I landed a service agreement with a local school recently to service their fleet of 25 ex-administration MacBooks prior to them being given away. The standard affair - check condition, replace any broken parts, build working machines from any non-functioning ones and erase hard drives. Simple. Now to clarify, when I say MacBook, I mean these cheese-grade plastic door stoppers:
Any administrator or technician knows all about the MacBook. But come on, surely they weren’t so bad if looked after. They were a cheap but brilliant little computer for consumers and education alike, easy to service with decent performance. At least, I thought so. That is until I started three days of absolute bliss that would have been better spent doing literally anything else.
So strap yourself in for a hate (and alcohol) fuelled extravaganza as I tell a tale of eye-watering frustration and mild violence.
I started with a set of five machines. Considering these were used in education, even in administration, I expected a lot worse. They were surprisingly intact, albeit dirty, but no more than another machine of its age. Sampling the set, four of the five worked; the fifth had a cracked screen. This shouldn’t be difficult.
I open the first machine and run Apple diagnostics. A failed Battery, certainly not unheard of. I look into the machine with a cracked screen and lo-and-behold, a good battery! I swapped that in and re-ran diagnostics. Alright, we have a good one.
Looking to the second machine, this machine was good off the bat, but had a peeling rubber bottom case. Transfer the bottom case from the cracked screen machine and we were back in business.
The third machine started up, but immediately something seemed off. I couldn’t boot into a startup manager, and after testing with an external keyboard to run diagnostics, confirmed we had a dead keyboard. Excellent. Looked across to the cracked screen machine once again and bah - the entire top case has stress cracks starting around the ports on the side, so I can’t use that keyboard.
We’re now down to three serviceable machines.
Fourth machine worked, but once again, a dead battery. We’ve already exhausted our supply of usable batteries, so this machine would be a scrap unit as well, but thankfully we have a spare battery separate from the donor machines to use, so we’re in good shape here.
This was easy! So we start cleaning up the fixed machines to make them look presentable. But it’s never that simple, right?
The first machine, in the process of running diagnostics (and warming the machine up), has started to bubble its bottom case. The rubber has started to lift in the centre front. Wonderful. Thankfully we have one spare bottom case around, so I swap it on.
Second machine, the one we replaced the bottom case on. Start wiping over the casing with a mild detergent and some water on a cloth, giving the bottom case a wipe down to remove all the dirt and grime that’s accumulated on the rubber over time. One pass with the cloth and I can feel a bubble in the bottom rubber on the centre left side. Christ, the spare case is screwed too! So the third machine donates its bottom case once again. Finally, we’re in business on that machine.
Total repaired and finished haul for the day, two machines out of five.
Onto cleaning that fourth machine, the one with the dead battery. A quick wipe down with the cleaner and it’s looking a lot nicer. One more quick re-test and it can go into the repaired stack. Now, we replaced this battery yesterday and it passed diagnostics, but retesting the machine today it’s reporting a battery failure. Bloody hell, what now? Checking it over, where the battery was at 83% / 299 cycles yesterday, it’s at 79.8% / 299 today. Because the Apple battery diagnostic failure threshold is <80%, this battery fails testing and needs to go.
But we have the battery from the third (damaged keyboard) machine, so we’re still in the game here. Disassemble the machine and swap that battery in, and thankfully we now have a solid pass result.
So we have three machines out of five. Connect all three to power to give them a decent charge and - wait a second, our first machine isn’t charging. It worked yesterday, so what the hell?
Started probing around this machine and sure enough, a dead MagSafe board. Sit down to tear the machine apart to use the MagSafe board from the fifth machine, remove the rear bracket, fan, Logic Board and cables to access the Logic Board and connect the replacement MagSafe board. But never one to have a simple repair, the spare MagSafe board is dead too.
So, I strip down the dead keyboard machine and take that MagSafe board, making sure to test it first. Sure enough, it works, so I proceed to take apart this machine as well, remove the MagSafe board, move it over to the first machine, and it works once again.
I need a drink. But at least we have three out of five now.
So we’ve settled on three out of five for the first batch. Not as good as I would have hoped, but certainly not a bad haul either. We power on the three machines to give them a clean install of OS X Yosemite. All worked, except our second machine.
Over and over. No RAM installed. But of course it has RAM installed. Perhaps we have bad RAM? Open the bottom cover and remove the memory modules, installed two memory modules from another board and closed the machine up. Aha! A boot chime!
So now we proceed to install OS X Yosemite on the three machines. Almost home. All three machines finish the install and reboot.
That effing second machine is beeping with no RAM installed yet again. So we clearly have a failed Logic Board here. It just doesn’t end.
Thankfully the Logic Board is still removed from the dead keyboard machine, so I remove the Logic Board from the second machine, transfer in the spare board, install the RAM and boot it up. A boot chime! And it’s consistent between reboots!
Finally, I have three working and relatively clean machines. We box them up and… our fourth machine’s bottom cover has started to bubble.
(Stock photo. Not me, his desk is cleaner.)
So this time we’re out of usable bottom cases unless we want to haul the remaining 20 up from storage and hope that one of those is a suitable donor. Instead, this time we decide to peel back the rubber, shoot some contact adhesive in there and press it back down. The bottom case sticks, and while it’s not perfect, it holds. I’m not screwing around with bottom cases anymore, so it’ll do.
Run one last diagnostic check on the three machines and our first one - the very first one we replaced the battery in - has followed suit and is now failing diagnostics. 83% capacity yesterday, 78% today.
Now I’m starting to lose track of batteries here. We’re down to two machines, but after some scrounging around the other spare computers I have, I managed to find one usable battery for this machine, stable at 85% capacity, so we’ve saved this one.
Our total haul over three days is three machines out of five.
And there’s still another twenty to go.
Huh, I suppose there wasn’t any mild violence after all. I’ll throw a spare top case down some stairs tomorrow and we’ll call it even.