the contacts.  Essentially, something was wrong with the connector on the trackpad, or the cable:

For such a simple issue I assumed a quick call to my local mac authorized repair shop would solve the problem quickly I would be back to work with a portable computer.  Success?  They would take care of it, for $300 (a new top case) + $60 (diagnostic) + labor????

$400 – $500 plus no computer for a few days?  No Way.

My computer was a hack, maybe a new ribbon cable or trackpad from being functional.  A brand new top case seemed excessive and needlessly expensive.  So I began trying my own fixes and started a search for a ribbon cable (which I suspected would solve my issue if the hacks failed).  I tried everything from the folded paper trick to cleaning the contacts (99% isopropyl alcohol is surprisingly hard to find!).  I even added small strips of masking tape beneath the ribbon to help seat it more securely in the connector.  No luck, everything failed rather quickly.

Meanwhile, finding a ribbon cable was much harder than I had expected.  You would think Apple would sell them, but the only parts I could come across had been pulled off old machines and were a few days of ebay bidding away or out of stock.  Further complicating matters, the old Macbook Pro models vary somewhat and have different revisions of the ribbon cable!

This was very frustrating.  Apple clearly had a solid lock on the repair process their machines went through from start to finish and did NOT want hackers poking around fixing stuff for free.  The Apple authorized repair shops told me they had to follow protocol (IE running the diagnostic and replacing the entire top case) and there was little room for creativity.  For me, this is a major Apple turn off.  I love my Macbook Pro and OS X, its one of the only expensive, proprietary systems I support.  But making it difficult to repair at home is silly.

A week and a half of searching and failed hacks led me to some old parts pulled off a warrantied machine in exchange for a sandwich.  Thanks to all the techs that helped me find what I needed outside of Apple’s ‘system’.  Didn’t Apple used to make fun of IBM for being a monolithic beast in the 80’s (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYecfV3ubP8)?  Who’s throwing the sledge hammer at the imac in 2012?

Oh and the actual fix?  I replaced that flex ribbon pictured earlier.  So far it has withstood the ‘shake’ test, the ‘biking to the Dripolator’ test, and the ‘thrown on the couch in the bag’ test.  Never made it this far with the previous fixes!!

Still love my Macbook Pro…