I Hate (Plastic) MacBooks


#1

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.

Beep.

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.

Beep.

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.

Cheers,

~ M.


#2

LOL! You poor thing. I bought a second hand white macbook last year, and after replacing the RAM, the battery and the hard drive (with SSD) I’ve been happy with it. Bottom rubber case still isnt peeling. Maybe I’m just lucky.


#3

Batteries just get old and replacements are pretty cheap on eBay. It might be worth charging a nominal amount in order to pay for new ones (or fold it into what you charge as part of the refurb/clean/wipe costs).

On the other side of that, spare MagSafe chargers are handy to have around or are worth a couple bucks otherwise (hell, almost worth the same as a fulling working machine!).

I recently bought a box of Apple bits and bobs including three C2D era MacBook A1181’s with various problems. After much mixing and matching I ended up with a busted LCD, keyboard and optical drive, three dead batteries (not 75% dead but 0% dead) as well as various levels of keyboard top tray cracked-ness. I also had to swap out a few individual key mechanisms. Surprisingly, I ended up with two functioning machines (albeit with minor physical defects). These I think are easier to work on than those later models.


#4

My Mum has had one of these for 7 years and its been great. I also find them pretty good at school The Plastic I find (apart from the ones that crack) ages better in terms of less visible scratching than the silver MacBooks. They can also take a drop.

In find they are pretty reliable, the ones I manage at work have lasted well, its just that their batteries have a habit of expanding…

Do you get to keep any of the parts from these machines?


#5

All that… for machines worth around $200 on eBay… I guess at least they’re not worth $50… :slight_smile:


#6

Given that these are giveaway machines, there isn’t much in the budget for replacement parts unfortunately. The batteries I can understand replacing, but a lower price eBay replacement wouldn’t be much better than using the workable spares. The MagSafe adapters weren’t bad, a couple frayed near the head which is common, but the MagSafe boards - where the adapter connects to inside the machine - is what had worn out.

What @cosmichobo said is correct - all this work for machines worth perhaps $200 on eBay. Doesn’t leave much headroom for justifying spending on new replacement parts.

@Oldmacs I can keep as many spare parts as I want. :smiley: They would go in the bin otherwise. I’ve been sorting through them to see what parts work, what their cosmetic condition is, and boxing up anything that can be used in other machines.

I built a machine with a combination of their spares and some of my own:

I don’t hate this one. Somehow, contrary to what I expected, this machine went right from the very first screw. Battery works, bottom case is fine, Logic Board is clean and tests fine. It has a spare 8GB RAM and 500GB HDD sourced from my own personal component stash. Thinking about installing Elementary on it as something different.


#7

That’s awesome! let me know if you have any left overs you want to sell! I’ve got a couple that are in varying states of repair and I’m trying to put one together for my Dad and one for myself.

In repairing these, have you found that they are RIDICULOUSLY slow bottling off a HDD or SSD when there is no battery inside?


#8

I have fond memories of rocking one of these as my machine at some point. I had an SSD in it - was a great machine.

I’m amazed that servicing a machine that old is even cost effective for them however. Surely your time is worth more than the total value of the machines? :confused:


#9

Let me know how that goes. I installed a much older version of Elementary on a netbook a few years back and I really liked it. It was not v mature at that stage and it was free, but looks like cost now is not much anyway.

I’ve never tried installing a Linux on a macbook, at least not outside a VM.


#10

I love the aesthetics of these MacBooks. IIRC from MacTalk, you’re from SA? Which school is giving away these machines, and to whom (if you can disclose this info)?

I’d love to buy one anyway.


#11

@Oldmacs Indeed I have. A disconnected Battery or Trackpad, and the machine throttles down almost like a failsafe. Pretty common but an easy fix.

@jaysee I’d agree there, normally it wouldn’t be. I’ve known this place for a while though and occasionally help them out, so it’s a lot less than one would expect to put into repairing these old MacBooks. Needless to say my time isn’t worth all that much at the moment - I have a lot of it free and because I’m paying down some outstanding debts, almost anything extra is a bonus at this point.

@kyte Will do, it looks like an interesting OS, although the last time I tried it there were some features it lacked out of the box that made it difficult to switch to it full time. I suppose if they’ve come any further since then, it could be an option.

@lawrence Indeed I am. I should’t disclose that information unfortunately, but even so in giving them away it usually means “to another school” or elsewhere within the department.

That said, I have a couple more in decent condition that just need some minor repairs here, and now I have some spares for each, I’ll be looking to finish those and possibly sell those on shortly. If you’re interested, shoot me and message and we’ll see what we can work out.


#12

Mmm yeah I need to get a battery or two for mine. I wish they would run without them!


#13

The battle continues.

I’ve built a combined total of three for myself now, but because I don’t need any of them, I’ve decided to sell them off. I listed them on Gumtree for $200 each, working on the assumption that like everything else on Gumtree, someone would knock it down to $100 per unit and we’d call it done.

Not one bite. Polycarbonate Apple products are essentially worthless.

Thinking about listing them for $100 on the assumption someone would knock them down to $75-$50 per unit. Otherwise screw it.


#14

Give them to a charity. Thats what I am going to do with mine, once I’m finished with it.


#15

Just sent you a PM :stuck_out_tongue:


#16

Chances are I may have to. I never mind supporting a good cause, although it would be just a little disappointing. Paying down some outstanding expenses at the moment and this would have helped.

@Oldmacs Received, will respond in a moment.


#17

I know exactly how you’re thinking. I need funds for a new stove, washing machine, cpap machine and car repairs. But, as you say, the white macbooks are pretty worthless. I plan to put my old drive back in mine before selling or giving away, because the SSD will be more useful to me in an external case, than going practically free to someone who won’t know or care how good or bad that is. They probably won’t care about the new battery or upgraded RAM either, so after I thought about it, I am going to try to sell mine before giveaway, just to see if i can recoup the costs of those.


#18

I’m using my late 2009 Macbook unibody to trial High Sierra beta.
Nothing on it is that important so it does well for that.

I think a unibody Macbook that is in good condition still of use.
Mine still has 500 cycles (of 1000) battery life left.
And a $100+ SSD has made it into a reasonable machine.


#19

PM sent @iMic