MacBook Unibody Floppy-Hinge Hacks?
September 19, 2009 7:50 AM   Subscribe

The hinge on my partner's new unibody MacBook Pro is just-loose-enough to make using it in bed annoying. Solutions, cases or a hack welcomed.

O hive mind, please help us comfortably enjoy our weekend morning lazy-surfing, emailing bliss with a new unibody MBP!

So, after searching Google and finding this as the first hit, and this as the second, I'm not feeling very optimistic.

The new unibody MBP that mr. lfr. just bought is amazing. Really amazing. Photo processing has taken on new life, the screen is gorgeous, it doesn't get scaryhot when running video for extended periods of time, and last but not least, he's now able to run his heavy duty protein modelling software for work seamlessly on it now.

The only glitch is that he can't comfortably lie down in bed (or on the couch) with the laptop above his head because the new unibody has a seemingly "looser" hinge design than both his and my first-gen intel MBP did/do. The challenge with this is that we both tend to do a fair bit of lying around being creative (or lazy, your pick) either on the sofa or in bed, with the laptops above our heads, and the fact that he can't do that with his new one is actually fairly annoying. In fact, I am typing this question from a supine position right now on my older MBP. Also, I had planned to replace my own MBP with a new unibody soon, and this (seemingly quite minor) issue has suddenly become very important to me. Yes, I'm that lazy.

Has anyone here found a solution to this "floppy screen" issue on their new unibody? Since he already mentioned that he would like to find a case, is there potentially a (light, slim) case out on the market there that adds a little more tension/stability to the open clamshell design, to allow the screen to stay up/open when gravity takes over?

um, also please note: "get out of bed" is not really a helpful answer. He's already discovered that piling pillows to sit up and look at/down at the screen (rather than up at it) is much less comfortable and seems to put more strain on his neck.
posted by lonefrontranger to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When I hold my new unibody mb (not a pro) with the keyboard vertical and the screen a few degrees above horizontal, it doesn't even think about moving. Have you thought of taking it into an apple store just to check that it can't be tightened? It's possible that the hinge is somehow loose and personally, I would go get it checked for free at an apple store first before trying to hack up some sort of diy design to keep your screen afloat. Just a thought.
posted by kthxbi at 7:55 AM on September 19, 2009

My MPB-13 has a hinge just as stiff as every other Power/MacBook I've owned over the years, and stiffer than some. I'd take it to the store to see if they could "tighten" it somehow (no idea) or just swap it for another one.

How the heck do you use it over your head without some kind of racking device, anyway? The screen position sounds great for the neck, but I'm not sure I could handle holding my arms up in the air that long.
posted by rokusan at 8:06 AM on September 19, 2009

Response by poster: Hi, kthxbi and rokusan, here's the thing - we're perfectly willing to take it to the Apple Store, but please believe it when I say we did a little research first. If you follow those 2 links you'll see that we're not the first (by a long shot) to encounter this issue.

For clarification we are talking about the new unibody 15" MacBook Pro, not the smaller 13".
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:19 AM on September 19, 2009

Ah sorry, I have no experience with the 15. I went from (old-style) MBP 15 to (new-unibody) 13.
posted by rokusan at 8:29 AM on September 19, 2009

I use mine in bed ALL the time (every morning), and, like everyone else, my lid doesn't even think about moving. Take it in, because something's not right.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 8:40 AM on September 19, 2009

My unibody hinge is definitely a lot stronger than my old MBP hinge. Take it in!
posted by soma lkzx at 9:22 AM on September 19, 2009

I like to surf on my back too, and have definitely noticed this 'problem' on various 15" MBPs in the Apple Store. The glass screen seems just too heavy for the hinge to properly suspend it in gravity-defying position. The fact that there are some that don't have this problem may have just eliminated the last deal-breaker for me :)
posted by dirm at 9:34 AM on September 19, 2009

I've got the same problem using it in bed.. it's more of a motion problem than a position problem - as long as your legs don't move, the screen won't move, but if something gets it moving towards you (like your legs shifting a bit, or typing too hard....) it will swing closed.

No solution - but I expect someone could get some little plastic doohickies fabricated and sell them online as "macbook screen stabilizers" and make a fortune. They could even come in different colors.

I'm also thinking you could McGyver something out of a racketball or piece of styrofoam.
posted by TravellingDen at 10:14 AM on September 19, 2009

But how do you hold it above your head in the first place?
posted by A189Nut at 10:33 AM on September 19, 2009

My MBP hinge started to take on a life of its own as the cat loves to rub her face against its corners.
posted by avocet at 10:36 AM on September 19, 2009

If the computer is still covered by AppleCare, I'd make it their problem.
posted by hippybear at 2:00 PM on September 19, 2009

Response by poster: Hi all, update: we went to the Apple Store. This is indeed a design "feature" of the 15" unibody design. They ALL do this. We played with all the unibody 15" and 13" machines in the store.

Weirdly enough, the 13" (like rokusan alluded to) is REALLY tight. Like, it takes something like 10x more effort to move the lid on the hinge than it does on the bigger 15". Held over one's head, the lids on the 13" MB and/or MBP would never, ever swing shut.

On talking to the Genius Bar tech, we pretty much got the *shrug* "they all do that" response.

Which is why there's apparently a petition out (first link in my OP) for Apple to do something about fixing this.

Sigh. So we're back to the drawing board it seems -- if mr. lfr. wants to surf on his back in bed, he's going to have to find some kind of hack or device to hold the lid open.

It pretty much sucks that Apple changed the design, and it's positively bizarre that they only did it for the 15 and 17" models. It definitely seems contrived - when you hold the laptop over your head, once the lid comes to a point where it goes beyond "vertical" and gravity takes over (kind of hard to describe), it swings shut quickly to about 15ยบ, then glides to a halt in a very "we mean it to do this" fashion.

None of the cases we found at the AS seemed like they'd add tension to the hinges. And, as you can see, the "take it to the Apple Store" responses are not the droids we're looking for.

posted by lonefrontranger at 3:50 PM on September 19, 2009

I guess I'm lucky because I'm typing this on my back in bed with the screen past vertical on my unibody 17" MBP, matte screen. The hinge is nice and firm until I position the screen perpendicular to the ground. I can imagine that the glass on the glossy version could add just enough weight to cause it to close. Have you tried the same experiment on a matte-screen 15" MBP?
posted by michswiss at 4:25 PM on September 19, 2009

Get a cover that you use only in bed, and duct tape that motherf*cker open from the back. Wouldn't do it directly on the metal as the duct tape is likely to mess it up and besides, you want this to be a removable solution.

/redneck geek
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:47 PM on September 19, 2009

Which is why there's apparently a petition out (first link in my OP) for Apple to do something about fixing this.

Hinge stiffness is a large contributor to hinge assembly failure over time.
posted by secret about box at 6:07 PM on September 19, 2009

Ok so based on this new information regarding shitty design flaws, and using my own unibody 13" mb as a model, I think I may have a solution to keep your screen at 90 degress from your keyboard. If you look at the hinge area when the mbp is open to 90 degrees, you'll see there is a little space on the outside of either hinge between the bottom of the screen and the top of the keyboard area (I'm talking about the inch or so of screen that has no hinge attached on the outer sides). My guess is that it would be totally possible to take two popsicle sticks, place them against the screen and slid up tight to the hinge, and use the girth, if you will, of these sticks to keep the screen open. As you close the lid, that opening *has* to get smaller, so if you put something (like wood) in there of the right size, my guess is that it would stay open. This is the least-hacky hack I can think of and has not technically been tested. Let me know if it works!
posted by kthxbi at 9:07 PM on September 19, 2009

Best answer: I have one of said MBPs. I basically experienced everything you have, except that I already owned one of the machines. At one point, one of the Geniuses said something like "we can swap out yours for another, but the new one will probably be the same."

Unfortunately, I ended up just sucking it up. Now that I think about it, I don't really use my MBP on elevated legs anymore. Mostly on my stomach or side when in bed. Not the most comfortable thing, but I did that before anyways. Plus, I'm a weirdo.

Besides that, I *love* this computer.
posted by Tu13es at 5:47 AM on September 20, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Mr. lfr has read this thread and we've grumbled a bit and thought about popsicle sticks, but I think where we're both slowly getting to is probably Tu13es' "suck it up" plan of attack. Sigh. Because in the end, we are both, really, that lazy. :)

Thanks all!
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:14 PM on September 20, 2009

Ok so based on this new information regarding shitty design flaws

As I said before, hinge stiffness is bad for laptops. Really bad. The display clamshells will get manipulated thousands of times during the lifetime of the machine, and every bit of stress that can be avoided will increase the life of the hinge.

The hinge on your computer is designed to hold the display still at the desired angle while the machine is sitting on a surface that isn't extremely raked. At the same time, it must not provide more tension than necessary on either itself or the surrounding mechanics.

With a softer hinge, the impact of the added stresses is lowered and your machine lives a happier life. It is certainly less convenient, I agree, but I wouldn't be very upset about it. It's one of the things that makes the build quality of the MacBook Pro so high-caliber.
posted by secret about box at 12:42 AM on September 21, 2009

(basically, i'm saying it doesn't appear to be a design flaw, but instead something intended to increase overall build longevity)
posted by secret about box at 12:44 AM on September 21, 2009

Response by poster: ok Mikey-San, if the hinge stiffness is so very bad for the life of the machine, then WHY, in the name of god's little green apples, did Apple design it something on an order of magnitude STIFFER in the new-gen 13"?? Every one we played with, and I mean EVERY one of the 13" machines, was super stiff.

Contrast that with the floppy, loose hinge on the 15" and 17" (yes, including the matte screens) at the Apple Store, plus the experiences of the folks on the web and in this thread.

Any ideas?
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:07 AM on September 21, 2009

The 15 and 17-inch display assemblies are heavier and provide more stress on the hinge than the smaller display. They're also wider, which exaggerates the effect to some extent. (Think of inequal force being applied when adjusting the display, and the effect it will create on the other side of the hinge and the surrounding parts.) Better to have a softer hinge on those.

I could be wrong, but I've dealt with this stuff before and I've probably thought it through more than some random Internet petition. (No offense to anyone, honest.)

(Also, an "order of magnitude" is going a little far, don't you think? :) )
posted by secret about box at 11:10 AM on September 21, 2009

(FWIW if an Apple Store/AppleCare tells you it should be stiffer at some point, listen to them and not me. What I've said might not be true for the actual situation; it's just an general explanation that may or may not apply here. Something to consider.)
posted by secret about box at 11:15 AM on September 21, 2009

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