A Very Personal MacBook Pro Disaster

For the first time in 15 years, I’ve had a Mac product fail utterly. A 2018 MacBook Pro. The experience confirms the observations of others.

Apple's 2018 MacBook Pro.
Apple’s 2018 MacBook Pro.

It’s Personal Now

Normally, I don’t pay too much attention to complaint about Mac failures. In any production process, there’s a small percentage of machines will will prove defective. That’s what warranties and AppleCare are for. But I’ve rarely been bitten, a healthy reminder of previously favorable statistics for Apple.

But now I’m in a position to nod approvingly when customers complain about MacBook Pro keyboard issues (and other problems) because a 2018 MacBook Pro in my family has totally failed, a few months after purchase, via the USB-C ports. The external display flickers. External disk drives and SSDs take 20 minutes to mount, then disappear randomly. An external keyboard will work for an hour, then just quit. All four USB-C ports are affected. This Mac is going in for repair, (under warranty) and I’m sure the motherboard will be replaced.

That means the soldered-in SSD will be also be replaced, and we’ll have to restore from a backup to a new SSD. Ycch.

I am sure this rare. I’ve read a lot about MacBook Pro keyboard issues, but not port failures. I’m sure there are a few that get quietly fixed because the customer doesn’t get vocal.

The Community Also Speaks

Just today, I read this: “Apple’s latest laptops are the worst the company has ever made for 4 major reasons.” Some of the arguments therein that one normally would dismiss start to make a little more sense.

Recently, Apple blogger John Gruber blamed departing Apple designer Jony Ive for the keyboard issues on recent MacBook Pro, saying it was Ive’s obsession with making thin devices that led to a poorly designed keyboard.

I mentioned that notion on a recent TDO podcast without having seen Gruber’s writings. It makes sense, however. Make the case too thin, and you take away the design freedom of the keyboard engineers and force them into an engineering corner.  (Where have we heard this notion before? 2013 Mac Pro.) Hence the Butterfly design. But there’s more from the BI article.

Back when Apple introduced a MacBook Pro that ran on Intel’s powerful Core i9 chips in 2018, it was discovered that the laptop didn’t have the proper cooling systems to keep the chip cool during workloads….

Apple addressed the issue with a software update fix, and the problem was improved. But the MacBook Pro chassis is still too thin to properly cool a powerful chip like the Intel Core i9. [An unproven assertion. Still….]

This thin design also forced previous generations of MacBook Pros into using LPDDR RAM memory, which maxed out at 16 GB. The best HP notebooks have been a little thicker, clunkier, better cooled, but they featured 32 GB RAM. A MacBook Pro that maxes out at 16 GB RAM isn’t a “pro” machine. You all wrote me in article comments about that. Over and over. I heard you.

And so, I admit, my perspective has changed in a very tangible way. Do I think all these anecdotes constitute iron-clad engineering data? No. But I’m here to report my own experience, and that’s worth doing.

This 2018 MacBook Pro has been beautiful and fast. When it worked.

16 thoughts on “A Very Personal MacBook Pro Disaster

  • In medical device design you have mandated design controls which require verification and validation of designs as the prototype is developed. It’s not the way creatives want to work, but it tends to mitigate these rather fundamental design flaws, and it weeds out questionable engineering before it becomes part of the product. Wouldn’t it have been better to have someone in the design meetings say “No, Jony, that’s not going to work.” and here’s why…

  • My Vorpal Sword – Mac Pro 5,1
    Apple is so far off track now that I have regressed, to the best machine Apple ever made – the Mac Pro Cheesegrater, especially model 5,1.
    If Apple would admit a mistake and return to building these, they could sell every one they could build! It perfectly fits the gap between Imac Pro and the new MegaMac Pro.
    Recently I resucitated a Mac Pro 3,1. I now have 8 cores at 2.8 with 28 gigs of ram and a SSD. Not a 5,1 but I am working on it!

    One, two! One, two! And through and through
    The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

  • Welcome to the club. I had an iMac 27-inch 5K Retina (mid 2017) fail one year after purchase. It failed to wake up from seep sometimes (black screen and even automatic reboots and kernel panics sometimes), and sometimes stalled at booting while showing the Apple logo. It was a defective GPU, requiring replacement of the main logic board.

    Having Time Machine backups may not be enough, since Time Machine disks get corrupt to the point of being unusable after six to 12 months of usage. Unless you rebuild its directory once or twice a month. That is why I am stuck in macOS 10.12 Sierra until Apple releases full documentation about how to write to APFS disks (as has already done about how to read such disks), so that DiskWarrior 6 can be released to rebuild directory of APFS disks (safety net).

      1. There is no solution to such problem, as far as I know. Apple should release more headless Macs, including low, middle and high products, from Mac mini to Mac Pro, and also a new mini tower. CPU may last seven years (then you cannot install new macOS releases but displays last more than 20 years. Fight programmed obsolescence, protect the environment and fight climate change and global warming.

  • Typo: “I am sure this rare” – paragraph 4.
    All things whether handmade or assembly line will have a failure rate. Sometimes this is due to a manufacturing flaw, or materials that are too cheap and don’t last. In the case of the keyboard fiasco that’s the former. For your ports, that’s just bad luck.

  • John,
    You are right to be concerned about this, but as a professional journalist you should not be boasting about “not having read the article” or linking to click-bait Business Insider bloggers who prefer Window coz it’s cheaper and don’t seem to understand Apple Care. Like you, I am struggling with how I will get work done while Apple takes my MacBook pro away for a week, in this case to change the keyboard. Even more annoying, Apple changed the motherboard about 6 months ago, they could have done the KB at the same time. Even so, I accept that is the price you pay for such a great work machine. When it stops being worth it, and there is genuinely something better, I will choose that.
    Until then, keep it Rational …..

  • Agreed. The “quest for thin” has gone too far. The bendable iPhone is another example.

    “Thin” and “light” are good things but can be taken to excess, as the recent problems show.

  • Glad I didn’t go for the MBP with the butterfly keys. And the cooling issue isn’t the first one for Apple’s laptops. Our PowerBook G4 (late 2003-early 2004) had a cooling issue. If the processor had to work for more than a minute or so continuously it would overheat. I had to use a fan control widget that allowed me to turn the fan on full blast at a lower temperature than the original design. The fan ran at full blast (noisy) a lot of the time.

    Other than that MBP, the only other reliability problem I’ve had has been with Apple’s AirPort Extremes (2007-2013 that looked like a white Mac Mini). I had two that over time degraded and eventually failed.

    My wife’s 2015 13” MBP Retina has been rock solid, as has been my Mid 2010 iMac. Knock on wood.

  • I just hope your Time Machine config was working OK.
    There comes a point where seeking too-thin purely for aesthetic reasons becomes counterproductive – engineering realities will bite back – with thin comes engineering compromise as there’s just no space for keyboard travel, cooling ducts, stiffening ribs. Its not like its an F1 car or a spaceship. By all means push the engineering and technology, something Apple has always done, but reliability engineering matters just as much when your customers have mobile products.
    Lets hope some pragmatic engineering decisions restore Apple’s previous record for reliability and fess up to the errors – its not like replacing laptops for free with new ones would kill Apple’s bottom line. Tim Cook, do the right thing.

  • John,
    I feel your pain. I write this on a 2012 MBA (which I love dearly) and I must confess that I’d have upgraded my own AppleWorld:™:of computers (including a 2012 MBP Retina) a while ago were it not for the questionable MBP/MBA keyboard design. Your computer failed after only 1 year. In comparison, my 2012 MBA may be slower and whatever, but feels to me rock solid. Of course I back it up, but it is a joy to work on.

    I hope your issue is quickly and satisfactorily resolved for this year and into the next 7 or so.

    It is a sad state of Apple hardware that MacBook life is determined by the keyboard.

  • Ironic how people dismiss failures and problems reported by others…hasn’t happened to me so it must be you….works fine for me, what’s your problem…etc.

    Indeed, the last reasonable MacBook Pro was 2015. With Jony out, maybe, just maybe, perhaps maybe Apple will actually deliver something usable and reliable. I for one am holding on to my 2014 MBP 15 until it dies. If Apple hasn’t got anything that’s reliable, I will be buying a Surface Pro. Whatever its problems, can’t be as bad as the crap Apple has put out the last four years.

  • Great, the MacBook Pro 2016 has had problems after problems. And all Apple site like Appleinsider and Macrumours did were to cover up. It wasn’t until a jornrnalist had her laptop keyboard completely broken, and decide to write a pieces on it that went viral before these site decide to cover the story.

    The USB-C / Thunderbolt has a short circuit somewhere that is quite common according to Louis Rossmann. ( USB-C /TB3 has been the MOST common failure after Key Board and Display Cable ).

    And these people continue to cry out for an USB-C iPhone.

  • I feel your pain but no computer or computer company is perfect. Apple is the best there is from my long-time experience using their machines to get work done. I had a decade with Dell and HP they come nowhere close to Appl in durability and support.

  • This thin design also forced previous generations of MacBook Pros into using LPDDR RAM memory, which maxed out at 16 GB

    Too thin design causing problems? Hmmm, and Johnny Ive has left Apple.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.