Kevin Kallberg

The life and times of a software developer

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MacBook Cookout 2014

imageA few years ago, I came into possession of a MacBook Pro (Model A1261).  The machine had had an unfortunate meeting with an open bottle of Mountain Dew and was diagnosed by the Apple Geniuses as suffering from a faulty logic board.  Unfortunately, it was out of warranty.  With its condition confirmed by the powers that be, it was given to me and I quickly relegated it to the closet where it was slowly forgotten.

Fast forward to the second half of 2013.  I had begun to explore Xamarin as a cross-platform development solution.  With Xamarin, you need to have Mac OS X in order to build code for iOS applications (due to Apple restrictions).  This fact reminded me of the Macbook Pro slumbering in my closet and I began scouring the Internet for information on if, and how, I might be able to revive it.  After reading about people having to purchase new logic boards I stumbled across Russell Heistuman's blog post entitled Cooking the Books (or, Baking My MacBook Pro Logic Board).  After reading a myriad of comments from others regaling their own tales of success I decided I had nothing to lose.

Surveying the Scene

I removed the battery from the machine and plugged in the MagSafe power adapter.  To my surprise, the LED on the plug lit up green.  This told me that the power supply in the machine was alive.  I opened the lid and hit the power button.  The LED sleep indicator on the front of the machine illuminated solid white, I could hear the optical drive and hard drive whir to life, the fans spin up, and not much else.  There was no startup chime and more discouraging than that, there was no video on the screen.  I tried a few things including resetting the SMC, hooking up an external monitor, resetting the PRAM, and several different startup keyboard shortcuts.  None of these activities yielded a different startup story and so I started pre-heating the oven and set about dismantling my MacBook Pro.

Journey to the Center of the System

If you’ve never dismantled a MacBook of any kind you will quickly find out that there are a ton of screws between you and the guts of your machine.  To help guide you on your journey to the center of the system, I recommend you check out Powerbook Medic’s great disassembly videos.  These videos will show you exactly how to disassemble your MacBook so you can get at the parts you need.

imageMy initial plan was to pull the logic board from the machine and see if I could clean up any mess present from the Mountain Dew with some 91% isopropyl alcohol.  However, once I removed the logic board, I saw no trace of liquid damage.  There was no visible corrosion of any kind that I could find anywhere on the board.  As luck would have it, it seemed that the keyboard protected the guts from the vast majority of the spill.  There was a little bit of sticky something on the SuperDrive, but aside from that it all looked good.  So, I set about removing the old thermal paste from the chips on the board.  Once it was all removed it was time to transplant it to the kitchen.  I covered a cookie sheet in aluminum foil and made four similarly sized balls of foil to serve the purpose of keeping the logic board from having any direct contact with the cookie sheet itself.  I perched the board on top of the foil balls and was ready to go.

There and Back Again

The oven had been pre-heated to 375° F and I set the oven timer for seven minutes and thirty seconds (7:30).  Once I placed the cookie sheet / logic board combo in the oven I returned to the MacBook shell and worked on removing the old thermal paste from the heatsink.  Once the timer went off I removed the board from the oven and allowed it to cool outside the oven for about fifteen minutes.  I re-applied thermal paste to the chips and mounted the board back into the machine.  To my surprise, when I pressed the power button I was greeted with the same startup story I had before baking, but with one extra ingredient.  The familiar startup chime.  However, there was still no video. 

imageI read a few more comments in Russell’s blog post and some people seemed to have better success at slightly higher temperatures.  I decided to cook my board a second time.  This time I pre-heated the oven to 390° F, cleaned off the thermal paste I had just applied and cooked it again for seven and a half minutes.  After another fifteen minute cooldown I hooked the board back up in the case (this time without bothering with thermal paste for this first try) and pressed the power button.  And once again, my startup story changed, but this time to include video!  The screen lit up beautifully as the startup chime rang out and I was filled with hope for this machine.

All’s Well that Ends Well

I removed the logic board one more time in order to properly apply some more thermal paste and put the machine back together.  After re-installing OS X, the machine is back to its former glory and does a great job acting as a build host for my efforts with Xamarin.  There’s no telling how much longevity I’ll get from the machine, but others have stated that their machines have lasted many months after their baking endeavors.  I suppose only time will tell.

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Disclaimer:  The contents of this post are my own experience.  I take no responsibility for any damages you may sustain in attempting to emulate my own activity.  This blog post is for informational purposes only.