One of the Mac’s lures is Apple’s famous customer service. Online anecdotes abound about how an Apple Genius fixed or replaced an out-of-warranty product for free or cheap, but such stellar service isn’t universal. In reality, you never quite know what to expect when you take a troubled Mac into an Apple Store. One group that’s painfully aware of this is owners of 15- and 17-inch 2011 MacBook Pros stricken by system-crippling graphics issues, about which Apple has been indifferent.
All computers are complex devices, and hardware problems occur; despite Apple’s boast of “it just works,” Macs are no exception. In the past, Apple has addressed hardware issues with software updates, firmware updates, repair programs, and sometimes even recalls. However, in this case, the complete lack of acknowledgement about the issue, coupled with Apple’s inconsistent handling of the problem, has been perplexing.
TidBITS reader Hal Feldman encapsulated his frustration in an email message to Tim Cook:
For more than 25 years I have bought lots of devices and have been a shareholder. What baffles me is how Apple is handling the 2011 MacBook Pro issue. I have been through a string of eight visits to the Apple Store, and the last thing I was told was a logic board swap was not working and Apple would not further repair the machine.
In about this issue at the Apple Support Communities (with about 12,000 posts and over 3.9 million views), a slew of users have expressed similar disappointment, after either being told by Apple that they would have to pay expensive repair costs or continuing to experience problems after repairs were performed.
In addition, Apple has been unclear about whether or not any particular 2011 MacBook Pro is even eligible for repair. In some cases, users have been refused at one Apple Store, only to visit another that’s happy to accept the MacBook Pro and send it in for a logic board swap.
This affected me toward the end of 2013, when my 17-inch 2011 MacBook Pro began showing small graphic artifacts. At first, I figured the problem was related to pre-release versions of Mac OS X that I was testing for Apple. Unfortunately, the problems worsened, and by October 2013, my MacBook would work for only a short time before displaying a massive array of graphic artifacts, then grinding to a halt. A few weeks later, the MacBook refused to boot, displaying only vertical stripes.
When I took it to an Apple Store, I was quoted about $1,500 for an out-of-warranty repair. That forced the decision of whether to repair the system, or retire it and purchase a new one for $1,999. I reluctantly chose the later.
More recently, it appears that Apple has quietly changed the repair policy for these 2011 MacBook Pros. A few months ago, I again dropped by an Apple Store with my old MacBook, and was surprised to be quoted $310 for the same repair. This price is less than the cost of the logic board itself (roughly $800–$900,), so it seems that Apple would basically be charging me only for shipping and labor. I don’t know if everyone with similar problems is being quoted that lower fee, or if I just got lucky. Regardless, I took Apple up on the offer, and my MacBook worked fine after returning from being serviced.
So if you have a 2011 MacBook Pro that’s acting up, how do you get the service you need? Commonly, when your Mac needs repairs, you have to start playing a game with Apple, and jump from store to store or from technician to technician, hoping one will sympathize with you. In addition, the price you’re quoted may fluctuate depending on when you take your system in and with whom you talk. While some have used this to their advantage, others might not be so lucky, or have the time to haggle with Apple employees.
No user should have to invest this kind of time or money into what is obviously defective hardware. Yes, these MacBook Pros are out of warranty, but many are probably still covered by AppleCare, and given the widespread nature of the problems, Apple would do well to create a repair program.
This defect has drawn the attention of law firm, which has taken up the case and is  in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Puerto Rico, and Vermont. In part, the lawsuit claims Apple continued to charge users for the repairs despite knowing about the defective hardware and demands Apple reimburse affected customers in those states for costs incurred for the repair of their systems.
So far, the firm has surveyed thousands of Apple customers who have been affected by this issue, and has performed tests on faulty systems to gather evidence about the problem. Apple was due to file a motion for dismissal of the case on 29 January 2015, and Whitfield Bryson & Mason is expected to respond by 5 March 2015. While other for faulty logic boards have been dismissed, this one is far more specific in nature and is expected to go to trial.
There’s no telling in what way or how quickly this lawsuit will be resolved, but for now, if you need repairs to your 2011 MacBook Pro, you’ll have to play the game with Apple’s support system, most likely paying out of pocket. That said, be sure to keep all documentation of your repairs, and try to find original receipts and proofs of purchase for your system, which will likely be needed to collect should the lawsuit be won. (The suit covers only people in the states and territories listed above, so you’d need to take further steps if you reside elsewhere.)
Finally, even if Apple ends up compensating plaintiffs for repairs, the problem may disappear only with the eventual retirement of the system. Just the other day, upon waking my repaired 2011 MacBook Pro from sleep, I saw the same kind of minor graphic artifacts that I started noticing when the issue began in 2013. Replacing the MacBook Pro may be the best solution in the end.
[Topher Kessler is a freelance journalist focused on troubleshooting and repairing Apple’s OS X and iOS products. He was the primary author for CNET’s MacFixIt blog, has written for Macworld, and currently hosts and maintains the Mac troubleshooting site.]