Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dead Mac Fans

The right fan on my Macbook Pro died last week, and my mac promptly went into mourning, moodily switching itself off whenever I asked it to do a long compile session (bad), or watch a long movie (worse). The fan had been making discontented noises for the past few days, so diagnosis was easy - I googled for fan speed tools, found and installed smcFanControl, and it duly identified my right fan (0 rpm) as the slacker.

This Macbook Pro is my primary laptop, and I have no spare. To make matters worse, I'd carelessly forgotten to take the 3 year extended AppleCare protection, which meant the laptop was no longer under warranty. I didn't mind giving the laptop to Apple, but if there is one thing that I've learned about laptop repairmen, it is that they are not in a hurry.

Hand a laptop in for repair, and you can be sure that the job - whatever it is - will take lots of time. First, someone has to "evaluate" the laptop to see what the matter with it is (and telling them "The right fan isn't spinning" will not speed up this process). Once the laptop has been evaluated (after several days have passed, and your patience has worn very thin), somebody will call you up to give you valuable information ("We've examined your laptop very carefully, and discovered that - wait for it - your right fan is dead!"). Then they have to order a replacement part, choosing the cheapest possible shipping option, and after a few weeks have passed, and you have aged a few decades trying to use some other computer to do all your work, you might get your laptop back.

I might have handed in my laptop anyway if it were under warranty, but it wasn't, and I thought I could save a lot of time and money if I ordered a new fan and installed it myself. Or rather, if I ordered a new fan, and got somebody who was good at fixing things to install it. It so happened that I have a good friend who's brilliant at fixing stuff, so I went ahead and ordered a replacement right fan assembly from WeLoveMacs ($59 for the fan, $50 for Fedex International Express shipping). Fedex promised 2-5 days for delivery, but WeLoveMacs took two days to process my order, so it was 5 days before I got hold of the fan. Those were five long days, too. I'd borrowed a Compaq laptop from this same friend, and I found it trying. Its screen was too small, and the keyboard was decked out with stiff, proud, independent keys, disinclined to yield to anything less than sharp hammerblows.

Armed with the shiny new fan, my friend and I disassembled the Macbook Pro. We split the work evenly - he did all the physical work of unscrewing the case and unplugging cables, while I watched and made constructive suggestions ("This is taking frightfully long. Can't you speed it up a bit?") The laptop came apart without incident (we followed the iFixit guide), we removed the old fan and put in the new one. The insides of the laptop were filled with lots of dust - visible heaps of dust around the stalled fan -so we cleaned it up a bit, then closed it up and reassembled the Mac, switched it on, and ... it wouldn't come on.

This surprised and vexed us ("WTFF is going on?!") and we took everything apart again and looked at it, and it was all good. My suspicions centered on the keyboard cable, but we took a sharp look at it, and it looked as blameless a keyboard cable as anyone might want. My friend, having spent some time in thought, suggested that it was probably something quite minor, like a blown logic board.

I looked at the prices for replacement logic boards - iFixit quoted $999 for a replacement (used) logic board. At this point, I wondered whether I should just have given the damn laptop in to the Apple folks to start with, and cursed myself for being a thrice-damned moron.

After some dispirited discussion ("$999? DEAR GAWD!"), we decided to turn in the laptop to the Apple folks for expert review.

As expected, it took two days for the repair folks to "evaluate" the laptop, but, to my enormous relief, they found that the power button was defective and the logic board itself was fine. They had to replace the upper case (Rs. 10000 for the case and Rs 750 for labour, or about $215). Oh, and they found both fans working just fine.

Next time, I think I'll just take that 3 year extended AppleCare.