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You Say Goodbye, and I say Hello…

Possibly the best laptop I ever invested in, the 2011 MacBook Pro. I waivered at the time switching making the decision to switch from Windows to macOS full time, something I’ve not looked back on or regretted since. Sometimes you don’t want to be dealing with driver conflicts and blue screens of death, you want something reliable that just works.

It wasn’t the cheapest laptop, probably close to £3k when I purchased the maximum spec available. Over the years I’ve upgraded the maximum factory installed memory of 8Gb to 16Gb, swapped out the 750Gb Harddrive for a 1TB Samsung SSD. See https://muckypaws.com/2015/06/07/upgrade-your-macbook-pro-hard-drive/

Earlier this year, I finally replaced the original battery. Even after a decade I was getting about 90 minutes useage, the 3rd Party replacement I’m seeing upwards of seven hours. That was a wake up call how the battery performance deteriorated over time, and the difference replacing a depleted battery can make.

My laptop has travelled with world with me, from working in the US, India, Europe, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong etc. My MBP has travelled at least a few hundred thousand miles.

I love the fact it still has the magsafe power port, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, USB, Built-in SD Card Reader, RJ45, DVD Drive all the connectors a professional laptop needs and requires for various security/ethical hacking jobs over the years I’ve had this.

Occasionally I need to use Windows, sandboxing has been easy with the use of Parallels and VirtualBox, it’s a jack of all trades. Running XCode, Photoshop and zBrush etc all smoothly run without issue. How many of us can say the same for a Windows Device this old?

It’s not been an easy ride though, anyone owning one of these beauties knows the issue with ATI GPUs… You know the one, one minute working, the next the screen display is all screwed.

I’m on my fourth motherboard, though thankfully Apple have replaced the previous boards under warranty.

I’m informed the key issue is related to the switch over from lead solder to lead-free solder alloys and the alloys failure overtime with heat and use.

I was gutted when a few weeks ago, the issue raised it’s head and once again my laptop was unusable. It seems the known issue hadn’t been addressed with the latest replacement boards either. Sure I have backups of data and applications etc, but this was a solid workhorse, one I know I will miss…

Let’s face it, the laptop is a decade old, I’ve had a lot of use and can’t really complain that it’s no longer supported officially it’s considered “Vintage”.

Cue youTube… having scoured the various repair articles for this particular problem, the only real solution was a hardware modification to remove power from the dodgy ATI Chip, and patch the MUX with a JTAG programmer.

I cleaned up the CPU and GPU, re-applying thermal paste and reseating the heatsinks. Not something for the faint of heart, sadly that didn’t resolve the issue when the GPU heated up. The diagnostics tests completed as expected.

Reprogramming the MUX is a trivial job for me, it just means soldering a JTAG Header to the motherboard or using a POGO test pin programmer in place. That’s the easy bit, you also need to cut power to the GPU and given the size of surface mount components and my motor skills, I wasn’t confident cutting tracks, and soldering bypass wiring.

Why not buy a new M1 MBP you ask? It crossed my mind, though the latest iteration of M1 Laptops are too small, and don’t support memory beyond 16Gb. My next laptop will need a minimum of 32gb memory if not 64Gb. So why not buy the 16″ Intel version, after all that has support for larger memory capacity? That was a possibility, but ruled out having recently learned that once the transition from Intel to Apple Mx chipsets, the later OSes will be nobbled as the Machine Learning chips aren’t included in the Intel line up. Therefore unable to have a complete operating system. Which in turn effectively means buying a new machine that will be obsolete quicker than expected. Though I do like the idea of running Parallels and Crossover for a while longer… This should perform better than with the Rosetta2 layer on the M1 Macs.

I recently discovered a local firm in West Sussex https://www.refinedlogic.co.uk which specialises in Apple Repairs, having contacted them, the response was positive with my expectations being correctly set based on my research of the issue.

I was advised against a reflow of the soldering as that would fail quickly, It would be better repair to disable the dodgy ATI Chip (The failing solder is internal to the GPU, not on the motherboard itself). This tied in with my knowledge of the problem and the only firm to give honest feedback and fix approach.

Based on the excellent communication and clear knowledge of the issue, the repair was booked, the laptop collected, and next day I had photographs showing the repair in progress and that was that, a returned laptop with a better than hoped for return time and at a very reasonable price.

This repair has bought me some time, whilst apple progress the transition to new architecture, and since the ATI Chip has been disabled, leaving only the Intel GPU, Catalina is now running very smoothly, whereas before I could only use El-Capitan.

As a security professional, I sent the laptop with a brand new, unused/unformatted SSD that had no OS installed, so my data was very secure. If you have the skills, it’s an approach I would recommend as there’s no risk that your data could be cloned. I’m not suggesting the company would do that, it’s simply a risk mitigation strategy.

The downside to the repair, by disabling the faulty ATI Chip, means you can no longer drive external displays. No great hardship since this laptop has always been on its travels, and would otherwise have been dead in the water and sold for spare parts.

Interestingly, talking to the person who completed the repair, we were discussing how relatively little Personal Computers appear to have evolved. Sure, there’s new CPUs, GPUs etc, but when you have a Core i7 MBP with SSD and enough memory, it still performs extremely well, and certainly better than a Windows Laptop equivalent of a similar age or younger.

For me though the good news is that I hope this fix will see me through until the Mx line up meet my current expectations and at a minimum support the current Intel configurations.

What would have been the loss of a fallen and well traveled soldier, has given this amazing laptop an extra life.

Thank You Refined Logic!

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