Points in Focus Photography

Installing a new Battery in a MacBook Pro

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Rough Transcript

Howdy and welcome back.

Today I’m going to be stepping away from talking about the camera stuff and photography to talk about tech for a minute.

I recently replaced the batteries in my 15 inch mid 2014 MacBook Pro.

Though I should say, this isn’t a how to guide in the slightest. I did the work on relatively short notice at, like, 11 o’clock at night and there was no way that I was going to setup cameras and shoot video of it. Doubly so, in that it ended up taking me almost 2 hours to get through the job and I managed to mangle my finger in the process, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Of course, you might be wondering, why did I replace the batteries in my MacBook Pro?

The answer to which is both kind of complicate and dead simple.

The simple part of it is that they were bulging and needed to be replaced.

The more complicated answers is that to start with, I’m not interested in spending upwards of $3000 on a new laptop right now.

Yeah, sure the new MacBook Pros have newer processors with more cores, and can be configured with 32 gigs of ram. And while an upgrade would be nice, I’m don’t find that my current machine is so far behind the curve that I can’t reasonably use it.

Secondly, I have real issues with the butterfly keyboards. I’ve repeatedly seen informal statistics that really concern me. Like Apple Store employees saying things like the number of butterfly keyboards they replace exceeds all other repairs they make on all other products combined. Or informal twitter polls suggesting that maybe 30 to 40 percent of butterfly keyboards end up having problems. Or the reverse engineering video by iFixit that shows that even with the repeated changes Apple’s made to plastic covers, they haven’t change fundamental design aspects that are clearly potential problem spots.

And when push comes to shove, if there’s something to stop me cold about the whole thing, its with Apple’s design, and repair procedures, replacing the keyboard requires replacing the entire top plate, including the batteries and Touch Bar, and that repair can run upwards of $1000 out of warranty.

Now given that I’ve had this MacBook Pro for 6 years, and Apple’s warranty only goes out 3, that’s a position I’m not especially comfortable being in.

Maybe in a couple of years, when Apple’s new MacBook Pro design comes out it will hopefully have a more reliable keyboard and I’ll be able to upgrade to it.

And that’s really what I was looking for in this fix. To get a couple more years out of a computer that still is perfectly fast enough for the tasks I’m using it for.

Of course the second part of the equation is that I’ve done enough work on computers that I was confident that I could do the work here.

Sure the battery is glued in, and there’s proprietary screws in the chassis in an effort to keep owners out of it, it’s still just a computer. And fundamentally that means it’s just electronics, and with the right tools and some know how it’s not impossible to fix. Regardless of what so many Mac users may think.

So this brings me to the battery situation. I went with iFixit’s battery replacement kit.

I’ve used their products before in the past, when I replaced a battery in an iPhone 4. And the price for the kit was pretty reasonable, at least for someone who’s planning on doing this once.

Plus it came with all the tools and equipment I’d need to get the job done, including some pretty nice safety glasses, gloves, and adhesive remover. And of course, the replacement battery.

Because the battery in question is a nearly 100 watt-hour rechargeable lithium ion battery it can’t be shipped by air. However, turn around time for shipping wasn’t that bad, especially not for crossing the entire US. It shipped out on a Thursday, and it was delivered on a Monday or Tuesday, though I don’t remember which now.

As I said earlier, I ended up doing this in the middle of the night. I had intended to do the swap during the day on the following weekend, but when I got the kit I took the bottom off my laptop, just to see what I was dealing with, and that seemed to make the bulging worse. Or at least, when I put the bottom cover back on, the laptop rocked even more.

Ifixit’s procedure for replacing the battery is kind of a nightmare. If you follow their steps, it’s a 60 something step process, that requires completely disassembling all of the internals of the laptop.

It took me a while to figure out why this was the case, and ultimately it comes down to the speakers, and the iFixit adhesive remover.

The adhesive remover is an acetone based solvent, and the speakers are plastic. When the two touch, the latter is dissolved and destroyed.

Of course this would have been a lot easier if Apple hand’t buried the speakers under the main board and therefore under a bunch of other stuff too.

If there’s one thing you quickly get from working in a mack of any sort, it’s that Apple’s engineers aren’t interested in making anything easy to fix. Apple as a whole, would apparently much rather you throw out an otherwise functional computer and buy a new one, than fix somewhat trivial stuff and continue to use it.

And don’t get me wrong here, I fully get the need for some of the design choices they make. Like I’m okay with the battery being stuck to the chassis, as it makes the computer that much thinner. And ultimately, that was one of the reasons I bought a MacBook Pro instead of a Lenovo or Dell back when I got this machine.

However, at the same time, it certainly feels like they could have made some things, like batteries, a bit more repairable without disassembling the whole machine.

Of course this isn’t without a gotcha either. To get the main board out, you have to remove the Airport card, and the connector for the antennas on that are small and very fragile.

In reading though the comments on the iFixit directions, there were numerous people that damaged those connection and lost wifi, bluetooth, or simply couldn’t get their computer to boot.

Fortunately, someone figured out that the batteries are held in with a think doubled sided foam tape. And like all doubled sided foam tapes, you can split the tape by cutting the foam.

Thus was born the “string” method.

Now I didn’t make this up, credit goes to another YouTuber who’s video is linked in the description.

But the short of it is, instead of disassembling the entire computer, and using the iFixit adhesive softener to break down the adhesive tape, you use a string to cut the foam tape under the batteries without removing everything else.

Now that said, this is not quite as gentile as the solvent method. But I think it’s a worthwhile alternative, when you weigh the options, especially if you’re worried about damaging connectors on the Airport card.

That said, there is one potential negative, it does take a lot of force to work the string back and forth under the batteries, and this is where I managed to slightly mangle my finger.

On one hand, you want a strong but fine thread. A good option would be something like sail makers thread, or a thin Dyneema thread, or even fishing line. Moreover, I think something with some texture, like a woven or twisted line, is preferable as that will cut the foam tape a little better than something that’s just smooth.

However, you really need to wrap it around something other than your finger and secure it to get a good grip on it as you “saw” back and forth through the foam tape.

Using the string method, assuming you don’t mangel your finger like I did, should get you through the process of removing the old battery in maybe 30 minutes, if not less. Though it’s best not to rush.

Ultimately, the reason it took me almost 2 hours, was that I had to stop and bandage up my finger before I could continue. Then, because I couldn’t really use my finger the same way, it was even slower going to get through the rest of the batteries.

That said, I have the new batteries in now. The computer sits flat like it should, and I have a basically full capacity battery now.

That said, I would point out, the iFixit batteries aren’t Apple OEM parts, and the capacities may not be 100% the same. After going through the battery calibration procedure, Coconut battery lists my battery as having capacity of 8587 mAh, with the computers design capacity being around 8755 mAh. So my new battery is at 98.1% of what a new OEM battery should be.

This difference doesn’t really bother me though. I’ve been using the computer on the new battery and the battery life seems functionally similar to what I was getting before. The other day, while I was waiting for some construction work to be done, I got 5 or so hours of YouTube video watching in Chrome, which isn’t the most battery friendly browser, on 65% of the battery charge. And I’ve gone for around 10 hours on a charge with mixed writing and web browsing. Both are largely reflective of what I saw in the past.

So with all that said, should you consider replacing the battery in your MacBook Pro yourself?

I’m going to say no. Even if you have the skills, the time, and cost benefit ratio falls in your favor, it’s a real pain in the rear.

Personally, I don’t want to do this again. I’m expecting that the new battery will get me through another couple of years, and I can upgrade to a new machine before I need to mess with the battery again.

If you found this interesting, please smash the thumbs up button and subscribe. If not, well, you know what to do.

For more in-depth written content on photography, travel, and camera gear, please visit my website at www.pointsinfocus.com.

Also you can follow me on twitter at pointsinfocus.

Thanks for watching, and see ya next time.

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