$10,000 later, an Apple Store Genius diagnoses a $0 MacBook Pro problem

Ben Lovejoy for 9to5Mac:

What appeared to be a major MacBook Pro problem resulting in $10,000’s worth of warranty work finally turned out to be a ridiculously simple fix taking seconds and costing nothing at all.

Photographer and developer Greg Benz tells the story.

My laptop “failed” again for the 4th time today. The first 2 motherboard replacements seemed odd, but I was given a completely new laptop from Apple on the 3rd failure. Just like before, the screen was pure black after clicking the power button and there was a slight fan sound. The only other indication that anything was alive was that the machine would still make an audible chime when plugging in power and the capslock key light could be toggled off and on. So after losing about 2 weeks of my time, >$10,000 in Apple warranty repairs (2 logic boards, new cables, and a complete replacement of a >$7000 computer), troubleshooting input from several Apple Geniuses, level 1 and 2 tech support from Apple Corporate, diagnostic tests at the Apple Store, and diagnostic tests twice at Apple’s repair facility in Texas; what was the root issue?

You’re not going to believe it:

The screen brightness was turned all the way down (not merely dim, but off).

The MacBook Pro problem didn’t, in fact, exist.

MacDailyNews Take: Why didn’t Benz tell the Apple tech or realize himself that he often turns down the screen brightness to zero and that might be the issue, saving $10,000 in unnecessary warranty work?

The MacBook Pro didn’t have a problem, but its OS did. Obviously, Apple should set the display brightness settings to some level (even just 10%) on startup then turn them back to the user’s previous setting once logged in.


  1. Sounds a bit far fetched to me… I’ve done that too thinking something’s wrong with my MacBook Pro but I always figured it out while going through my list of remedies. I mean c’mon.. so how did so many people who supposedly worked on this machine didn’t adjust screen brightness at some point… just doesn’t make any sense, this story. Sounds Fubar!

  2. Which is why the first thing I ever did when troubleshooting Macs with a black/no display is check the brightness settings and reset the NVRAM/PRAM. This resets the display settings back to default.

    I do believe the Apple Troubleshooting manual tells the tech to check the settings first instead of jumping right to hardware replacement. A tech at the depot might just assume the first tech at the “Genius Bar” did the obvious stuff,

    One would think the motherboard replacement would fix it unless the user kept turning the brightness all the way down and forgetting he did it.

    I ran into this several times at the School District I worked for, where I did all the Mac repairs, Kiddos would turn the brightness down either on purpose or accidentally and the teacher would call the help desk. And yes, small kids will type randomly at the keyboard and like “an infinite number of monkeys” actually hit the right combination. I even had other techs bring stuff to me for repair because they didn’t check the obvious. I kept sending out “how to reset the PRAM/NVRAM and SMC notes. In their defense however they knew Windows PCs but were really unfamiliar with Macs and the MacOS.

    1. Unless you (stupidly) restore from backup and the brightness plists also transfer across.

      Which is why you are not advised to restore from backup while diagnosing and resolving issues.

  3. That happened to me once but I worked it out myself. I would have thought the screen resets to a normal level after a restart.
    Definitely a new machine would be at normal levels to start. Restoring from an iCloud backup is unlikely to affect the brightness control.

  4. Having read the text of the article, it sounds like I may be wrong — the claim is that T2 chip machines w/ a firmware password in place prevents PRAM clear:

    “The Apple troubleshooting guides are out of date. They do not note that if you have a firmware password on a T2 Mac, you cannot reset PRAM as expected and therefore cannot resolve screen brightness issues this way.”

  5. Apple once replaced an MBA that would randomly go to sleep when I was using it. After I got the new machine, I experienced the same issue and realized that it was the magnetic coils in my Seiko kinetic watch that were triggering the sensor on the side of the laptop body. This magnetic sensor thought it was detecting a closed lid and was sleeping the computer.

    1. I had this happen to me when stacking several laptops on top of each other, working on the top most. The screen went blank. I thought it was defective. But after shuffling things around a bit, to trouble shoot with different power connectors, and examining connections, (like external display), I realized my mistake.

      Magnets to detect lid closures, has very interesting results – not to mention, a bit of anger and anxiety.

  6. Every motherboard replacement should have resolved the problem. The laptop replacement should have resolved the problem. All of the people that dealt with the problem are incompetent.
    Dead display. Connect an external monitor and see the results.

    This is a ridiculous ‘doh’ moment.

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