MacBooK Pro, Air and iMac GPU Problem: The Complete Guide

 19 February, 2020

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Slow imac and macbook repair

The 15-inch MacBook Pro have the particularity of having a low-power graphics chip integrated into Intel’s Core i5 / i7 processor and of offering a second, dedicated graphics chip.

Intel processors and their integrated chip are very reliable. We rarely see the graphics part of this chip fail. This is the reason why this article focuses on 15-inch MacBook Pros only. For its position, graphics chip added to the motherboard has known many flaws, all different depending on the generation. But these worries generally give quite similar symptoms.

All of this is not, nor aid in the diagnosis, much less to repair.

So as we are Professionals, we have prepared a little guide. MacBook Pros and their graphics card concerns, generation by generation. This includes the symptoms, the cause of the problem, and possible solutions.

Mid 2010 15-inch MacBook Pro

This GPU problem is not coming from the GPU.

The mid-2010 MacBook Pro 15 have motherboard number 820-2850. They are generally reliable and robust machines. They are still usable and used today by many people in office automation or for small daily tasks. Their graphics problem is still too often confused with that of the MacBook Pro 2011, but we will come back to it.

A problem with the graphics chip power supply

On these Macs, the problem comes from the instability of the power supply to the graphics chip. 

Another story of capacitors

The graphics chip needs a low voltage power supply, which varies according to the GPU demand. It is powered at 1.35 or 1.55 V during light loads and should be powered at 1.8 V during heavy loads. There is a circuit responsible for producing these different voltages. As for the voltage rise necessary for the screen’s backlighting, we have a circuit in charge of the voltage reduction. This circuit works on the same principle: a control chip, a transistor that switches on an inductor and stabilization capacitors. I’ll let you revise the backlight if you don’t follow everything.

It is the capacitors that are the problem and, in particular, the C9560. It is a tantalum-polymer capacitor that ages poorly and should not be used for these kinds of applications. The voltage regulation is, therefore, poorly done when the GPU demand is maximum; it crashes.

A condo, and it’s back!

The solution, therefore, consists of replacing this capacitor. It is advisable to replace it with a different technology capacitor (such as an aluminium capacitor). It will be bigger and will therefore require a little adaptation. But some models have three pads, which makes this component easier, even if it is more extensive, on the pads already present on the motherboard. it’s really magical. Once this famous capacitor has been replaced, the graphics chip of the MacBook Pro 15 2010 passes all GPU stress tests without any problem.

2011 15-inch MacBook Pro

The most famous graphics problem.

… And also the one who gave the weirdest solutions (and disappointed who tried it).

We will start from the start: no, putting your motherboard in the oven does not solve it. At best, you’ve added heat stress to your chip that will keep it running for a few more weeks.

This well-known problem has caused a lot of ink to flow and is doing a lot of harm to Apple, although they were not really responsible. The secondary GPU of the 2011 15-inch MacBook Pro was manufactured by Nvidia (the Geforce GT330M). The fault is right with the chip itself and not with the soldering of this chip. Replacing the chip will only lengthen life again, based on a new graphics chip that contains the same defect as the old one.

We no longer work on these computers, and we are not the only repairers in this case.

An internal GPU problem

Therefore, the problem comes from vias: tiny vertical bridges inside the chip that allow communication between the different stages. These vias are defective, which, over time but especially with thermal cycles (change from hot to cold and vice versa, repeatedly), first causes these bridges to crack and then give way.

Bypassing your card in the oven, you allow these vias to take a little volume and, therefore, potentially to partially resolder. But the break still is and will reappear with time and use. The passage in the oven is, therefore, only the illusion of a lasting repair.

The same for the replacement, the GPU being affected by a manufacturing defect, see the design; the replacement only replaces a defective chip with a chip that will soon be defective.

Disable the GPU, the only reliable solution

The only reliable solution we offer is, therefore, to deactivate the secondary GPU. This also means degrading the performance of your computer:

You will no longer be able to launch a 3D game in the right conditions.
The graphics performance will be degraded.

  1. The video output will become inactive.
  2. The backlight of the screen will no longer be adjustable.

This is the price to pay to find a functional machine.

MacBook Pro 15 inch Retina 2012

The series of defective GPUs did not stop in 2011…

The graphics acceleration part of the MacBook Pro 15 inch Retina 2012 also has a flaw. This has never been admitted by Apple, and even less taken in the extended warranty.

The symptoms here are sometimes divergent, but your Mac often displays a black screen, either directly after booting or using the graphics card. The screen goes black, but the MacBook Pro is still working. You hear the sound of buttons or sound settings. The only way to get out of this crash is to restart the machine; other times, the Mac will restart on its own.

Again, it is not the GPU involved but a story of soldering on the GPU power supply chips.

The fault of the welds a little light

This MacBook Pro series, the 2012 15-inch Retina, suffered a manufacturing defect. Too little solder paste was applied for some welds. As a result, the welds are also acceptable; they crack or come apart over time. These are, more specific, the solders of the power management chip (again). View from microscope shows the lightness of the welds around this component.

Few repairers know this problem while the solution is not so complicated: it is necessary to repeat these solders with a suitable iron with tin. Once the welds have been redone, no more problems.

And after that…

We continue to work with the motherboard repair community to find the sources of the problems and the associated solutions. Macs’ other production problems appeared on the following series, not necessarily on graphics cards, but elsewhere (screen, keyboard, SSD, for example). We know all these problems, document them, and share with other repairers for all to move towards a solution.

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