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Our Top Fixes of 2012: #3 – Beware of the “Genius”

Barti, Adrian and Janet in the middle of troubleshooting
Barti, Adrian and Janet in the middle of troubleshooting

Barti brought her MacBook Pro with a “dead screen” to a Restart Party. We troubleshooted her computer and figured that the problem was actually with the video card: the laptop would switch on normally, with the familiar Mac OS X start-up sound, while screen was completely black, not even marginally dim (which is what usually happens when the lightbulb behind the screen needs replacing). We suggested to Barti that she tested the laptop with an external monitor: if that didn’t work, she could know for sure whether it was the video card. After the event, Barti’s tests confirmed our diagnosis, so she took her laptop to the Genius Bar at the local Apple Store. She was quoted £370 to have the video card replaced, but the technician advised Barti that, given the steep cost, it might have made more sense to just resell the laptop for spare parts, and look for another one. When she asked us for further advice, we knew there had to be a better solution. After a bit of research we found mentions of similar problems with the video cards of that laptop. A number of online forum contributors mentioned an alternative way to fix laptop video cards: the so-called “reballing” of a GPU (graphic processing unit, or video card!), which involves heating up the card and cleaning up its contacts. Some independent technicians advertise their skills on Ebay, but only some more established repair businesses perform it. Barti eventually chose one of the companies we recommended – providing a free assessment and six months of warranty for the reballing. When she wrote back to us, she was ecstatic: her “reballed” laptop was back in shape, for £120, less than a third than what the “genius” had quoted her.

At the price quoted by Apple, Barti’s laptop would now probably be locked in a drawer, waiting to be recycled. Instead, it’s back in shape! Fighting electronic waste also requires documenting alternative, more efficient repair techniques as well as promoting fair and reliable independent repairers. Next time you are quoted an obscene amount of money to fix a laptop, come to a Restart Party and we’ll help you learn about the alternatives!

3 responses

  1. Tom

    nice one Ugo

    efficiency and inefficency – that’s a big topic.

    effectively Apple’s repair arm is marketing new products

    the problem for Apple and others is that laptops wh are so useful for so many people are commoditised items. good enough or last years model is more than enough.

    Apple has to be on some kind of imaginary leading edge so far as the consumer is concerned.

    More and more of us don’t care about that.

  2. Hi Tom, We definitely think you are right, that “more and more of us don’t care about [Apple’s imaginary leading edge]”. Although that said, some of us have literally been brought up on Apple, and making a change can feel like a pretty big thing.

  3. Carey Dent

    Really helpful article. Thank you. My MacBook Pro has the same problem with the video card. I would be really grateful if you would email me the list of your recommended repair companies in London. Thank you, Carey

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