My Macbook Pro and I lived in harmony for around six years, then one day it became unresponsive and like a car with a dead battery, would not get going. It would chime in readiness, but ultimately fail to boot-up. All you got from it was a pearly white display after it had flashed assorted other colours. I could not figure out the problem; but a Genius at my local Apple store tested the sleek 15-inch aluminum-cased laptop and faulted its logicboard. What follows is a post-diagnosis awakening.
How long should a personal computer last?
One of the first questions I asked myself after the diagnosis was whether I had gotten enough use from my laptop.
Electronic devices are expected to fail eventually, but when you get the bad news, you can’t help but wonder whether the thing lasted as long as it should. Ultimately, lifespan for any personal device varies with product quality, owner usage and care. In the case of a personal computer, three to six years is a common expectation, based on online comments. And for the lucky few it might expand to eight or ten years. At the same time, the older the computer, the more likely it is that various components, though functional, are outdated. But this varies between desktop and laptop systems, particularly in the hands of someone willing and able to upgrade the internal components. Unfortunately, due to their portability and/or construction, laptops rather than desktops are expected to have the shorter lifespan.
To some people the warranty is a good indicator of how long a laptop should last. By that logic, then, Apple expects one year of service from its Macbook Pro, the company’s high-end desk-top replacement system, costing thousands, especially if customized. Require more than that? You’ll have to buy additional warranty coverage — what Apple calls, AppleCare, currently costing $349 for an additional three years of coverage, that is unless you are within the European Union where by law the default warranty is for two years.
After the disappointing diagnosis
During my visit to the Apple store to have my device assessed by the aforementioned Genius, I was told that I had a problem with the logicboard (motherboard for IBM-compatibles), but that Apple no longer serviced devices as old as mine.
Perhaps seeing the question signs on my face, or how my eyes bulged with panic after his comment, the gentleman Genius suggested that I get a new computer, gesturing to the tables arrayed with Apple’s current product line and abuzz with browsing customers.
What? “Everything was working fine until the green, red and other colours blotted out my screen,” I said to him, feeling like I was about to be swindled. “Can’t it be fixed?” I wanted to know. I didn’t want a new one, feeling that the current one was robust and in tip-top condition aesthetically. It has presented over time nothing but a battery problem and storage issues, which I easily resolved.
The laptop could possibly be fixed at an Apple authorized repair centre, he told me, but that would cost more than getting a new one. And when I pressed him on an approximate price, he said around $500.
Crap! I could get a new one — not a Mac of course — for that price, so he was right in leaning towards replacement, but now what? I wasn’t ready for the outlay, and had grown attached to the powerful silver clamshell. It had helped me see the world and then share it. How could I toss it? Dejected, I sat on the stool at the Genius bar and looked around me as the technician unhooked his testing materials and such. Suddenly he piped up and told me that I could still use it by powering on the laptop and then holding down the shift key. I would still be able to use the Internet. Now that put a smile on my face. It meant I had some time to determine a replacement.
Once at home, I followed his instructions and booted-up to research the problem online, where I found that there was an issue with the NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics card.
On Apple’s web site I learned there was an issue with laptops manufactured between May 2007 and September 2008. A birthday that covers my own laptop, but that problem I had not been aware of until now in 2014, nearly two years after Apple’s NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics processor repair extension program ended on December 7, 2012. Unfortunately, many other Mac users had experienced the same problem. Blogger Seattle Rex took his issue stemming from the faulty NVIDIA graphics card to small claims court after Apple refused to cover the repairs. He won. That struggle revealed that Apple did not have to foot the bill for the NVIDIA graphics card repairs. NVIDIA was covering that itself after a settlement from affected computer companies, such as Apple and HP, forced their hand.
Later, when I brought my laptop to the Apple authorized repair centre to see if they could repair it, I merely had to flash the thing, and without descending from his stool, one of the workers there began telling his friend it’s a legacy product. Once he heard the problem he said, “Oh, that’s a graphics card issue.” But while he was familiar with the issue, he turned me away saying Apple would not allow them to repair it; however, an independent repair centre, according to word on the street, could perhaps do something to fix it. Unfortunately, when I went to one just down the street, I was told that a “reflow” was possible, but would not be a permanent fix. The best fix was a new logic board all together, at a price of around $300. The problem would take longer to recur, but would most likely recur.
Gaa! Hearing that, I decided there was little point in pursuing it just to have to service it regularly and have it last only another year or two max. And, in the short time between onset and failed repair attempts, Pages and Numbers had also stopped working, though those could be reloaded, I was told. Add that the CD/DVD drive or superdrive as Apple calls it, stopped recognizing DVDs and CDs and would have to be replaced with an internal or a less costly external version. But iTunes does not work and Aperture won’t open. It says the graphics card doesn’t meet its minimum requirement. What more does one need? That was the death notice for a once comprehensive computer.
Consumer protections in Ontario don’t cover the type of issue mentioned above, but it is issues like this one that give rise to legislation. Had Apple chosen to recall laptops manufactured with the faulty device all consumers with those devices would’ve had the opportunity to have the problem redressed. Unfortunately, though it would not have cost Apple significantly to do so, and might perhaps have helped their reputation to point to the fact that it is an issue acknowledged by NVIDIA, the MacBook manufacturer did not. Instead it has frustrated those customers with a known issue it should have been more forthcoming about.
Currently, when my screen doesn’t look like a swirly multi-colored block from the twilight zone (as pictured above), I am able to log on and use the Internet and a few programs outside the faulty ones already mentioned. When it starts to get hot, it will flicker and become unresponsive. Then I have to shutdown and let it cool off before trying again. It is certainly a drag, but I persist.
Apple still uses an NVIDIA chip in its current product line. Although, given the difficulties from a few years ago, it either shows Apple doesn’t hold a grudge, or has gotten some quality assurances — whether from the manufacturer, or from its own product testing. However, since Apple does not indicate that previous issues have been resolved, nor that in the event it recurs it will be resolved in the customer’s favour, why then should I buy a MacBook Pro with Retina display at great expense only to have the earlier issue recur? Sony, Dell, Toshiba, and HP all offer better warranties than Apple. And if a warranty indicates a company stands behind its products, then, selling premium-priced products, shouldn’t Apple offer better warranties?
Furthermore, there was a recall on HP & Dell products with the problem chip, but not of Apple’s computers. Why is not clear. Apple representatives did not answer my question.
On its website, Apple says that it “takes a holistic view of materials management and waste minimization.” In practice, however, does it overlook the idea that repairing a faulty component also minimizes waste? Even the construction of the device should keep this top of mind, because a holistic view would prevent having to throw away something that is still useful or mendable.
That I can bring my malfunctioning laptop back to an Apple store to be disposed of is convenient and environmentally beneficial, but is it possible for companies such as Apple and those in the technological field, to be profitable yet avoid encouraging waste? Perhaps; If consumers start asking these questions and discussing alternatives. After all, not only the designers at Apple produce the company’s newest ideas, certainly some are a result of outside input from the company’s extended network, which includes its customers. As such, why not provide the company that valuable feedback? Ultimately, it is in the public’s wider best interest to do so.
A person wishing to comment may hesitate, thinking that they are alone and their comments useless, but when one respondent adds to another and the numbers providing feedback grows, it increases the likelihood of triggering change in any organization.
Have I gotten good use from my MacBook? Yes. It’s in the ballpark of expected computer life. However, if not for a known defect, it might have exceeded that lifespan. To my mind, a computer should not be tossed until it ceases to meet my needs. And if I only use some data processing and word processing applications and the Internet, it should last far longer than a gamer’s computer, and the piddling manufacturer’s warranty. The good thing about this situation is it raised some worthwhile questions and, below, some useful consumer information: The Canadian government’s consumer complaint roadmap, states: “Obviously, consumer goods cannot last a lifetime, but they should work as promised under normal use when purchased.” It also notes that if you find the goods you purchased are defective, you can request the following:
- that the product be repaired;
- if it cannot be repaired, that it be replaced; or,
- if the product cannot be repaired or replaced, that a refund be provided.
With purchasing power comes responsibility, so the Canadian Consumer Handbook reminds us that: “A manufacturer’s warranty is a written assurance to the purchaser of a product, promising to replace or repair it, if necessary, within a specified period. You should find out about the terms of this kind of warranty before you buy, particularly if the item you’re buying is of significant cost to you.”
Link to useful info by Jon Rosen on how long a computer should last.