Carpe Diem:28 November, 2020

Older MacBook Pro: Clean Up & Maintenance

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First blog post – Welcome to Tech’d Out!

Last week I noticed my older MacBook Pro was making quite a bit of fan noise and was encountering random lock-ups.  I could only handle this so long until I had to open it up and tinker around.

Basics:
The Macbook is a 15″ Core Duo model from August of 2006 (Model A1150 if memory serves me right).  I recently purchased a new MacBook Pro (15″ i7 model – love it!) to take my old one’s place.  Now the older model acts as a desktop and drives a secondary monitor.

History:
I have experienced overheating of this laptop in the past.  Random artifacts would pop up on the screen and the graphics portion of the computer would lock up.  For example, the lockup would cause the screen to freeze, but other functionality of the MacBook seemed functional (could still hear sound normally).  Sounds like a graphics problem.  Sure enough, with a little help from Google, the ATI Radeon X1600 mobile chip had overheating problems, which caused the above symptoms.  The simple fix was to install Fan Conrol, a simple yet very effective control panel add-in to increase the fans’ speed and monitor the systems cooling more effectively.  The only side effect is more noise from the fans.

Adding the secondary monitor to the Mac Book Pro caused the unit to create much more heat and malfunction.  The loud fans and lock ups were becoming a problem.

The Project:

I followed the instructions on iFixit to take apart the MacBook Pro.  Essentially, I cleaned out the fans and heat sink (HSF) of dust and then reapplied thermal paste on the chips and heat sink.  Cleaning out the dust in HSF very simple after opening up the case.  Reapplying the thermal paste is a little bit more work.

MacBook Pro Guts- (Click for larger image)

Cleaning out the HSF of dust: (Simple)

Apple did a decent job designing this.  All that is needed to be done is to unscrew two screws on the fans and unplug them from the motherboard (see image below).  Then a dust blower can be used or tape to get rid of the dust that has accumulated.  iFixit shows how to remove the whole fas assembly, but this isn’t needed to simply clean already working fans. See iFixit‘s “Left Fan” and “Right Fan” pages for more details to remove the whole fans.

Reapplying thermal paste: (More Difficult)


This involves completely removing the primary logic board and HSF assembly from the casing.  It is a big more complicated and could put stress on your logic board if not done with care. I followed these instructions to do the job.  After taking out the logic board and HSF, it was obvious that the thermal paste was old and dried out.  It was not providing the best conductivity as it should.  So I cleaned off the old paste with cotton balls & swaps and nail polish remover (thanks to the GF for having this around) from the CPU, GPU, and north bridge chips as well as on the heat sink.  I then reapplied new thermal paste to the chips and then reattached the heat stink and put the computer back together.  Applying thermal paste can be a delicate process; I will most likely blog about it more sometime in the future or if there is a high demand.  For now, Google is your friend.

Difficulties:


When I originally put the machine back together, it didn’t power up nor respond at all.  I thought maybe I fried it somehow.  After hours of trouble shooting, I figured out that I did not reconnect the left I/O board properly.  The left I/O board handles most of the power management, wireless connectivity, and ports on the left side of the computer.  The cable connection to the motherboard can be a little tricky.  (see image below) Be sure that this is properly in place!

The results:


The MacBook Pro is running a bit cooler now with less noise.  I still use Fan Control on moderate settings, but the computer doesn’t make nearly as much noise as it used to.  Under a full load, I don’t have temps going over 60˚C and the artifacts and freezing has minimized.

IMPORTANT TO NOTE:  I found that with the battery plugged in, CPU temps jumped 15˚C immediately even when the battery is fully charged.  I am not sure why or if it was an accurate reading, but this jump was a primary reason why the fans were running so loudly.  The unit was reaching close to 80˚C.  The CPU can handle up to 100˚C, but I believe the GPU is having the overheating problems.  Taking the battery out immediately causes the temps to drop back down.  Weird.  In my case,  taking the battery out completely isn’t a problem.

I hope this helps!  Please feel free to ask any questions, and I will help clarify!

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