What the heck happened?
Some strange things have arrived on our shop bench over the years...

Broken hinges, dark displays, stuck discs, dead drives, damaged keyboards, haunted trackpads, pooched ports - machines that have been shot, punched, drowned, dented, dragged behind a truck and survived fire. Some of the more notable examples appear below, from old PowerBooks to today's Macs.

Only thing worse than no info is: Bad info.
Bad info + assumption = trouble. Wondering why your Mac refuses to startup? Following online advice might solve it, but will probably make matters worse unless you can identify the actual problem. No room for guessing or assumptions, and some issues are more obvious than others.

Following are examples of accidents, neglect, abuse and failures...
But first: A sample of sounds you never want to hear from a computer.

Hard drive hammer
Sometimes a sound says it all. If you know what you're hearing, you'll also know it's probably too late to do anything about it. You _do_ have a backup, don't you?

Death rattle

Here's an odd one: This hard drive repeatedly tried to free its stuck read/write heads resulting in some rather curious sounds.

The thrash

By the way: If you think you're gonna freeze, heat, beat, shock or torture a drive into submission, odds are you'll only make recovery impossible.

Squealin' banshee

No mystery with this drive failure, and no need for a stethoscope, either. If computers could have bad brakes, this might be what they'd sound like.


If only it could keep a beat... This drive was attempting to read, but its read/write heads kept getting slammed back.

Normal (operational) HDD

For the sake of comparison, here's a functional, if rather old, hard drive starting up then shutting off (edited for time.) Barely audible, as it should be.

While we're at it...

Set the Wayback Machine to the mid-90s and enjoy a montage of various failure-to-boot sounds that signaled disaster on vintage Macs running System 7. Each of these were actually hard-coded in firmware.

"I just have a quick question..."
'Quick questions' only lead to more questions, as do any explanations offered. From a tech's point of view, it's quicker and easier to fix it than to explain it.

Questions are often prefaced with an admission of ignorance, then sometimes followed up with internet "solutions" that didn't work. So here's a quick answer:

Spend a little time learning how to use your computer and how it works.

Runaway Kernel_Task (RKT)

This problem tops the list. Symptoms include glacial-speed operation, apparent lack of cursor control, and fans running at full speed (common). The official Apple explanation is that machine is overheating and doing all it can to cool down, including max fan speed and throttling back processors (CPU).

In cases where fans are clogged, it may indeed trigger a runaway kernel task (RKT), tho older Macs would typically just shut off before damage occurs. (See "Mah Biscuits are Burnin'" below for examples of clogged fans.) A good cleaning is the solution for this, obviously. But excessive heat isn't always to blame. Worse, the problem may be intermittent with brief periods of normal activity.

Screen shot above clearly shows runaway kernel task (RKT) in Activity Monitor window with CPU running at over 540% and CPU load near maximum (89%, arrow).

%CPU number typically fluctuates between 200% and 500% during RKT and may momentarily go as high as 1000% or more.

Window at right shows sensor temps, all of which are near their lowest operating values. Despite low temps, fan is running fill tilt at its maximum speed due to RKT (6200rpm in this case).  Data shown here was identical in both MacOS 10.11 and 10.12, but 10.14 Mojave was a different story.....

Kernel_task is missing entirely in 10.14 Mojave's Activity Monitor window (below),
but RKT shows up in System activity graphic at almost 89% as with the other OS versions.

Temps are also the same, regardless of OS version. Heat is clearly not the issue here, but fan(s) run at top speed anyway.

RKTs will always show up in Activity Monitor, if present, as shown above.

Common solutions range from resetting machine's SMU to a good cleaning to removing/replacing battery to whatever else you can think of. Countless suggestions out there, but most are guesses or unworkable.

The two identical machines that arrived here suffering from RKTs both had logic board component failures. Only way to determine cause is by trial and error.

Definition of "duh"
First question: Do you have a backup? "No."
Anything on it you care about? "A few pics maybe."
What happened? "I dunno..... I just want it to work."

Drive had been erased and reformatted MS/DOS.
Who on earth would do such a stupid thing to a Mac?
"I took it to [PC shop]," she said, "but they told me they couldn't help me." Uh-huh.
Format SSD correctly, install a current OS and machine was good as new.

If you don't know what you're doing...

There once was a nice chap who used to stop by occasionally with a question or two - until the day he brought over a dead iMac. After wasting my time opening it up to find machine's display connector had been ripped from its logic board, he finally fessed up: It wasn't his computer, he only was trying to make a few bucks, would I save his bacon and fix it for him....?
No. What else got damaged? Haven't seen him since.

All data destroyed for $600
A musician was in town finishing up a music video when the hard drive in his MacBook Pro died. Fortunately, he had a backup. So, he took his machine and backup drive to a local PC shop hoping to be back in business ASAP. And that's exactly what should have happened.

He showed up here about a week later, complaining that his computer was virtually useless. It had an OS that couldn't run his music apps and
all his files were long gone. Sadly, he was correct on both counts. His backup drive had been erased and reformatted NTFS (DOS/Windows) by some moron; only thing left was a directory of empty folders. All that damage and $600 too?

We replaced his OS with the proper version, got his editing software and comms working again, and suggested sending his DOA drive to DriveSavers for recovery. (Mechanical failure - it happens.) If he had come here in the first place, he would've been back in business within 24 hours for a lot less than $600.

Dubious diagnostic doubleheader
This time, both Apple _and_ a local PC shop wasted client's time and money on a very simple and easily solved problem. In fact, we saw it the minute the machine arrived.

Client explained that it was his son's Mac, it kept shutting off at random and had been left in a closet for six months because it couldn't be fixed. They'd taken it to Apple where it got a new Operating System that didn't fix it, then took it to a PC shop where its SSD was (needlessly) replaced. When problem kept reoccurring, they returned the new SSD, got a refund, and into the closet it went. When dad walked in with the 15" MacBook Pro and a cheap AC-adapter from Amazon, the problem was obvious.

Adapter produced 50w, machine requires 85w; anything less is asking for trouble and can do damage. Machine couldn't run or charge its battery, so it goes down. Problem solved. But, at client's request, we stressed its CPU/GPU for two hours while monitoring temps and charging battery. Machine never faltered, sensors never exceeded a cool 108F, battery charged to 100%, and we tracked down a new 85w adapter for him. Client left happy, bogus adapter went into the trash.

iMac sets new malware record
Machine was so slow that owners thought they needed to replace it. Was it the kids downloading games? Adults downloading garbage? Turned out to be both. Over the course of three days, we picked-out and deleted a whopping 6GB of junk from this iMac, 6,000 files in the first pass alone.

Besides an assortment of unwanted games, they downloaded practically every phony PDF app, fake video viewer and sham "updater" they came across, along with all the
bogus Mac fixup/speedup/screwup utilities that they could find. Even had one called "MacUpper" which, I guess, is a nod to tweakers wanting a faster computer. No joke, before we were finished we had removed a two-page list of malicious apps and a slew of adware, not including outdated/expired programs,  and all those games.

Afterward, the iMac was operational but still seemed a bit skittish, so we decided to replace its banged-up OS as well. That was when the
internal hard drive gave up the ghost (code 8). Luckily, we'd already copied everything off.

Machine left the shop after a good cleaning of fans, boards and vents, with a fresh
(upgraded) OS installed to a new hard drive and all client data intact.

Screwed-up power
An iMac arrived DOA with a dent in lower-right corner below screen. Glass wasn't cracked or broken, display looked to be intact. Owner said the glass had been replaced and machine serviced at BestBuy shortly before it died.

iMac power supply destroyed by a loose screw

We disassembled machine to find a screw welded to the back of its display, directly opposite burn marks on the iMac's power supply (above). Other screws were missing, some had been stripped, masking tape was used to secure cables. Two plastic mounts were shattered leaving the remaining pair to hold power supply in place. A piece of one mount still held its screw to power supply, but the other screw had fallen out and caused damage.

We reinforced and repaired both plastic mounts with aluminum sleeves and used longer screws to make certain the problem couldn't happen again. Fortunately, damage was limited to the power supply.

Long screw in short hole
When this notebook arrived following an "upgrade" by a local PC tech, it had no signs of life other than fans running at full speed. Among other problems, we found missing, loose and stripped screws; pinched and incorrectly routed cables; and an unsecured hard drive.

Photo tells all: Misplaced long screw protrudes thru frame where it drilled the DC-power cable dead-center. Bare copper is visible around edge of indentation, revealing short circuit to ground. Hard drive data was intact, but machine was fried.

Ham-handed repairs are easy to spot
In order service this particular machine, all cables must be disconnected from the logic board, including display's video connector (enlarged here x5). When this machine arrived, it booted to a Kernel Panic with a monitor displaying only shades of red. Careless assembly and a mashed video connector turned out the be the cause.

Another one, this time the backlight pins on a display LVDS cable have been destroyed - actually bent and broken - by someone forcing it into socket an an angle. Only fix is to replace the entire display module, a costly mistake. These connectors are delicate and must be handled with care.

And here's the logic board socket of another LVDS connector, this one destroyed by liquid. Moisture sensor under cable has turned red, and liquid shorted the high-power backlight pins. Those two pins happen to be right next to each other, only separated by a hair, so the slightest hint of moisture is enough to cause a short. Backlight is protected by a fuse, but not from this.

And WTF is this? Unbelievable..... A coax antenna connector (below), which is only 2mm in diameter and designed to snap onto Wifi card, got mashed somehow and would no longer connect to board. Blue arrows point at intact cable and connector, red arrows are crushed cable end and board's missing connector.
But wait, what? The mashed connector was then glued in place with what appeared to be clear epoxy (insert). Who did this? Why? We'll never know.

Sometimes factory repairs - aren't.
Client brought in his wife's notebook. Said wine had been spilled on it when new, he'd paid Apple $750 to replace logic board and machine was fine - until lately. Back to Apple, he was told it needed a new logic board, new optical drive and a new hard drive. He canceled the repair order, and the notebook was returned to him from a facility somewhere in Tennessee (at no charge) with a letter and report bearing Apple's letterhead. And now, the notebook's display was black, too. Odd...

First, a lump under keyboard turned out to be the Airport antenna trapped under a shield. Bottom case and bottom shield still had substantial residue and stains. Top case and top shield were missing all retaining screws, all eight logic board screws were missing, and all but two bottom shield screws were gone. Worse: Fan was unplugged, as were display backlight, microphone and sleep light. We replaced missing screws, connected cables, reassembled machine and bench tested it: All tests passed with flying colors, machine operated perfectly. Weird.

Notebooks with drinking problems

Spilling liquid into a modern MacBook Pro or MacBook Air is a costly disaster these days, for a variety of reasons. Moisture sensors will void your warranty, and a tiny amount of liquid can do major damage. Design and construction of newer notebooks adds to potential damage, too.

Modern machines are built from the keyboard down, which means complete disassembly to replace top case/ keyboard - which is why we highly recommend keyboard covers for all laptops (links posted on our home page).

If liquid gets to the logic board, odds of machine working properly again are slim. Even if it can be made to function, it's quite likely that corrosion may cause a failure soon. New machines are just too delicate and complex for many repairs to be cost-effective, which is why Apple won't touch a machine that has suffered a spill - and we now have to agree. Photo (left) was taken thru a scope and shows corrosion attacking copper traces within 24 hours of drinking a beer - but corrosion isn't what did this MacBook in; it was powered on at the time and critical components got fried. Doesn't take much moisture to short connections separated by a hair's breadth.

More spills, corrosion and... critters?

No sign of a spill, no residue and no moisture sensors were triggered in this MacBook Air, yet it had enough corrosion spread around inside to prevent operation. Machine spent a few months in Australia and failed the moment it returned to the States, arriving here at the shop next day. Interior was cleaner than expected, little or no dust, and completely dry. Best guess at what might have caused such corrosion was condensation caused from leaving a warm/dry aircraft and moving into a cold, wet winter storm.

Notebook spills seldom end well. If it's beer, wine, tea, coffee, juice - whatever the liquid was, it most likely will leave residue and cause corrosion over time. (This one drank a cup o'tea.) If the device was not powered on, and the spill was something non-corrosive, it _might_ eventually work again, but only if promptly disassembled, thoroughly cleaned and dried. Any delay will cause further damage. Unfortunately, most people seem compelled to immediately fire it up to find out if it still works - which will probably finish it off.

This MacBook Pro sat long enough to have some copper dissolve completely. (#1) shows what used to be the keyboard backlight connector, unplugged to expose missing traces. When machine finally lost video after glitching for awhile, it came to the shop - too far gone and beyond reasonable repair. Charging problems, no backlight, no video and age was enough to call this logic board done. (#2) shows missing traces at display's LVDS (data) connector; no telling what other functions were compromised or on the way out.

Visual signs of a recent spill may be much more subtle and difficult to find without inspection under a scope.
In another spill-damaged machine, a drop of water found its way thru a notebook keyboard onto a pair of microscopic pins. Clear evidence of the resulting spark may be seen when magnified (and was probably audible). We were able to bring this MacBook Air back to life and make it fully functional again, despite last rites from Apple. Nice to pull a rabbit outta the hat now and then.

"Girlfriend spilled something into her MacBook Air awhile back, would you take a look at it?"

I was greeted by eight colonies of dead critters (like the group pictured, left), eggs, bug poo and lots of green, fuzzy corrosion, along with dried residue
from a significant spill. Disgusting.

SSD tested fine, but logic board, keyboard, and I/O board were destroyed. Machine sat here
abandoned for months until disposal, only SSD remains (w/bill).

What else did you forget to mention?

MacBook Pro arrived with a damaged screen. Display module's inner frame had broken an inch or two above a hinge, and opening/closing notebook was prying its display apart. (Apparently a weak display frame on this particular model has generated many complaints.) Client was present when we removed the back and discovered what you see below. All bets are off.

Using an external monitor, we managed to boot it up and tested all keys on the keyboard. All worked perfectly, so there's no way this much liquid entered thru notebook's keyboard. After a thorough disassembly and cleaning, we found the broken tip of a headphone plug buried deep in headphone jack, eliminating audio output. It had no wifi functions, its battery was showing its age, and it had a head-stripped fan screw that had to be surgically removed. All that and a broken display, too.

We managed to fix display housing and hinge without replacing the entire display module (not recommended), then got wifi working. Replaced all four missing hard drive mounts
and a few other missing screws, removed and replaced the stripped fan screw, replaced missing feet, even got the optical drive to burn a DVD, then got audio output back. Needs a new battery, but this machine returned from the grave in pretty good shape.

Urine trouble again?

Ewww, yech! A pMac... instant corrosion. The only thing to come of this was an entertaining tale of woe and a wasted pair of rubber gloves. Seems owner's boyfriend peed on her 'puter. Machine was DOA. Down the drain, so to speak.

Acid washed
And here's what vomit does to a notebook (in this case, cat puke). When this machine arrived - hours after some poor puddytat had spewed into its keyboard and ports - battery was still connected, fan was going full-tilt, and machine was sizzling hot.

With the perfect combination of corrosive liquid and heat to accelerate this logic board's demise, it arrived baked to perfection. There's no recovery from this kind of destruction, can't even recognize components or printed circuits anymore, it's D-U-N, done. That's why it's so important to
prevent accidents like these by keeping equipment out of harm's way at all times and protecting that machine with a keyboard cover. You'll be glad you did.

A little leverage goes a long way

This MacBook Air arrived with "loose hinges" that were too weak to hold up display properly. Airs are so light, being able to open 'em one-handed leaves just enough hinge tension to support display - under normal conditions. Between little or no hinge tension and having loose screws, this one was flopping open and shut unless balanced just so.

Removed display and clutch cover to find the screws were indeed loose, but worse than that, both hinges were broken (blue arrows). Replace hinges? Not possible. All cables to display, camera and antennas pass thru the center of these hinges (red arrows), meaning a whole new display was the only repair option.

Shocking! Power strip goes kaput
Nothing like plugging your computer into a power strip only to hear a pop and catch a whiff of ozone. Photo below is an opened-up Rhino brand surge protector.
This is the back of the outlet that shorted, one of 12 inside this Rhino's steel housing. All 12 outlets are wired in parallel using bare solid copper wire; top wire is hot, middle is neutral, bottom is ground.

Plug pushed top (hot) connector free of its no-name plastic housing and directly into the neutral copper wire next to it. (Neutral connector is capable of shorting-out, too.) It's lucky nobody got hurt by this.

What's cookin'?
The I/O board from an AirBook, that's what. A tiny bit o'metal in just the wrong place was enough to make this USB port too hot to handle within a matter of seconds (DC-in board is right next door).

Smell of burning electronics was unmistakable, arrow points to obvious scorch mark where rear of USB port housing meets machine's keyboard.

Had it happened to the USB port on other side of this machine, it would likely have meant replacing entire logic board.

How old is it?

Mac Mini purchased online by client was probably sold as "refurbished" and came with a boatload of pirate (stolen) software installed. Arrived here a few weeks later with a dead 8-year-old OEM hard drive - and no wonder.

When bottom cover was removed, the cobweb you see in photo floated down onto machine. Fan was packed with dust, machine was basically a high-tech dirt clod. Disassembly, a thorough cleaning, new drive and OS put it back in service. Now it's refurbished.

Mah biscuits are burnin'
Your Mac has temp sensors and cooling fans to protect it from overheating. If sensors detect excessive heat over 150F or so, machine will go to sleep until it cools down, or - more likely - shut off if condition persists. Its cooling system is remarkably effective - unless it looks like this.

Lifting fan reveals a thick layer of lint sealing off fan exhaust and causing this MacBook to overheat and shutdown (as it should).

Another machine (below) also clogged with lint and dust. Owner noticed it was getting very hot and brought it in for a cleaning when it began shutting itself off.
Both MacBooks were back in service following a complete cleaning with no harm done,
testimony to the durability and design of Macintosh notebooks.

Below is a fairly typical (older) iMac after a few years in a relatively clean environment. iMacs have multiple fans to assist with cooling by convection and seldom suffer heat-related issues as notebooks might, but they all collect dust just the same. (Machine came in for unrelated services.)

Bang Ding Ow
This MacBook Pro took a hit on its bottom side (3 arrows) hard enough to dislodge its hard drive - which then dented bottom case in outward direction (circle/arrow) and broke display mount (T-shape bracket). Hard drive ceased to function on impact with a shock sufficient to destroy machine's optical drive as well. Fortunately, the owner of this Mac had a complete, proper back-up of all his data. We replaced hard drive, restored data from backup and replaced the optical drive.

Update: Machine came back after being dropped again two years later. And again, the hard drive was kaput. ("Bang Ding Ow" is from newscast on YouTube here.)

Swollen MacBook batteries
We've seen enough of distorted laptop batteries over the years, and here are a few that were ignored for too long.

This machine was only three years old when battery cracked its trackpad. Swollen cell was directly beneath trackpad and nearly twice as thick as it should be.

Caller said she had malware slowing machine's operation, and this is the machine she brought in. Battery broke trackpad, then split bottom case off, revealing a solid-state drive dangling from its ribbon cable (never installed properly). We removed the bogus utility apps, adware and garbage she had downloaded - then replaced battery, trackpad, drive mounts and missing screws. A week later she was back after having downloaded more malware.

Remarkably similar damage from a different battery in another MacBook Pro. Trackpad has cracked, bottom case was ready to break free. Early symptom is inability to click trackpad button.

Newer models have a battery (heavily) glued to trackpad and keyboard, making it near impossible to remove/replace any of these components without replacing all three with a new top case from Apple.

540GB of data on 500GB hard drive

Until recently I would've said that was impossible, but I'd be wrong. After a very long and twisted data recovery process using three backup drives with two OS replacements - along with every bug and glitch imaginable - we did indeed end up with 540GB recovered from a 500GB drive. And this on a machine that had been declared DOA by Apple.

One of the strangest jobs to come along in years, it quickly became such a challenge that billing was soon suspended to allow for some unconventional experimentation (on a cloned copy, of course). First clue: User Home Folder reported zeroK content + 885MB shared folder =
455GB total data.

Drive had every app known onboard, no less than 15 of 'em launching on startup. Worst of all, it was encrypted and compressed - which is why content exceeded drive capacity. Needless to say, client was happy to get all that data back, plus a fully-functional machine to boot (so to speak).

Canadian OS, eh?

What you see below is a screen dump of the Finder, showing one possible aftermath of running out of space on a hard drive while doing some heavy lifting.

A recording studio was in full flight, mixing down tracks while simultaneously copying audio files and running other apps in the background, when machine ran out of hard drive space and hit the wall.

"I could tell things weren't quite right," the engineer told me, "but I just had to get this one last job finished." With processors going full-tilt and a massive amount of data on the move (warnings ignored), it was lights out, game over. After a forced restart, he was horrified to see screens full of gibberish.

We recovered all data, made repairs and (strongly) recommended having backup.

Time stands still

This machine was only about a week old when it arrived here at the shop. Owners were trying to reinstall its Operating System (for some reason) and needed help. Photo shows System install screen underway - but it quickly became apparent that an OS install was only part of what this Mac needed.

During installation, progress bar and video froze. Moving install window around would cause screen to refresh momentarily, but video card was defective and interfering with operation (replaced by Apple under warranty). And, to make matters worse, the OS install disk that came with this early  27" iMac was also defective (next entry).

Hello, Quality Control?
Defective DVD frustrated owner's attempts to reinstall OSX on a new Mac (back when the OS came on a disc); disc is missing part of its reflective metallic layer near edge, looks almost like a finger print. We connected owners with Apple Support and saw to it that they received a replacement DVD thru the mail.

Assembled in Chian
Ya say your notebook won't power up? Gee, wonder why. This cheapo made in "Chian" battery wound up costing its owner dearly.

We've seen damage done from cheap knock-off AC adapters, too; they may overheat or short out, they blacken MagSafe ports, destroy batteries and DC-in boards, wreak havoc on power management and they can be downright dangerous.

You get what you pay for. Spare yourself the grief and extra expense caused by counterfeit goods and get the genuine article whenever possible.

Parts is parts.
Unless there aren't any parts... This particular laptop model had a display module that wasn't intended to be serviced, only replaced, and replacements were not available at the time. What you see is a notebook starting up after being dropped. The first light gray vertical lines are boot screen with logo and spinning gear. Any animation onscreen caused vertical lines to dance about like a deranged bar code. With no replacement available, it ended up connected to an external display for the time being.

Broken Logic Pro key
A form of copy protection, some apps require a USB "key" to be in place before the application will launch and function. We repaired this one with a new plug, a little solder and some plastic casting. Wasn't pretty, but it worked and got our client off the hook.

Trouble on the web

Here's a Mac with an honest-to-goodness bug. Appears to have been in there for awhile, but we were too late to save his fuzzy little cephalothorax.

Internal short on USB bus
Nice to know the Mac has built-in protections for various faults, including this one. Port was damaged and shorting to ground.

Non-standard discs = bad news in slot-load drives
Here's a CD wedgie courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

Funky lil' mini-discs are shoved to the back of optical drives (CD/DVD drive), where they get lodged and cannot eject. Removal and disassembly of drive is the only solution, and just getting there can be an adventure on some machines. Good news is, no harm done and this machine was ready to fly in no time.

Another drive we encountered proved to be rather curious: We found (a record!) three full-size CDs stuffed inside a single slot-loading SuperDrive. Dunno how that was accomplished (nor why anyone would do such a thing), but after removal and reassembly the drive was again fully functional.

Got change for a quarter?

We've removed lots of things from optical drives, including SD cards, credit cards, tiny glass beads, rice - and this quarter stuck under capstan. All survived the operation. Owner got a 25-cent discount.

Possible fire damage?
Back of this display from an iMac clearly shows heat damage near machine's fan and even some rust above it, suggesting steam from having been in a fire at some time in its life. Macs are well protected from overheating by sensors designed to detect an overtemp condition. They may spin down drives and go to sleep or turn themselves off if condition persists. There's simply no way a computer can generate the kind of heat required to do this sort of damage, but we never got the whole story...

Might wanna take a break there, bucko
About the fifth time this poor guy entered a page full of registration info on some web site only to see it all disappear with an error - again - he delivered a right cross to the screen of his girlfriend's notebook.

Pretty expensive repair, but machine left here in great shape and client wasn't forced to crash on the shop sofa. Probably had to grovel some, tho ;-).

Display Burnout

LCD displays use tiny CCFL tubes to light up the screen - these measure .095" diameter, less than a tenth of an inch. This pair came from an iMac screen that had two at the top and two at bottom (some displays have 'em on sides). These tiny glass tubes can be quite long, making them extremely delicate and hard to handle. They seldom go bad, but when they do they can act just like any other fluorescent tube. (Apple began the industry transition away from CCFLs to LED backlights in 2007.)

Blown component

Client said he heard a pop and machine suddenly went dead. After trying all the usual suspects (power supply, button, ports and controls, cables and connections, etc.), only thing left was to continue disassembly of this machine until something turned up.

After cleaning and close examination, everything looked perfectly normal - until we removed logic board. An ever-so-tiny scorch mark was found on bottom case, corresponding to the blown capacitor pictured above (next to a dime). Continuity check verified failure. Given age and street value of this particular Mac, owner opted to replace machine rather than make repairs.

Heart breaker

An absolutely pristine 17" MacBook Pro without so much as a fingerprint on it. Was wearing a clear plastic outer cover, kept in a case, obviously very well cared for and lovingly handled during its 6 or 7-year lifespan.

Autopsy took 5 minutes, all too familiar this one. 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo with the notorious self-destructing NVIDIA 8600M graphics processor (also used in 2.2, 2.5 and 2.6GHz C2D models). Apple replaced logic boards in these machines due to video failure in a free program that ended on Pearl Harbor Day of 2012 - long ago. Nothing more to do with this but transfer its hard drive to an enclosure and scrap the machine. Sad to see.

Minor design flaws (yes, even Apple)

Apple design criteria and goals have always been cutting-edge, many of which earned entry into museums of modern art and design. Apple now enjoys widespread recognition as the industry leader and continues to set the bar for manufacturing and product design. Over the years some Apple designs have been so exotic and unconventional as to create special circumstances that might be viewed as, well, flawed.

One prime example of an over-the-top Apple design that merits special consideration is the G4 Cube released in 2000. This Mac had a 7-inch cube-shaped core (descended from the 1988 NeXT Cube), released and extracted from under its case by a spring-loaded handle. The G4 Cube, first of the G4 PowerMacs, was unveiled at the San Francisco MacWorld Expo, displayed inside a tall glass tube with its core suspended over inverted case.

While the design was as spectacular as it is unique, it had a few characteristics that proved to be something of a drawback, such as having all ports on the bottom of the machine where they were hard to access, and a disc drive that popped CDs out the top like a toaster but would weaken over time and refuse to eject. Minor flaws, really, and easily overlooked by those who appreciated stunning design concept and execution back in the day.

Major considerations
Design flaws considered significant are those which go beyond minor irritations and lead straight to costly service. Here's one "flaw" so blatant as to have been completely overlooked:

Like all computers, this iMac had a PRAM battery on its logic board with a life span of five years or so. When time for replacement came, owners were in for a nasty shock: Replacing this battery required removal of outer case, shields, sub assemblies, cables, display, speakers, fans, drives, and logic board. Just to access a $5 battery. This iMac's predecessor was extremely easy to service - and the following model was completely redesigned and quite elegant, too - but this particular transition machine got caught in the middle with internals designed to be serviced from the rear inside a case that opened in front.

Notorious design issues:

Photo (right) shows broken hinges from a Titanium-case PowerBook (aka TiBook). This problem was all too common on this 2002 model. Damage was compounded by the fact that replacing a hinge required replacing the entire $700 display - at least as far as Apple was concerned - and that's exactly what Apple did for all warranty repairs. A cottage industry sprang up for those who weren't covered, offering stainless steel replacement hinges installed to existing display, but it was still an expensive fix.

Common design issues:
Notebook optical drive slots (shown here from inside machine, drive removed) consist of a 5-inch-wide opening that is difficult to reinforce. This one had its aluminum support frame bent, effectively closing slot and rendering the optical drive useless. Not exactly a "design flaw" per-se, but a weakness common to all notebooks equipped with CD/DVD drives. Can't say I'm sorry to see optical drives going away...

Another beat-up notebook, this one with a broken frame making machine's display a little wobbly. Added stress on hinges typically cause eventual damage to cables and display failure.

Pin Grid Array -vs- Ball Grid Array -vs- Land Grid Array

All notebooks have tiny video cards onboard, usually soldered to the logic board by way of a Ball Grid Array (pads, left). These provide good heat transfer and a more compact assembly, but if BGA fails the logic board goes with it.
Early machines used a detachable Pin Grid Array with plug/socket arrangement for daughtercards (right) that seldom caused problems and also allowed for upgrades. The third method, Land Grid Array, consists of leads fanning out from a chip's perimeter that are soldered to circuit board, a very common and robust type of surface-mount technology.

A compromised BGA is difficult to repair, but is possible using an expensive process called "reballing" (which isn't nearly as much fun as it may sound ;-). Failed video may mean replacement of entire logic board, replacement and reballing a new graphics processor (GPU), or reballing existing GPU if a new one is not available.

BGAs are the most complex of miniaturized connections commonly used in notebooks, and a good example of what makes notebooks more fragile than desktop machines and towers. It's also one reason we recommend consideration of an extended factory warranty from _any_ manufacturer when buying an expensive notebook computer.

"Pry it open, let's see what's in there..."

This next machine was still (somewhat) functional when it arrived, although its fans went on full-tilt moments after startup, and screen would blackout periodically. Kids took a screwdriver to mom's $2K notebook.

Many screws were stripped, missing and broken, including a critical heat
sink mount alongside processor, lifting heatsink and caused a noticeable bulge in top case and keyboard
(red arrows).

Optical drive had apparently been pried out, too (mounts and bezel broken), then reinstalled using duct tape. We were able to repair everything, including machine's SuperDrive, but - unfortunately - damage to the optical drive ATA bus prevented drive from functioning. Machine was reassembled sans optical drive, and repaired SuperDrive placed into an external enclosure.

Do-it-yourself upgrade:

Owner's goal was to upgrade his laptop's hard drive, but it never happened. After obtaining a drive that might have fit, he carefully disassembled his notebook until he got to the logic board. Attempting to disconnect a tiny plug, he pulled entire connector off the logic board - traces, solder and all. We reconstructed the board's tiny copper traces and successfully repaired connector and tested logic board, but alas... When he took the board home and tried to reassemble his notebook, the display went black when he destroyed machine's video. Oops.

Same story, different connector

This time a ZIF connector was ripped from logic board by someone bent on saving money. Aren't many shops around that would've taken the time required to fix this notebook (under the circumstances). ZIF stands for Zero Insertion Force, by the way, and these connectors require no force to disconnect as well. Just havta know how they work.

Amateur hard drive replacement
A brand-spanking-new $3K notebook underwent a hard drive upgrade at the hands of its owner, a man who was so focused on trying to pry the machine's cases apart that he neglected to remove a few central screws. Resulting damage was about $500 with a bent V-shaped aluminum top case, broken keyboard and voided warranty. (Angry that Apple refused to fix it for free under warranty, he brought it in still fuming.)

Disc fishing:

Slot-loading disk drives present a hazard or two that might be unexpected, including the fate of nonstandard CDs and DVDs that enter - and do not exit - these drives. Other foreign matter may find its way into that slot, too, and many a damaged drive has passed thru the shop.

Once a mini-disc or foreign object has become stuck in the drive, trying to fish it out thru that tiny slot is all but impossible, as this client found out. He got hold of the drives thin, stainless steel innards by mistake, bent the daylights out of it and destroyed the drive.

All-time worst advice for curing an optical drive malfunction:
A client called to say he'd found a "tip" on the internet for fixing his MacBook Pro's SuperDrive. He'd followed the instructions but it caused the drive to make horrible loud noises even tho there was nothing in it. So, he took his machine apart trying to disconnect the OD and said he'd lost Bluetooth function, video cam and one speaker in the process. What was the "tip?" Cut a CD in half(!), then insert it into the drive. Whatta stupid thing to do. Needless to say, it gutted the mechanism. We replaced the demolished drive and managed to restore all other functions. Gotta love that online advice.

Thrashed, trashed and crashed
When she called she said it needed a trackpad and wanted to know what a replacement would cost. Said a rock fell on it.

There was nothing salvageable in the wreckage. Nothing. Even the battery was swollen (tho taking a charge), keyboard was kaput, no video out and only what you see here on startup. Somehow the hard drive survived (once it was removed to an enclosure and various directory errors were repaired), but that was it. Has to be a story behind this, but we never got to hear it.