MacBook Repair Checklist

no-fārgrikLast Sunday I had the misfortune of spilling coffee to my MacBook Air. All thanks to the unstable IKEA FÄRGRIK coffee cup with the narrow bottom that makes it so easy to knock down. Lesson learned: discard these disaster-prone cups and get more stable mugs instead. Thankfully the laptop seemed unaffected after drying it out – at first that is. After about half an hour, the Ctrl key got stuck and every trackpad click brings up a popup menu.

So I asked around Facebook and found a recommendation of a “non-official” (read: cheaper) place to repair my laptop. It’s an old unit way out of warranty anyway and I’d figure I take my chances. Fast forward half a day later after updating my Time Machine backup, deleting my home directory (along with the user account) and decrypting the flash storage, I came there for repairs. About an hour and S$150 later, I got my MacBook Air back with a new keyboard and all seemed well. But apparently not everything went well.

After restoring my user account overnight, I found out that the MacBook Air’s Wi-Fi finds it really difficult to connect to our home access point. With a few more testing it was apparent that something was wrong with it. So again I had to delete my user account and decrypt its flash storage in preparation of going back to that repair shop again to complain.

True enough, apparently the last technician forgot to connect the Wi-Fi antenna the last time he opened it. Thankfully this one was able to fix the issue and gave my laptop a free dusting in its inner part. But then I had to restore my user account again – a total of about two nights’ work were wasted for all this back-and-forth.

Interestingly this doesn’t happen only on “unauthorized” repair centers. Back in 2009 I turned in my MacBook Pro for repair because of the NVIDIA GeForce 8600 problem. When I got the unit back, there was a stuck CD in the DVD drive and the drive itself wasn’t operational, so I had to went back there to re-service the unit.

So from these two experiences, I’ve devised a checklist to prevent such problem from happening again. That is, some steps that you can also perform to reduce the chance that your MacBook repair technician made things worse and you’ll only found out a few days later. This checklist is also useful if you’re running a MacBook repair shop yourself and make it part of your company’s standard operating procedure.

Preparation Steps

Before going to the repair shop, you’ll need to take inventory of all components inside your MacBook. That is, to keep your technician(s) honest and not replace any component without your knowledge. Fortunately, a lot of these components have built-in serial numbers that you can take note without even opening up your laptop.

In many MacBooks these components are removable from the lower half of the laptop (under the keyboard), hence you’ll need to take inventory of them:

  • The Logic Board – contains the Intel CPU and various supporting microprocessors.
  • The I/O Board – contains the Thunderbolt controller, USB controllers, SD controllers, and some others ports controllers.
  • The Wireless Board – hosts the Wi-Fi and bluetooth controllers, likely on a single chip.
  • Memory – in many MacBook Air models these are soldered to the logic board, but is removable in some other models.
  • Storage – the flash storage or hard disk drive, usually removable.
  • Battery – this is a removable component.

Follow these steps to lookup the serial numbers for these.

  1. Hold down the Ctrl key and click the Apple menu on the top-left.
  2. Select System Information
  3. Click on the Hardware (top-level) section and record your system’s serial number.
  4. Under Hardware select the Memory section and record your memory chip’s serial numbers.
  5. Select the Power section and record your battery’s serial number.
  6. Select SATA/SATA Express and record your storage device’s serial number. If you have newer MacBooks, this could be under the PCI Express section if it exists.
  7. Select Thunderbolt and record your device’s UID.

It’s also a good idea to do it now and don’t wait until you need to turn in your MacBook for repairs. Record these serial numbers and keep them in a safe place.

Post-Repair Checks

After you get back your laptop from the service center, lookup the components serial numbers again and compare it with your stored copy to make sure no components were replaced without your knowledge. Some less credible repair centers may do this and replace your MacBooks’ components with inferior ones and sell yours in the second-hand market as premium spare parts.

After you’ve verified those serial numbers, then it’s time to verify the functionalities themselves. This is to ensure that there are no loose wires or otherwise unconnected components that your service technician forgot to put back together. Assuming that your MacBook is able to boot into OS X, you should check for these:

  • DVD Drive (if you have any). Press the Eject button on the keyboard to spill out any existing one, insert a known good DVD and try to copy files from it to your Downloads folder.
  • USB Ports. Plug in a USB drive on each port and try to create a folder each time you do it.
  • Thunderbolt Port. Ideally you should plug in a Thunderbolt drive or Ethernet adapter and test it out. But if you don’t have any, using a mini-DisplayPort to VGA and use it to drive an external monitor should be a good enough quick test.
  • SD Card Slot. Plug in an SD card and try to copy files or create folders on it.
  • Camera. Open the FaceTime app and see your live reflection.
  • Speakers. Try adjusting the volume and listen for the test alert sound.
  • Microphone. Open System Preferences, select Dictation, and then say something. The Microphone icon should blink as it’s listening to what you’re saying.
  • Headphone Jack. Using an earphone/microphone combo (like the one that comes with an iPhone), repeat the Speakers and Microphone tests but this time through the headphones.
  • Trackpad. Open Safari and try pinching,  zooming, and clicking to make sure multi-touch and clicks still works.
  • Keyboard. Use the Keyboard Viewer to check every keys in the keyboard.
  • Wi-Fi. Scan for wireless access points and make sure that it can see a good amount of nearby access points.
  • Bluetooth. Tether your laptop to your phone via Bluetooth and move the phone away for about 5 meters and ensure that the network connection still works.

Testing the Keyboard

Follow these steps to get the Keyboard Viewer to test the keyboard.
  1. Open System Preferences
  2. Select Keyboard,
  3. Click on Input Sources,
  4. In the lower part of the window there should be a “Show input menu in menu bar” checkbox. Activate it.
  5. Then in the Menu Bar click the Input Menu (that looks like a calendar with a star in it) and then select “Show Keyboard Viewer”.The Keyboard Viewer should open.
  6. Press all keys one by one in the keyboard and look at the Keyboard Viewer while pressing to ensure that the system sees your key presses.

Testing Wi-Fi

First you need a good number of access points around you but are not too near. You don’t need to know the password for any of these, but you’ll need to know that they exists. Then you’ll need another (trusted) device that also has Wireless connectivity – an iPhone should be perfect for this.

When you have those ready, follow these steps to check your Wi-Fi adapter.
  1. Option-Click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and select “Open Wireless Diagnostics”.
  2. You then might be asked for your administrator password – just enter your password and then the Wireless Diagnostics app should open.
  3. Activate the Wireless Diagnostics app and in the Window menu select Utilities. The  Utilities window should open.
  4. Select the Wi-Fi Scan section and click on Scan Now. Wait until scanning is complete.
  5. Compare the list of scanned access points with the one that your other device can see. Make sure that your MacBook doesn’t see less than the access points visible to the other device (i.e. scanning should reveal more Wi-Fi access points).

Checklist Template

I’ve painstakingly put together a checklist for you to use, in the form of a Numbers document. Go ahead, download the checklist, collect your serial numbers and keep them in a safe place that you can easily access later (preferably in your iCloud or DropBox account) so that you can refer to it easily later when you need to send your MacBook for repairs.

Take care for now. Enjoy!


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