Tuesday, December 18, 2012

INTRODUCTION

I hope I'll never have a logic board problem. Why?

It's one of the most expensive computer repairs out there - around $600, in many cases. That's half the price of a new 13" MacBook Pro. Given the history of logic board problems on this line, it pays to be a little frightened.


Some computer users approach a logic or graphics board failure as they would a terminal disease. It comes out of the blue. Nobody seems to know why it happens. Everything’s fine for years and then, suddenly, your world is turned upside down. (Thankfully, it's also relatively uncommon.)


WHAT IS A LOGIC BOARD?
The Mac's logic board is synonymous with the PC's "motherboard." It's a computer's main circuit board. It contains the central processing unit, main system memory, as well as circuitry that controls the disk drives, keyboard, monitor, and peripherals.


WHAT CAUSES LOGIC BOARD FAILURE?
Whether you have a Mac or PC laptop, three things usually top the list: heat, solder, and static. Some failures result from faults in manufacturing, as with some gently-used units that fail only weeks after purchase. This doesn't happen often, but it definitely happens.

1. Specific generations of MacBooks (like the MacBook Pro 15", early Spring 2011) are associated with persistent graphics board problems. Replacement of the board doesn't guarantee that the problem won't reappear.

2. During manufacture, the MacBook logic board is soldered to the graphics board. The is exactly where the logic/graphics board issue happens. Evidence is always changing, but one explanation is that the MacBook Pro uses lead-free solder with tin. This increases the chance of developing "tin whiskers." These short tendrils can eventually cause unintended electrical connections - especially if there's a lot of heat involved.

Factors Governing Tin Whisker Growth, by Erika Crandall (available on Apple iBooks)
Parts with Tin Whiskers

A few users prefer a simpler explanation: it just happens.

Apple offers no explanation for why logic board problems occur.


WHY A MACBOOK PRO?
You might ask: why does the MacBook Pro have a disproportionate amount of logic/graphics board problems? The jury is still out on that one, but it pays to ask a few hard questions:

Why do logic/graphics board problems occur so infrequently with an iMac?
Why don't they happen with iPods, iPads, or iPhones?

Well, iPods, iPhones, iPads, and iMacs are fully ventilated. Heat builds, but quickly dissipates.

A MacBook Pro has an aluminum body, so heat builds, but takes longer to dissipate. Moreover, if a MacBook is shut right after use, venting of heat is very slow. Higher-end MacBooks have more graphics power, generate more heat,...and are more prone to logic/graphics board issues.


HOW TO RECOGNIZE LOGIC BOARD PROBLEMS
Commercially available programs cannot diagnose the problem with any accuracy. The symptoms can vary, but unexplained crashes, problems booting, odd noises like clicking or grinding and/or corrupted or inconsistent display issues are typically associated with logic board problems. If the graphics board is involved, you may see a white screen and/or spinning pinwheels. Several of these “symptoms” are common to a wide array of software or hardware problems, so thoroughly research the issue before drawing premature conclusions.

In some cases, resetting the SMC can fix overheating issues. 

eHow offers a selection of clearly-written articles on diagnosing a bad logic board:
Signs of a Bad Logic Board
Testing a Logic Board
Diagnosing a Logic Board

The Houston Chronicle also has a detailed, informative article on diagnosing logic board problems.

Moreover, certain batches of MacBooks seem to exhibit higher incidences of logic/graphics board failure. 

• MacBook Pro 2007-8: A portion of these machines had a problem the NVIDIA chip. An Apple Extended Warranty Program fixed many units, though the program has ended.

• MacBook Pro 2010, 15": The mid-year batch exhibited a higher incidence of logic board problems.
• MacBook Pro 2011, 15": The early batch of machines had a high incidence of logic board issues with the Radeon 6450M and 6490M graphics chips.
• MacBook Pro 2012 15": The early batch of these machines is showing the same problem.
• MacBook Pro 17": This model exhibited higher levels of logic board problems, though I don't have any figures relating to year of manufacture.
• MacBook Pro Retina 2013, 15": A spike in heat and logic board issues.


Once you've done your research, and you're still convinced you have a problem, you should visit your local Apple Store/Genius Bar for an appointment. The consultation is free, and the information may give you all the information you need to make a decision.


HOW TO FIX LOGIC BOARD PROBLEMS
Once you’ve determined that your computer has a logic board problem, you're going to have to make some choices. 

  1. Your unit is under fourteen days old. A customer has fourteen days to return a MacBook Pro, for whatever reason, so long as you purchased it from an Apple retail store. Terms from other retailers may vary. This is the best option if you notice problems early on.
  2. Your unit is still under warranty. If you purchased your computer from Apple, your unit is warranted for a full year. If you suspect logic board problems, the Apple Store/Genius Bar is the first place you should visit. They'll inform you what the problem is, if it needs to be repaired, and how long it's going to take. (In the first year of ownership, you can purchase an extended warranty of three years, for an additional $249.00.)
  3. Your unit is not under warranty. If you have a logic board problem and aren't covered by the warranty anymore - you’ll likely have to pay for the repair. The price for repair and replacement of the parts will probably be between $200 and $600. The repair is warranted for ninety days, and is only valid for problems resulting from the repair. 
  4. If your unit is not under warranty, but are covered by legal judgement. In certain cases, if you purchased the computer, say, in the UK or Australia, your logic/graphics board problem may be covered in case of a failure. 
  5. Self-repair options. Some intrepid Mac users with technical expertise have opted to repair the computer on their own. Several uTube videos describe how the process works, and you should be able to find text online, as well. The most popular method is to disassemble the board, heat it up, and reflow the flux - which might get your computer working again - for a few months, anyway. 
  6. Extended warranty. Certain MacBook Pros from 2007 and 2008 were eligible for extended warranty thanks to a legal judgment. However, the extended warranty period has expired. You'll have to investigate other options.
  7. Third-Party repair. Several companies offer low-cost repair of the Mac logic board, often for less than what Apple charges. Not all units can be repaired, however, and sometimes the job will require additional work. Several reputable vendors have demonstrated success and dependability; Powerbook Medic leads the list nationally, though you shouldn't ignore local vendors.
  8. Get a new unit (or a different computer). If you're fed up with repair bills, purchasing a new machine is a conservative but reliable choice. You can list your non-working or disabled MacBook on eBay to recoup some of your investment. If you choose to do this, it's important to be as detailed and honest in your description as possible.
If you're getting the unit fixed by Apple, be aware that you must have the original HD installed. If it's a third-party SSD or hybrid, Apple will tack $950 to the bill; if you don't have the original drive anymore, Apple will return your laptop unrepaired.


COOKING THE BOOKS
Some users want to know how to fix the logic board themselves. I wouldn't do it myself; but only in the interest of free speech, I'll provide links to fellow users who have tried DIY repairs. Please note that, if you decide to reflow the solder, this may invalidate any eligibility for an extended warranty. Professional repair is your best option.

iFixit offers detailed instructions on Mac repair, regardless of the model.

Moreover, several users have posted their own solutions:

Baking My MacBook
MacBook Pro Video Repair
The Oven Trick
Heat Gun
Baking Recipe

Fixes like "solder reflow" may succeed in the short term, but, on average, end up lasting around four months.


CLEANING A LOGIC BOARD
Whether you want to clean the logic/graphics board of your MacBook Pro, or want to get rid of the "tin whiskers" that may be causing the issue, you should realize that making mistakes can destroy your machine (and obviously invalidate your warranty). However, some have had success cleaning the logic/graphics boards of their machines; and the results last much longer than "solder reflow" methods. The caveat, as always: professional repair is your best option. 

Pitfalls Cleaning a Logic Board

One promising option for cleaning a failing or failed logic board is to ultrasonic cleaning methods. This is a new and largely unvalidated solution, but it's potentially promising.

Ultrasonic Cleaners


LIQUID SPILL DISASTERS
If spillage affects the logic board, there's still a fair chance of success - presuming there's not too much liquid. Again, professional repair is your best option, though the following links include advice from those who have succeeded with their repair:

Red Wine Spill
Mac Liquid Spillage
Spilled Liquid on My Machine
Laptop Repairs


LEGAL MEASURES
When it comes to subjects like liability, it’s rarely just “black and white.” Apple's internal decisions and legal policies may change, and it's good to be aware of your rights. This useful link from Cult of Mac addresses problems with defective Apple products.

When a hardware flaw, as with a logic/video board, occurs frequently, legal action is a real possibility. Visit a lawyer, and retain Apple Support discussions and error logs. It may seem counterintuitive, but making this kind of fault public can make Apple products better over time. 

If you’re frustrated with Apple’s treatment of the logic board issue, you can initiate or join a suit - individual or class action. There’s no guarantee that that law will rule in your favor. But Apple has lost this type of action before; several State and Federal suits are currently being investigated or litigated. A few deal with the logic board issue. 


AVOIDING LOGIC BOARD PROBLEMS
Every MacBook is a little different, but following a few tips can improve its lifespan. Understanding your options can help you make more informed decisions.



FAULTY WORKMANSHIP

Occasionally, a MBP will exhibit logic/graphics board problems from the start. If your machine is still new (under 14 days old) you can still return the unit.


HEAT

Activities like word processing and accessing email place few demands on a MacBook Pro. However, the way you use your computer may lead to heating issues. You should know that...

- Reliance on Thunderbolt technology increases the amount of heat.
- CPU-intensive activities like 3D gaming for extended periods of time are potentially risky.
- Dust or dirt can choke the fans, increasing temperatures and even the risk of fire.

If your portable computer is very hot, there's an increased chance of logic board issue. If the temperature consistently exceeds 210ºF, an eventual failure is practically guaranteed. 

That doesn’t mean that you should avoid intensive computing; however, a portable isn’t a desktop computer. For a Mac, it’s a good idea to reduce your operating temperature:
  • Download free software to cool down your system. Fan Control allows you to increase the fan if your computing becomes more demanding. iStat Pro and iStat Menus allow you to keep track of your temperatures, so you can spot potential risks. gfxCardStatus may help some newer Macs manage graphic loads. 
  • A cooling pad offers a minimal reduction in temperature. Don't expect an improvement of more than 5 degrees F.
  • Following these steps will, for many users, markedly reduce the chance of a logic board failure. It won't eliminate them, but most will find a sizable reduction of this pricey problem. Make sure your MBP's internal temperature is consistently below 160ºF.

It's impossible to eliminate all logic board problems...but you can substantially reduce the risk.