How I tried to repair a broken Mac by myself.

Malinthe Samarakoon
8 min readApr 10, 2021

A few months back, I was at my parent’s place doing some tinkering with a broken USB cable. I was combining two broken cables to make one functional cable so that I could use a scanner to digitize our photo albums. I was doing this near my laptop, a 2017 MacBook. The repair went okay and the cable was functional and I got the job done.

The end of the day grew near and it was time for me to go home so I started packing. I needed to put the laptop in my backpack, so I closed the lid as I usually do but the lid put up a fight. There was resistance. I didn’t think much of this and tried to push through it.

That’s when I heard a crack. My heart sank. Something was wrong. Very wrong.

I opened up the laptop fearing the worst and was greeted by a screen that was glitching. The top half of the screen was fine, but the rest was done. Patches of color, darkness and horizontal lines. I had destroyed the display.

Fuck.

With a heavy heart, I tried to figure out what happened. The culprit turned out to be a small piece of a thin wire that was thrown during my cable repair attempt. It was resting above the power key. Thanks to the tight tolerances of macs, this tiny unnoticeable thing was able to cause chaos.

Macs are beautiful machines and I like them as much as the next guy, but man, they’re so fragile. You have to handle them as you would butterflies

Eg: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/7995345 — This certainly wasn’t the case back in the day. The laptop I used at YAMU was a beast compared to this. Dings and dents all over the place but it ran solid. I’m sure there’s a buff doge meme on this somewhere.

So after this unfortunate incident, I started looking around for repair options. This happened just after the curfew, so it was tricky to find someone who was willing to repair it. Most places didn’t even answer, and the people who did answer said they didn’t have stocks with them. I had no intention of going to an Apple authorized dealer because I’ve had experiences them events before this. It would’ve been expensive. Very expensive.

In the meantime, I managed to get a dongle from a coworker so I could attach an external display–so my work was unaffected.

After a few weeks without much luck I decided to head towards AliExpress to gauge my options. The place was filled with relatively affordable replacements. My inner-DIYer was roaring to give this a go. After a quick trip through YouTube tutorials, I was fairly confident that I could do this. I purchased a display with express delivery and tried to prepare myself for the project.

The first worrying thing was the availability of tools. I had a phone repair toolkit with me which I bought many moons ago. I didn’t have a suction cup that people use for lifting screens, so I decided to repurpose an old car phone holder. The delivery was super quick, and I had the new display in my hands within 4 days. It was time.

The initial steps weren’t too bad. I took the screws off the laptop and tried to remove the back panel. Compared to older macbooks, this was a process. The suction cup I repurposed didn’t really work so I had to raid the bathroom and steal a suction cup from a toothbrush holder. There was no place to keep the tooth brushes for a few days. A small price to pay,.

With the back panel removed and the battery connectors unplugged, I put masking tape on the contacts to make sure I didn’t mess something up. A bunch of screws were removed. Some bits were taken off. Things were going well. Or so I thought.

The first bit of trouble started with some extremely tiny screws. They seemed to be pentalobe but none of the drivers bits I had fit. After struggling with them for some time, I decided to head out to find something. Fortunately a local electronics shop carried a toolkit which the drivers I needed and we were back in business.

More parts were take off. I kept everything tied down with masking tape because I was certain that I’d lose some something during the repair. At least, that’s what usually happens.

After removing more components, I got to a screw that refused to cooperate. It just did not want to budge. I went on iFixit to figure out the exact driver I needed for this screw and even though I had the correct one with me, it didn’t work. I then ended up trying other drivers to get this thing to move and a many minutes and expletives later, I managed to… strip the screw.

Fuck.

Inside a MacBook. Circuit boards and ribbon cables.
🤦🏻‍♀️

Thanks to Samsung DeX, I was running a browser on a big display. I was on Google looking for posts on how to get stripped screw removed. I found a lot of options and I ended up trying a few of them–and none of them worked.

Rubber band on the screw head: no
Foil on the screw head: no
Different driver: no

I then tried to solder a driver to the screw. It was difficult but I managed to get it done, but that didn’t work either. The driver would just come off when I tried to unscrew it. I finally tried to glue a driver to the screw with some steel epoxy I had lying around. No luck.

After spending the whole evening wrestling with this, I was very grumpy and very stressed out. I was yelling at myself for starting this doomed little project and wasn’t sure what to do anymore.

There was one thing remaining which I hadn’t tried because I didn’t have the product lying around. Super Glue. It was pretty late but I was determined to get this thing over with, so I hopped in the car and drove to a nearby supermarket hoping they’d have some in stock.

They didn’t.

I was physically and psychologically exhausted by this point. I decided to forget about this whole thing for the moment and clear my head. I left the supermarket and hopped in the car to go back home.

I turned the key to start the engine and…

Nothing. Some dim lights in the dash but no crank. The car, for all intents and purposes, was dead.

Fuck.

I literally laughed out loud because this was some next level shit.

It felt as if the guy running the simulation of our world had decided to have some fun at my expense. How can one have such bad luck with every single thing one after the other?

I tried to figure out what was wrong. Fuses and relays were all OK. I had my multimeter in the car, so I went and checked the battery too. The voltage was OK at a glance first, but I noticed that the voltage was fluctuating wildly when I tried to crank.

A nice gentleman in a BMW offered to jumpstart the car and I managed to get the engine running, but when I tried to move the car died again. The battery was shot. I tried to call the BattMobile service but it was late and they didn’t respond.

I was practically running on fumes at this point. I was tired and hungry. The supermarket was done for the day. I decided to go back home. Managed to get Pickme, went home, tried to pay the driver but I didn’t have my wallet with me.

Fuck.

I figured that I must have left the wallet in the car. So I went back with the tuk driver, actually managed to find the wallet and return. The story goes on like this for a while, but we’re going off track now. So back to the main story (the battery was completely shot, so we had to install a new one the following day. Still not sure as to why it died as the alternator was working fine).

I found some some super glue the following day and tried to use it to stick a driver to the screw, but it obviously didn’t work.

I had exhausted all options. I was now considering the use of a dremel or a drill to drill out the screw or cut a slot on it–but I was reluctant to actually attempt this as the tolerances were super tight and one wrong move could’ve ruined everything. (Plus I didn’t own a dremel tool)

After thinking more about the issue at hand, I realized that the PCB the screw is attached to wasn’t something I needed to save. The replacement unit had its own board so maybe I could break it loose?

After mulling over this irreversible action for a while, I decided to go ahead with it. I used a pair of pliers and cracked the PCB. Most of the board was removed and only a small piece remained along with the screw. The screw had loosened a bit now and I thought it would be a good idea to use some needle nose pliers to pull it out. The only problem: I didn’t have any needle nose pliers. Back on the road!

Similar story as before. I ended up at four different hardware stores to find a needle-nose, but none of them had stocks. I decided to give up and go home.

I got home somewhat grumpy. There wasn’t much I could do at this point. I randomly decided to try another driver on this screw and lo and behold, the screw started turning! I could not believe my eyes. After two days of absolute misery, the deed was done! The damned thing was out.

It was pretty much smooth sailing from this point onwards. The rest of the screws came off with ease and the replacement display was installed. Practically no roadblocks. After putting back everything together, I powered on the Mac. Fingers crossed.

Nothing at first–but then the image of a white Apple logo appeared on the screen. The machine booted up and I entered my password and logged in. The new screen was alive!

Believe me when I say that I could not believe that everything came together at the end. The screen was flawless, bright and colorful just like the original display. It’s been fully functional for a few months now. One hell of an ordeal, but I’m glad that it all happened because now it makes for a great story (although my storytelling abilities don’t do it justice)

So what did I take away from all this?

  • Make sure that there aren’t any debris on the surface of a MacBook when closing the lid.
  • Talk to a professional even if you really don’t want to.
  • Have the proper tools with you if you decide to work on something.
  • Don’t panic. Take a break if you’re overwhelmed.
  • Ask for help.
  • Sometimes things happen for a reason (if it wasn’t for the dead car battery, I probably would’ve had a complete psychological meltdown)
  • The simulation is and always will be against you. Damn our alien overlords!

Would I recommend attempting a similar repair if it happened to you? If you’re handy with a screwdriver and have patience, I don’t see why not. But as they always say: hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Or just take it to a professional and save yourself from high blood pressure and many expletives.

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Malinthe Samarakoon

Software Developer, Amateur Photographer. Loves Tech, Music, Movies, Food and Coffee.