Tales of Woe – The 2011 Macbook Pro Saga Part 2

In part 1 of this post, I detailed how I got a Macbook Pro that wouldn’t boot back up and running using a bootable Mac OS USB drive. In this second part, I’ll reveal that this wasn’t a happy ending for me or the client.

I had returned the Macbook in working order, even booting it up in the presence of the client to prove that it was working. All was well with the world until the next day, when I got a text message that it had started displaying the same symptoms again, only this time “after having a rest” it would boot up as normal only to reboot again. This now sounded suspiciously like a hardware fault. I asked if the client was doing anything graphics intensive and she confirmed that she had been using Photoshop at the time. That confirmed it – the graphics chip was overheating!

I had fixed a software problem – the OS wouldn’t boot – but not tackled the underlying problem. I hate to admit, but I had not followed my own troubleshooting regime to find out what the cause of the original problem was. Oh, I had done plenty of Googling, but my searches were all about getting a dead machine back up and running, NOT what would have caused such behaviour in the first place. Lesson number one – ALWAYS track down the cause of a set of symptoms before attempting any recovery.

So after some more Googling, it quickly became apparent that this problem was not going to be fixed easily! You see, that particular model of Macbook Pro (late 2011 A1286, 15.6″ screen) had a built-in design flaw. In 2013, users started reporting the exact problem that my client was experiencing. At first, Apple refused to acknowledge a problem, saying ‘only a small number of users’ were affected.

Eventually they were forced into action by a class-action lawsuit, and a petition signed by over 40,000 Apple customers. The lawsuit was extended to Canada in 2014, and Apple were faced with a global crisis in confidence in its products. Over 2 years after the initial reports started flooding in, they reluctantly agreed to a recall and repair program.

The problem was traced to a fault with the laptops’ discrete AMD-built graphics cards, and comes from the lead-free solder that’s used to connect one of the processing chips to the main circuit board in the computer. According to the complaint, the frequent changes in temperature that occur while using the MacBook Pro cause the lead-free solder to crack, which in turn causes the graphics issues.

Unfortunately, in May 2017, Apple announced that some models were no longer eligible for its repair program, specifically:

  • 15-inch, Early 2011
  • 15-inch, Late 2011
  • 17-inch, Early 2011
  • 17-inch, Late 2011

Guess which model my client had? Yep, a 15-inch late 2011! She had already had a ‘repair’ carried out by someone else, who told her they had replaced the mainboard, although as they weren’t an Apple dealer and they only charged £150, I’m not convinced of the effectiveness of the repair. Given that they had also replaced the hard drive (which has nothing to do with the problem, and they had replaced the 750GB drive with a 500GB drive), one could safely assume that this was simply a way to get her to part with some cash.

Having done some further research, I found that even Apple dealerships were simply replacing the faulty board with exactly the same one! So users faced the ticking time bomb of a product that was destined to fail. Not good…

In May this year, news broke of yet another lawsuit against Apple, this time over faulty keyboards. “Because of the new keyboard design, consumers report that fixing affected keys requires replacing the whole keyboard, which costs $700,” Girard Gibbs, counsel for the plaintiffs, state. “Because typing is the primary purpose of laptops, over time, consumers have become more and more frustrated with the keyboard defect.”

Now where Apple get $700 for a new keyboard from is beyond me, but it’s another example of Apple’s lack of consideration for its customers to expect them to stump up such a sum. Then again, if you’re prepared to spend nearly 2 grand on a laptop that ties you into a closed ecosystem with no upgrade path and limited connectivity options (i.e. no USB ports and proprietary connectors) … but let’s not get into that!

So what have we learned from this experience? Here are my thoughts:

  1. If you’re still using a machine that is by now 7 years old, maybe it’s time for a new one?
  2. Apple just want to take your money, they aren’t interested in customer service.
  3. Apple products aren’t the design icons they’re cracked up to be – form over function…

P.S. In the end, my client decided to buy a new Macbook. Some people never learn…