Bake your Macbook Pro Back to Life

A little over a month ago I put my Spring 2008 Macbook Pro to sleep and it never woke up.  For anyone that works with computers for a living this is quite devastating.  This standard level of devastation was amplified by the loss of my Saturday afternoon habitat of streaming tennis matches on the Macbook.  About 4 hours later my girlfriend broke up with me over text message, which really threw salt in the wound.  Tough day.

I did some troubleshooting and quickly realized the logic board was toast.  The tell tale sign here is that if you remove the RAM, the firmware will beep at you on start up.  No beeps, no firmware, your logic board is in trouble.  Note this is not the first time my Macbook has had issues.  Check out this trackpad failure post which includes *more ranting*.

Relationships can be fixed and so can your Macbook.  There are a few things that may have happened to your board, most of which involve solder cracking due to high temperatures.  If you believe this to be the case and you have a Macbook Pro from the Spring 2008 era, you might try bringing your board to an even *higher* temperature to re-solder everything back into place.

Here’s HOWTO:

1.  Remove the logic board from your Macbook Pro.  The instructions vary by model and can be found on ifixit.  Make sure to peel off any stickers, those little plastic screw guides, the bumpers on the ports, and clean the thermal paste off of the chips.

NOTE:  I tend to use whatever I can to get a job done.  In this case that meant using incorrectly sized screwdrivers.  This is one situation where being a hack caused me some real trouble, and I highly recommend you buy exactly the sizes you need.  Ifixit lists the tools you require and these can probably be obtained at your local Home Depot.

2.  Inspect your oven for cakes, pies, and roasts.  Remove these.

3.  Mount your logic board on some aluminum foil elevated above a baking sheet to avoid direct contact.  I made a few half inch balls of foil, placed them on the baking sheet, and then put a sheet of foil on top.  This ensures the logic board does not touch the (soon to be) very hot baking sheet.  Also consider making a little cup of foil and dropping some solder in.  This will act as your “canary”.

Logic Board

4.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

NOTE:  My oven is a very non-digital natural gas based device, so your crappy oven will probably work too.

5.  Set a timer for 7 minutes and 30 seconds.  Place the logic board on the middle rack and start the timer.

6.  When time is up remove the logic board.  If the solder in the cup has melted, you’re probably good to go.  If the board is on fire you can skip to step 12.

7.  Let the board cool off for 10 minutes.  Have a beer.

8.  Put your Macbook back together, making sure not to forget the thermal paste.

9.  Take your Macbook back apart and put the little plastic screw guides that you forgot back on the logic board.

10.  Put the Macbook back together.  Really you can leave the topcase off with just the ribbon cable connected if you like.  Probably not a bad time to ensure the fans still work.

11.  Press power.  Hopefully everything will start up!

12.  Begin researching new laptops as this fix has been reported to only last ~4 months and Apple isn’t cool anymore anyway.  I recommend the Lenovo W530 with Arch Linux.


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…