Written: April 9, 2015

Failing Graphics on a 2011 MacBook Pro

What Happened When My Laptop Died, Twice

Over the past few decades I’ve owned laptops from Zenith Data Systems, Toshiba, Dell, HP and Apple. I’ve known that the reliability of laptops in particular is quite low because of how tightly packed the components are, leading quite often to heat-related failures in the CPU, GPU, DRAM or other chips mounted on the logic board. Last week my 2011 MacBook Pro with 17″ display decided to flake out and stop working after annoying graphical glitches and constant freezes and reboots.

Failing Graphics on a 2011 MacBook Pro

Failing Graphics on a 2011 MacBook Pro

Thankfully, I’ve been watching the Apple forums and heard about an official program dubbed, “MacBook Pro Repair Extension Program for Video Issues“. It turns out that the graphics chip is attached to the logic board with lead-free solder, and that if not applied properly will eventually begin to fail after so many heat and cool cycles.

Related – A Brief History of the Apple MacBook Pro

I did a quick Google search for, “lead free solder failures” and it returned some 940,000 results, so this is a big topic not just limited to Apple’s MacBook Pro product.

Sn/Ag/Cu/Sb Failure with Voids in Crack

Sn/Ag/Cu/Sb Failure with Voids in Crack

Some related articles about lead-free solder failure:

AMD Radeon GPU on a MacBook Pro

AMD Radeon GPU on a MacBook Pro

Prior to the Apple repair program you had a few choices:

Apple is wisely offering to repair at no cost to the owner affected MacBook Pro laptops that were sold from February 2011 and December 2013:

To see if your MacBook Pro qualifies, see what year your laptop is by clicking on: Apple> About This Mac

About this Mac

I was able to phone my local Apple store at Bridgeport Village, confirm my serial number, then make an appointment with the Apple Genius Bar to drop off the laptop. Since I wanted to keep working while my 17″ MacBook Pro was being repaired, I decided to buy a used 15″ MacBook Pro from a local Craigslist listing. After just five days of use my 15″ MacBook Pro died this morning in the same manner as my 17″ in for repair, so today was not a fun day for me. I traveled to my Apple store with the dead 15″ MacBook Pro and the Genius Bar guy noted, “Oh, your 17″ is back from repair”. Now that was perfect timing, so I’m typing this blog on my recently repaired 17″ MacBook Pro, and waiting for my backup 15″ laptop to be repaired in about a week for the same failure mechanism.

Related – A Brief History of Chip Design at Apple Computer

I’m not sure of the exact economic cost to Apple for implementing this MacBook Pro repair program, but online there was a petition started to recall these failing MacBook Pro computers and over 38,000 people had signed it. In California and Canada class action lawsuits have also been filed to address this consumer product failure. Let’s take a guess and say that up to 100,00 MacBook Pro owners have this work done and that it costs Apple $500 to repair each unit, that would make the cost about $50 Million, and maybe it will also stop the two class-action lawsuits.

The one Apple person that I spoke to on the phone about my failing laptop wanted to know if my machine was stock or had been modified. I admitted that I had replaced the hard disk drive with a Samsung 500 GB SSD, and upgraded the DRAM to 16 GB. At first he wanted me to return all components to stock, but I pushed back and pointed out that my SSD used less power than a hard disk drive, and actually made my laptop run cooler, plus the DRAM was testing OK and was not causing these failures. He finally relented, and said that he was making an exception for me. Uh huh.

Related – A Brief History of the Apple iPod

The good news is that Apple is the largest consumer electronics company in the world, and they finally decided to help out distressed MacBook Pro owners like myself by admitting that there was a reliability issue, then offering a free repair program. I’m still undecided if I will continue to buy Apple products because it has been such a hassle for me to have two failing MacBook Pro laptops plus an iPad 2.

My iPad 2 was out of the 2 year Apple Care warranty period, and it continued to freeze and reboot sporadically. Maybe I just have to wait long enough for Apple to have a free repair program my iPad 2, just like the MacBook Pro.

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