Archive for the ‘Misc. Projects’ Category

Not a Fan—Not!

Wednesday, February 16th, ©2011 Marcus Brooks

The other day I cracked open my wife Shea’s MacBook Pro for the second time in as many months.

The first time, it was to replace her hard drive. She was hearing a buzz and thought her system was acting up. She really needs that Mac, so I ordered a nicely priced enormous internal drive from OWC and dropped it in.

How hard was that? Not as bad as I expected. Yes, there are a whole lot of microscopic screws to take out and keep track of, and there’s a trick to unsticking some cables that have to move, but I’ll get to that in a minute. All in all, I just restored her Time Machine backup to the new drive and followed her model’s iFixit.com steps to drop the drive in. The OWC kit had everything I needed. (Almost… I’ll get to that in a minute, too.)

Except for a few little things, Shea’s new system drive came up and worked pretty much as it had before (only better). A few programs acted as if they were running for the first time, but in her case she didn’t have to re-enter any software keys. Oh, there was one other thing…

The buzz was still there. Yeah. I expected that.

The Culprit: a MacBook Pro Right-Hand Fan

Once a Fan Starts Buzzing, It Never Really Stops

You see, the likelihood of a failure is inversely proportional to the proximity of a technician. This old Murphyism causes what some laptop phone techs call “loopers.”  I never heard the buzz, so I couldn’t figure out which fan was bad, so I just replaced the hard drive! Hey, it was nearly full, and the system was acting up. A new drive was in order anyway. The fan could wait a bit; if it’s noisy, it’s running.

The second time I actually heard the buzz and nailed down its location (right side). I ordered a new fan for Shea’s model straight from iFixit.com; did a fresh Time Machine backup just in case, and used the same OWC tools with the appropriate iFixit steps to drop the fan in. It works now. Cheers! Case closed.


TMI Dept.: Stop Here if You Don’t Want How-To Details

But… There are some things I learned along the way that I want to share. To wit:

  • Use the instructions on iFixit.com to find your Mac’s model number. Mine was in grey fine print on the Mac’s bottom, not in About This Mac.
  • The OWC kit doesn’t include an anti-static mat, a hair dryer, and some good fine reliable tweezers. No kidding; for me, hemostats are too clumsy for this job. Magnifying goggles might help if your eyesight’s fading. And plenty of light.
  • Oh, you also need an egg carton to put screws in; they’re different for each step. Mark steps on the cups as you go. Put a weight on the carton’s open lid so you or the cats don’t knock it off the table. (I used a bottle of steel shot one time, a couple of big onions the other.)
  • Get the anti-static mat. I rolled my own, but I’m not going to say how because someone will do it wrong and kill their Mac or themselves and they or their survivors will blame me.
  • (Notice I put “their Mac” before “themselves.” I honestly believe the danger to the Mac will convince more people to buy a mat instead of making one. We’re all idiots, have you noticed?)
  • Some ribbon cables and things are glued or taped down. Use the hair dryer to warm up the glued part gently so it’s easier to separate. Keep a finger in the air flow so you know you’re not hurting anything. (If your finger hurts, back off with the dryer. If you can’t feel pain, use someone else’s finger; do I have to tell you everything?) Be very careful not to kink any ribbon cables. An invisibly cracked cable can be an intermittent nightmare.
  • Gently pry surface-mount connectors up away from the board. These aren’t like the big clunky old microscopic ribbon connectors that slid in sideways. These are a bit like tiny patches of electronic Velcro; except alignment counts!
  • The second time around, I learned that it was a bad idea to use thread locker the first time—even the “removable” kind. I did use it again the second time. I felt compelled to; Apple clearly used it in the first assembly. But this time I metered out the smallest possible drop through a 28-gauge needle and wiped away as much as I could before putting the screw in. I’m still a little worried about getting the screws out again if I have to.
  • The second time around, Shea’s Mac came up with a blank grey screen and just sat there. I think the OS was confused about where its startup disk was. She held the power button to shut down and unplugged all her USB stuff. After that the Mac started normally and she was able to plug in her stuff again.

That’s all I can think of. I do not recommend repair projects for a Mac that’s still under warranty, for an electronics novice, or for anybody who isn’t both bold and meticulous (or able to fake those attributes in a pinch). No matter what, find the right procedure on iFixit.com and make sure you’re comfortable with all the steps before committing yourself to the project.

And be mentally ready to take your Mac to a real tech to undo your mistakes afterwards. I was. (Just don’t tell my wife that!)