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Macbook Air 2011 13" Top Case Replacement

ubiveatch -

Mijn probleem

I bought a macbook air for my mother as a gift a few years back. Ecstatic with the gift (given she is very mobile but has a hard time lifting items) she has loved and babied it since then.

Unfortunately a runaway cup of coffee found itself seeping into the keyboard a few months ago. Horrified with the turn of events and after several crying sessions and panic, she cradled her damaged baby and eventually succumbed to the realization that all may be lost.

After resigning to the situation at hand, she did the only thing she knew to do - take it back to the local authorized mac reseller from which we made the fateful purchase.

Kind and simple macbook reseller (not to be named) told her that while Karen was smart not to turn the computer off (which I still don't understand) the damage had been done. After a quick assessment they gave her an $800 repair estimate. Shocked, and not knowing where else to turn, she pondered "for $200 more I could buy a brand new one". She did just that.

Afraid to reveal the series of unfortunate events as it was a very expensive gift, Karen hid the old laptop in a drawer as long as she could. But eventually the guilt and her inability to tell a lie ate away at her soul until she could no longer suppress the urge to splurge.

One month later, like a timid mouse, Karen spilled the beans to me. I sat there and laughed. How could I be upset? She was obviously traumatized over the entire situation and clearly it's not like anyone got hurt. After Karen settled down I got her to show me the laptop.

Being the cheap individual that I am, dug into options. I thought, I can do better than $800.

Another mac repair shop quoted the repair around $400. Better, but I wasn't willing to settle there. After asking around at work a reliable reference pointed me to ifixit.com.

Wow! What a resource! It's as if Apple said "hey you guys, work with our engineers and build the repair guides to help people operate on their devices" - which we all know isn't the case. This site is everything you'd ever imagine/dream of/wanted for any electronic device - teardowns and comprehensive instructions down to the most basic of tasks. Full photos, before and afters, warnings, notes, updates, etc.

After locating the right guide I would need to essentially replace the top case - as the laptop functions normally except for the keyboard, I ordered the recommended tools. Within two days, the order shows up in the mail, completely as expected - off to a good start.

Now I was ready to dig into the operation.

Mijn oplossing

The operation was a success. I followed my own advice listed below along with the extremely comprehensive guides from ifixit and nothing required excess force, stress flexing or crazy manipulations. I was very gentle and took my time.

I'm a little on the obsessive side so it took me a just over 2 hours to completely tear down and reassemble the entire laptop. This included prep time and careful assessment of the new parts to ensure they were identical to what I was replacing. From experience, I know getting down a path without double-checking leads to wasted time and potential damage.

The tools were nearly fantastic. I ordered the standard ifixit (non-pro) versions and they are great quality for occasional jobs. Nice rubber grips, swivel end for easy torquing and magnetic ends for those tiny tiny TINY screws!

The ONLY complaint, which was actually frustrating because it happened at the very end, is the recommended Phillips #00 screwdriver is not the appropriate tool for the job. Its sole purpose is to remove the screws holding the track pad in place on the top case near the keyboard. You need at least a Phillips #000 for the job. That extra "0" is critical!

I would highly suggest ifixit update their list of recommended/required tools. It's a simple "0" - you don't need a copywriter to make that change!

I now have an extra screwdriver I don't need and wound up running to the store to buy the correct one. Fortunately this is a relatively common tool so it wasn't hard to get. Once it was in hand, I was back in business.

Mijn advies

First, as with any project you should engage in a prep phase:

1.) Clear away a nice clean flat stable surface

2.) Provide yourself with at least 3-4 bowls to contain the small parts (tupperware or old plastic food tubs work nicely)

3.) Make sure you have lots of light - this is particularly helpful in identifying the hinges on some of those sockets

4.) Wash your hands before proceeding - very important as you don't want any excess oils and contaminants entering and infecting the patient

I had set my expectations by reading through the repair guide first and understanding the level of difficulty. This particular project was rated as difficult and there were plenty of warnings about small parts/sockets etc. snapping off the circuit boards. This would be catastrophic and exponentially increase the cost of the repair so I was very mindful of that fact.

Lastly, I would recommend making sure you use OEM replacement parts. There is a lot of confusion out there in terms of parts/models/country types. Apple spends a lot of time tweaking and determining the right parts to put in their products. They are very well thought out and work as they should (for the most part). To deviate from that recipe is only for those willing to take a risk. Unless you're on a really tight budget - mind you I am a self-proclaimed cheap-o, I would highly recommend getting OEM parts.

Even further, given I was replacing the keyboard I toyed with the idea of keeping the existing top case frame and swapping out the keyboard component. There are folks out there who have done this but the effort to reward was too far apart for me. I even contemplated getting a used top case, but knowing what I know about germs and keyboards, they harbor more bacteria and microbes than a truck stop bathroom. Since this was potentially going back to Karen, only the best for Mom will suffice.

I did try to repair the broken keyboard by giving it a denatured alcohol bath, but that appeared to be a futile effort. While the keyboard worked better for a short period of time, it reverted back to it's previous state of disrepair the next day. Perhaps I didn't get all the coffee out but time was not what I had in an abundance.

Overall, great experience. I will certainly be coming back for my next repair.

Spudger afbeelding


Phillips #00 Screwdriver afbeelding
Phillips #00 Screwdriver


TR8 Torx Security Screwdriver afbeelding
TR8 Torx Security Screwdriver


T5 Torx Screwdriver afbeelding
T5 Torx Screwdriver


P5 Pentalobe Screwdriver Retina MacBook Pro and Air afbeelding
P5 Pentalobe Screwdriver Retina MacBook Pro and Air


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