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Apple’s Baffling Response to 2011 MacBook Pro Graphics Issues

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 one of many ongoing threads 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, according to iFixit), 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 Whitfield Bryson & Mason LLP, which has taken up the case and is pursuing a lawsuit against Apple 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 recent lawsuits against Apple 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 MacIssues.com.]

 

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Comments about Apple’s Baffling Response to 2011 MacBook Pro Graphics Issues
(Comments are closed.)

Andreas Frick  2015-02-13 16:50
Apple also didn't acknowledge the problems with connectors of many MacBooks. They become unresponsive to keyboard input and trackpad use. In the log files one finds entries about problems related to the AppleUSBMultitouchDriver. There are many discussions about this problem on the WWW.
Tom Voltz  2015-02-14 02:56
It started here with a late 2011 17" MBP a week ago. We are in the middle of Asia, next Apple Store 3 hours by airplane, not to speak of getting to the airport in the first place. Editing Final Cut Pro and having the graphics go then the machine crashing and rebooting for several times ... having to re-do complicated edits is a nightmare.

We'll see if the mac survives this job which is timed rather tightly. And when back in Europe we'll check out Apple Store and find out how they react.

Srinivas Kolla  2015-02-14 04:15
I started experiencing problems with my 201117" Macbook pro in 2013. I went through 3 logic boards, the initial replacement cost $310 dollars, and every 3-6 months, the replaced board died for a total of 3 replaced boards. Finally I got a Mac reseller to offer me $990 for my 2011 Macbook Pro after the last repair and use it towards the purchase of a new 5K retina iMac.
Martin Cohen  2015-02-15 01:46
I have read a lot about this, since I have a 2011 17" MacBook Pro.. The problem seems to be in the discrete graphics (AMD Radeon HD 6750M) and using the integrated graphics seems to mitigate the problem. The program gfxCardStatus from https://gfx.io/ can monitor and control this somewhat, since it can, to some extent, force the use of the integrated graphics..
My sister was quoted $300 dollars for the repair over the phone. When she called back for the internal number tied to her issue. (So a 3rd party could do the repair) She was told no program existed and she'd have to pay 8-900$. I got her to call back again and they said, "You've been jerked around here, we will cover the repair." And they paid for everything. This is a real problem. I think I'd have less of a problem if there was a unified response.
Hank Roberts  2015-02-15 15:32
Thanks for covering this. I have a late 2011 hi=res 17" with the gray screen intermitent on startup and occasional black screen during use; GFXCardStatus limiting it to the Intel graphics seems the best prevention, unfortunately has to be done immediately after each startup, and sometimes startup needs repeated power cycles to complete. Gave up on intensive graphics or using 2 screens as that was frequently associated with sudden hangs black screen.
J. A. Duke  2015-02-19 22:04
I have a 15” affected by this problem and now it basically won’t startup-I tried installing Mavericks & Yosemite, but neither install will complete successfully.

I haven’t taken it to my local Apple Store, yet, but I’ll try that soon. Really shouldn’t be an issue with a machine this young (problem popped up almost two years ago, but, of course, still out of warranty).

I’m hoping that there will be a repair extension program at some point.
Chip Larson  2015-02-16 19:38
Timely article. I had frequent kernel panics on my 2011 MBP 15", forcing me to reboot several times a day. In early December 2014, I took my laptop into Apple and although they had my crash log identifying the "AGC GPU REGISTER RESTORE FAILED : rdar://7254528, VendorID invalid" as an indicator, they wrote the issue up as an I/O problem and replaced the logic board and battery for a flat fee of $310. I am not confident that the issues won't resurface by this spring. If any other firm other than the aforementioned is contemplating a class action suit, I'd gladly sign up for it.
Apple did support an extension for Mid-2010 MBP 15" models. What they didn't do is follow up that many 2011 models had similar GPU/MLB issues.

@ Hal F.--When I read the first quote was $1590, that would be for an accidental damaged MBP as a mail-in with no damage has a flat rate around $500. Was it? Please clarify.

Ah the old "being a shareholder" doesn't mean anything. Seriously, AAPL shares at what, $127/sh + 1.5% div... heck sell 16 shares, big deal. Look at all the profits from the unused Applecare sold! Cash out some, get a MBPRetina. Enjoy. But get it loaded...256GB SSD...just silly to offer anything less than 512GB.

I would put money that there are a percentage of defective MBP 15" mid-2010 to 2011 models out there that aren't showing the issues yet. I have two of them. Running 10.10.2. Driving projectors for students. Battery not what it was, but since over 4 years old...next year, replace with 13" MBA.

Now about all those 13" 2011-12 models with bad flex cables...
Bruce Sherman  2015-02-16 23:15
My early 2012 MacBook Pro screen just died. Apple initially quoted the $350 or so repair price, but when they opened it, they determined that there had been water damage some time previously, and the quote went up to $1200. I would love to see this go forward.
joestoner  2015-02-17 05:14
Back in 2012 I had a defective 15inch MBP replaced by Apple with a 2011 model. I had had to badger, berate and plead with a real technologist at Apple to get this done and when I started my "new" MBP up I got a screen full of artifacts I sent a screen shot to the said real technologist and he asked to be kept up to date on the issue. This has been getting worse and the unit now won't wake from sleep (often self induced) even with a hard restart. The email address and phone number that I had for the real technologist now are defunct!! I shall watch with interest the case and pile in with a claim; hopefully.
editorial353  2015-02-17 12:10
My 17" Macbook Pro had a problem with a flash of light across the bottom of the screen and then needing a restart.

Then, when I returned from a trip, the computer was dead. Apple fixed it six times, replacing the logic board. Each time it would fail

I was still having trouble with DVDS (see video) and complained about it.

After I brought it back in, Apple declined to fix it and refunded by money.

Last night it completely failed again. :(
Carolyn B  2015-02-19 02:15
I got darn lucky in the end. My 15 inch MacBook Pro initially acted up with funky displays when I was editing video. Less than 48 hours it was dead and the Apple Store couldn't even get it to start up. I paid the 300.00 for the repair and the logic board and hard drive was replaced. After three logic boards replacements it was on my fourth trip (two days after the logic board was again replaced) that they took my old laptop and gave me at no further cost a brand new $2,500 2015 MacBook Pro. I had taken pictures, video, and specific notes of the multiple problems as they occurred at home and I never got angry with them (frustrated yes). Not sure what made them do this in the end, I'm just incredibly grateful!!!
nestaway  2015-02-19 11:00
I have had my Macbook 15" die completely about 2 years ago after experiencing the random screen issues. Paid $300. It started showing some of the same symptoms about 1 week ago and died last night. This time when trying to reboot it tries but ends up with the blue light fading off and a plain backlit white screen. Going to Apple today - I don't live in one of the states mentioned in the lawsuit - wonder what if anything Apple will do this time. This was my first Apple laptop after loving my iPhone I splurged on this awful machine. I now have an Android phone and will not ever buy another Apple. Dell here I come! Unless of course in the unlike event Apple provides me with the same service it obviously provides owners of other Apple products.
baltwo  2015-02-19 18:42
Apparently, they've listened:

http://www.apple.com/support/macbookpro-videoissues/
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-02-19 18:57
That was quick. Anything else you want us to write about? :-)

Josh is working on an article about the repair program for tomorrow.
Hank Roberts  2015-02-20 01:18
Very curious whether there's a change in the hardware or a board swap using the same hardware.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-09-01 13:07
Sure enough, now my 2011 MacBook Pro has succumbed to this issue. I'll see if I can get Apple to fix it under the repair program.