Apple's new MacBook Pros reveal quality concerns

Excess thermal paste shows shoddy assembly work, says expert

Apple's new MacBook Pro shows some quality-of-build problems that shouldn't be seen in a notebook that costs $1,800, a teardown expert said today.

While disassembling a 15-in. MacBook Pro, iFixit.com -- a site that regularly tears down electronics and publishes do-it-yourself repair guides -- found several signs of substandard assembly.

Among iFixit's findings was a stripped screw near the notebook's subwoofer enclosure and an unlocked ZIF (zero insertion force) socket for the IR (infrared) sensor.

"[These] should not be things found inside a completely unmolested computer with an $1,800 base price," said iFixit in the teardown description posted on its site.

The refreshed MacBook Pro models launched last Thursday in what one analyst called a "ho-hum" upgrade .

iFixit also spotted an unusual amount of thermal paste applied to both the central processor (CPU) and the graphics processor (GPU). "Holy thermal paste! Time will tell if the gobs of thermal paste applied to the CPU and GPU will cause overheating issues down the road," iFixit said.

Thermal paste, also called "thermal grease" and "heat sink paste," is a compound that computer makers apply to increase the thermal conductivity of a processor so heat is drawn away from the chip more efficiently.

"Paste fills in the valleys of the bumpy surfaces on both the heat sink and the chip to exchange heat between the two more efficiently," said Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research , a firm that specializes in graphics devices and processors. A heat sink is the component that's mounted atop a processor to dissipate heat.

But too much paste doesn't mean that the underlying processor will necessarily overheat and so fail faster, cautioned Peddie.

"Excess paste shows sloppy application, shoddy assembly work," said Peddie. "If you can see [the paste] it ain't workin'," he added, talking about how extra, visible paste doesn't contribute to increased conductivity.

Miroslav Djuric, iFixit's director of technical communication, explained his firm's findings in more detail in an e-mail reply to questions today.

"Fit and finish was a bit of a factor for this teardown, since we really haven't seen these kinds of problems with Apple machines in the past," Djuric said. "I don't think that the stripped screw, unlocked ZIF socket, and excess thermal paste are indicators that Apple is going downhill in terms of manufacturing quality, but it did raise an eyebrow. Just like everything else in life, the manufacturing process for electronics is not perfect, and neither is Apple's."

Djuric said iFixit would keep a weather eye on future Apple devices it tears apart to see if the flaws in its MacBook Pro are the first signs of a trend.

iFixit found excessive amounts of thermal paste on the MacBook Pro's CPU and GPU. (Image: iFixit)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

Read more about macintosh in Computerworld's Macintosh Topic Center.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags notebookshardwareApplehardware systemsApple MacBook ProsMacintoshlaptopsmacbook pro

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?