Tag Archives: Repairs

Resurrecting a 17″ MacBook Pro with a heat gun

So the dreaded day came when my beloved “late 2011” 17 inch MacBook Pro died.  The screen wigged out while it was in use, then it would only boot halfway before stopping at a gray screen.  From experience, I knew that it was suffering from the dreaded AMD GPU logic board failure.  What commonly happens is that the solder joints in or around the GPU daughter-card fail over time, resulting in a gray, blank or garbled screen.

Ordinarily I would not attempt to repair any board with solder failure but new logic boards are simply not available for the late 2011 models and used ones are absurdly expensive (and may be close to failing anyway).  The repair I describe below worked perfectly for my 17 incher and also applies to the 15 inch models from the same era.

Best MacBook Pro ever?

IMHO, Apple has never made a better laptop for the the specific use case scenario where some limited portability is required and screen real estate is more important than size/weight.  This was the last of the 17-inchers, perhaps forever, and I plan to keep using it until it is pried out of my cold dead hands.  Okay, the last part is a bit of an exaggeration but my MBP does everything I need it to do and is still plenty fast.  Over the years I’ve managed to keep it ticking by upgrading to 16 GB RAM–Apple only officially supports 8 GB, but this works just fine thank you very much–and a 1 TB SSD.

Several people suggested that I should just put the old relic out to pasture and update to a new 15″ MacBook Pro.  “You can fit even more stuff on the new 15 inch screen!” they say.  Indeed, the 17-incher’s 1920 X 1200 pixel native resolution seems puny compared with the current 2880 X 1800 px Retina display.  But my eyes ain’t what they used to be and cramming my workspace into 15 inches just makes everything too darned small.

Non-intrusive repair option

Anyway, back to the repair.  The least intrusive way to make a MBP with GPU failure operational again is to disable the AMD GPU via software.  The built-in Intel GPU will take over but video performance for demanding tasks would suffer greatly.  I use my laptop for photo editing so that wasn’t a viable option.

Logic board repair options, from conservative to crazy

The other common fix is to reflow the solder in and around the GPU by using a heat source.  Multiple techniques, ranging from reckless (and cheap) to professional (and expensive) have been applied, with mixed success.  I hit the web to see what worked best.

During my research, mainly on Youtube, solutions included:  bake your MacBook in the kitchen oven at 350 degrees for an hour (like a cake?), disconnect the fans and leave it running and wrapped in blankets for a couple of hours (so snug and warm), open the bottom cover and hit the logic board with a hairdryer until you smell stuff melting, or (yawn) remove the logic board and put it though a programmed heating profile in an expensive professional reflow oven.  This video was one of my favorites.

So lacking a reflow oven but wanting to be halfway scientific about doing the job, I decided to reflow the GPU using a common hot air gunThis video does a good job at demonstrating the technique and is pretty close to how I did it.  The time/temperature points I chose are a little different based on my review of lead free solder reflow oven profiles, with times and temperatures increased slightly to compensate for hot air heating inefficiency.

Hot air reflow procedure

Note that all temperatures are specified in degrees Centigrade.

  1. Disassemble the MacBook Pro, referring to an online guide like those on ifixit.com, and remove the logic board.
  2. Clean all thermal paste residue off the CPU and GPU, using thermal grease solvent, flux remover, methanol or any other PCB-friendly solvent that works.  Just please do not use rubbing alcohol. It contains water and could create some new problems.
  3. Create a mask for the GPU using two or three sheets of aluminum foil.  You’ll want to cover all of the logic board except for the GPU.  Don’t install the mask yet.
  4. Place the logic board on a heat proof surface.  With your heat gun set to high and held a couple of feet away, heat both sides of the logic board for a couple of minutes to around 100° C.  The temperature isn’t really critical at this stage. The goal is warm up the entire board, but not so much that it cannot be handled by its edges.
  5. Attach the aluminum foil mask that you made in step 3.  If you are using a thermocouple for temperature measurement, affix the end so that it is resting on a corner of the GPU.  (I used a Fluke multimeter with a Type K thermocouple).  An infrared thermometer also works great;  keep it aimed at the middle of the GPU.
  6. In the subsequent steps, stay as close to the recommended times and temperatures as possible.  If your heat gun has high and low settings, select low.  Hold the heat gun about 3 inches from the GPU, moving it closer or further as necessary to hit the temperature targets.
  7. Apply heat until the surface of the GPU reaches 200° C, then continue applying heat for 3 minutes, keeping the GPU at 200°.
  8. Slowly increase heat to 220°, no more than 3° per second.
  9. Hold at 220° C for 2-1/2 minutes.
  10. Increase GPU temperature to 290° C and hold for 1 minute.
  11. Slowly back away the heat gun, decreasing heat by no more than 6° per second until you reach 200°, then turn off the heat gun and allow the logic board to continue cooling to room temperature
  12. Apply new thermal paste to the CPU and GPU, reinstall the heat sink and reassemble the laptop.


So far my success rate with this process is 100% 🙂  During my web research, I saw several comments indicating that this repair should be viewed as only temporary because the original design is flawed.  But if it my trusty 2011 17″ works for another six years, I’ll be more than satisfied with the couple of hours time invested in fixing it.

This repair was performed in March 2018 and I’ll make a follow-up post if the same failure occurs sometime in the future.

Repairing an iMac Power Supply

A 24″ iMac that wouldn’t start up came in for repair.   Pressing the power button got the fan to briefly run then shut off.  It never reached the point where there was a happy (or sad) chime.  The owner’s first inclination was to toss the computer after we wiped the hard disk but I told him we could probably get it running for the cost of a new power supply (around $75).

Using the always great disassembly instructions at ifixit.com, I got the front bezel off the iMac and checked the logic board diagnostic LEDs.  LED 1 was on and LED 2 came on briefly when I tried to start the computer, indicating that the logic board was probably fine and the problem was with the power supply.

Several disassembly steps later I had the power supply board out of the iMac.  From a quick visual inspection, I could see that some of the  2200 µF capacitors were leaking a bit and one had developed a considerable bulge at the base.  Maybe we could do a cheap repair here?

I clipped the four suspicious caps out (to get an accurate measurement) and checked them with my Fluke 179 multimeter–quick side story:  this DMM is so rugged that it survived a total loss house fire with only minor cosmetic damage.  All the capacitors were out of spec but interestingly the one that looked the worst actually measured closest to good.

Easy peasy fix, right?  LOL, not exactly.  This board uses lead free solder, which is a total pain to remove.  Even with my trusty Hako soldering iron cranked up to 800º, the PCB’s heavy copper traces made it a challenge to keep the solder molten long enough to suck it up with a desoldering tool.  An hour of determined effort and cussing later I had the old caps out and the through holes cleaned out.  (I needed to ream most of the holes to get the last bits of lead free solder out).  Four new shiny black capacitors installed without any drama.

Shiny new capacitorsAll LEDS Normal

I reinstalled the power supply module and the iMac started normally with 4 LEDs lit on the logic board.  I also installed a new button battery while the iMac was open.  Total cost of repair: under $2 🙂

If I were to attempt a similar repair again I wouldn’t bother with trying to remove any components from the circuit board because of the lead free solder.  The job wouldn’t look as pretty, but it would be a lot easier to just leave the old leads in place and solder new parts onto them.

An excellent SSD upgrade

I was tasked with upgrading 36 aging corporate desktop computers (HP model DC5700) to defer the next hardware refresh by 2-3 years.  Bumping the RAM to the maximum 4 GB didn’t result in a satisfactory speed improvement so I decided to explore Solid State Disk (SSD) options.

Users store their files on networked home directories, so there wasn’t any need to expand the PC storage much beyond the stock 80 GB.  Based on user reviews, size and price, the 120 GB Samsung 840 EVO-Series looked like a great fit. (These are also available in 250 GB, 500 GB and 1 TB capacities).  It’s 3-year warranty also aligned perfectly with the planned remaining life of the computers.

I fully expected to have a few issues to sort out on a test system before I could turn over the project to a junior tech for deployment.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover the bundled software is remarkably efficient and user-friendly:

  1. Boot Windows and log in as a local administrator
  2. Connect the SSD to the PC using a SATA to USB adaptor cable or drive enclosure
  3. Run Samsung’s Data Migration utility to copy the PC hard disk to the SSD
  4. Shutdown the PC and replace the hard disk with the SSD.  (Don’t waste money on a 2.5″ to 3.5″ mounting adapter.  A piece of double sided foam tape is all you need to secure the SSD).
  5. Run the Samsung Magician utility to tweak performance settings

Hands-on time was under five minutes per PC and it took around 20 minutes for the migration utility to copy everything off the hard disk.

The performance improvement is amazing.  Boot time reduced from 3+ minutes to under 30 seconds.  McAfee full antivirus scan, which previously rendered the PCs almost unusable when it was running, is now barely noticeable.

Tremendous bang for the buck and unconditionally recommended!!!

Reviving a drowned laptop

My friend spilled a glass of water into her 13″ MacBook Pro.  She had tried (unsuccessfully) to dry it out by sticking it in a bag of rice, followed up by a blast from a blow dryer.  The laptop would not turn on at all.  The battery was installed but fully depleted.  At that stage it was too late for her to heed my general advice for soaked electronics:

  1. Turn it off
  2. Remove the battery, if possible
  3. Open the case, if possible
  4. Seek professional advice before attempting to turn it on again!

Oh well . . .

With slim hopes of success, I set out to see if the laptop was salvagable.  As usual, iFixit had excellent teardown instructions.  Typical of Apple products, taking the MacBook apart was a lengthy, tedious experience.  I got the case open and shook out enough rice to make a batch of paella.  It seemed that the water had migrated directly to the bottom of the laptop where the logic board is.  So the worst case scenario looked like a new logic board, which would run around $650 unless we could find a better deal on a used part.

One hour and a couple dozen screws later the logic board was out.


As far as I could tell there were no burned components on the board, so perhaps the apparent short was correctable.  However, there was white corrosion/residue present in several places.


I managed to clean the board up with a new medium-bristle toothbrush, working carefully to apply just enough pressure to dislodge the corrosion but not enough to pop off any of the surface mount components.  I reinstalled the cleaned up board, reassembled the laptop and crossed my fingers.


Voila!  It’s alive!  One happy Mac and one happy friend.