Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

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January 5, 2012 • How to Do It Yourself!

The Diagnosis: How My MacBook Pro Avoided the Trash, Part 1

I pretty much live on my Mid 2009 13″ MacBook Pro. The computer literally goes everywhere I go, and it contains most everything I need for work and home life. The past few months, my amazing little machine has developed some annoying problems. First, the fan started making a loud noise. At first I thought that it was running too fast, but after adding iStat Pro to my Dashboard, I quickly found the fan to be running at normal speeds with extra noise. Soon after the loud fan issue came the heat. My CPU was regularly running a temperature up to 90+ degrees. When this would occur, the machine was almost unusable. It seemed the noisy fan just could not keep up with the temperatures. I know the MacBook is getting to be a bit old when looking at computer years, but I love this computer and cannot afford to replace it. In fact, the computer was a family gift to me upon graduating with my Masters degree. Fixing the MacBook will be a three-part series of my adventure from start to finish.

DISCLAIMER: ALL OF WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ WAS DONE AT MY OWN RISK! IF YOU CHOOSE TO DO THE SAME, YOU WILL VOID ANY APPLE WARRANTY FOR THAT MACHINE. NEITHER GEAR DIARY NOR I ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE THAT RESULTS FROM YOU DOING THE SAME. (ALTHOUGH IF YOU DO AND, AS A RESULT YOU FIX YOUR FAN WE WILL HAPPILY TAKE CREDIT) ūüôā

IN OTHER WORDS, THIS POST IS NOT A RECOMMENDATION, BUT RATHER IT IS SIMPLY A RECOLLECTION OF HOW I SAVED MY OWN LAPTOP.

My adventure began with a week-long search of forums and websites for easy fixes for the fan issue. It seems the issue is common for fans to go out or become noisy and various fixes are posted across the web. This is an account of my journey through diagnosis and home repair. My goal is to begin simple and free and work up until my MacBook is like new again.

This post recalls diagnosing the problem and possible plans of action.

Step 1: Install iStat Pro.  iStat Pro is a widget on the Dashboard that allows users to monitor everything on your Mac from fan speeds to processes. It turned out to be an easy way to quickly monitor my fan speeds, temperatures and any memory hogging processes.

Once I watched iStat Pro for a few days, I realized there was a definite issue. My CPU temps were upward of 90 degrees Celsius under even the simplest of tasks. The exhaust fan was hovering around 2000 rpm even when hot so I knew it was not properly cooling the inside of my machine. I was also not seeing any runaway processes that seemed to be chewing up resources and causing the computer to be slower and warmer.

Step 2: Reset the System Management Controller (SMC). All of the below instructions are found here from Apple Support. The SMC is basically an internal sub-system that controls fan speeds and power flow. It balances the job of keeping the system running with little or no noise. If you choose to reset the SMC settings, follow the instructions in the above link per Apple. Dan recommended this fix as a possible solution to the loud fan issue.

From Apple:

Note: Portable computers that have a battery you should not remove on your own include MacBook Pro (Early 2009) and later, all models of MacBook Air, and MacBook (Late 2009).

  1. Shut down the computer.
  2. Plug in the MagSafe power adapter to a power source, connecting it to the Mac if it’s not already connected.
  3. On the built-in keyboard, press the (left side) Shift-Control-Option keys and the power button at the same time.
  4. Release all the keys and the power button at the same time.
  5. Press the power button to turn on the computer.  
    Note
    : The LED on the MagSafe power adapter may change states or temporarily turn off when you reset the SMC.

After several attempts at resetting the SMC, I had no improvement over the fan noise or heat issues. While this was not a fix, it was easily worth the try since no tools or open computers were involved. The reset did not create any ill effects or alter the function of my computer in any way.

With the ability to monitor my system and trying the first easy fix, I now had to dig deeper to find the issue. Since I carry my MacBook Pro virtually everywhere in my backpack, I figured the issue had to be dirt and dust getting inside the small vent. My first thought was to spray compressed air into the port to clean it out, but I decided against that practice not knowing what I could damage. The thought of blindly blasting compressed air across my laptop internals just did not seem like a feasible option. After searching and realizing Apple no longer covered my machine, it was time to go in on my own.

Part 2 of the series will take us inside the MacBook Pro and a close look at the fan. I will attempt to clean and fix the fan in hopes that a free repair is still possible. Check back soon for the instructions and results.

One Response to " The Diagnosis: How My MacBook Pro Avoided the Trash, Part 1 "

  1. animoller says:

    How did you fix it and where is part two?

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