Hope my Mac...it's on life support.
January 26, 2012 7:04 PM   Subscribe

My MacBook Pro is crap but I need it to work long enough to save up for a replacement (at least six months, probably) Are there cheap ways to fix these really annoying problems?

Okay. I bought it in February of 2006, and it was one of the first couple hundred made, according to the Apple Store at the time.

From the beginning, it got really hot. It was eligible for a new battery, but they told me I would have to have the whole computer sent in to have it replaced. I couldn't do that at the time because I was using it constantly and couldn't afford to replace it, even temporarily. It was never replaced. So eventually (about three years ago), the battery stopped charging. Additionally, the machine would slow down when it got super hot (I assumed the fan burned out). Now, the magsafe cord must be plugged in or it immediately dies.

That could probably be fixed with a new battery, right? Well, I haven't because I'm also having these problems and am hesitant to sink more money into the machine:

--the battery is literally bursting out of the seams. It barely snaps into place and it bulges out visibly.

--the trackpad is super faulty. It will randomly click whenever or wherever it wants. It just tried to select and move the last four sentences I wrote. I can barely get it to funtion well enough to navigate any website. Fixable with a USB mouse?

--several keys don't work. The longer I use it, the less well they work. I can't get a capital I using the left shift key. The c, i, k, and 8 keys work when they feel like it. I assume this is fixable with a USB keyboard? However, there's only one USB port so I couldn't do USB keyboard and mouse.

--the CD drive has a disk stuck in there. It's been like that since March 21st, 2008. I can see a small compression of the space where the disk ejects. It will make the sound and appear to push the disk out a bit, but then it just stops and the disk never appears. That's frustrating, but is the least of the problems, really.

--the internet is super slow and I can barely stream videos on youtube or hulu. Part of that is the connection, but when friends have used their laptops on my connection, it's worked much faster.

I will be getting an iPad through work in about a week, so I'll use that for some stuff, but I'd really like this machine to be more usable than it currently is. Is it worth sinking money into a new battery, keyboard, mouse, etc. when I need to be saving for a new computer? Are there fixes that I should try first? Should I just give up?
posted by guster4lovers to Computers & Internet (35 answers total)
You can get very cheap keyboards and mice, and you can get a USB hub for around $8 to turn one port into four.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:13 PM on January 26, 2012

You will be able to use a mouse and keyboard using a USB hub. Some keyboards have a hub built-in, so you plug the keyboard into the computer and the mouse into the keyboard, otherwise just buy the cheapest hub you can find. This will completely bypass the built in keyboard and trackpad and help make the machine usable.

Over heating could be fans, or possibly the machine has sucked up too much dust over the years. It is possible that a good cleaning could help this, but you would have to open it up.

Slow internet could possibly be the wifi card failing - do you get good signal strength.

I had exactly the same problems with my similar vintage MacBook - laptops do just wear out over time. The wifi eventually failed completely so now I just plug in my laptop to the network.
posted by AndrewStephens at 7:16 PM on January 26, 2012

Download SMC Fan Control to see if the fans are working or not. If they're still working, try resetting the System Management Control.

Batteries are pricey, but if you're just looking for a bandaid, maybe put a wanted ad on CL to see if someone will sell you a (still) functional, worn out battery?
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:25 PM on January 26, 2012

My brother had bulging battery issues, and replacing that fixed his similar sounding trackpad issues too. Perhaps the additional pressure on components is causing other issues for you too. I'd definitely try a desperate plea to your nearest Apple store genius and explain the situation... some folk have got very luck, others not so much, but it's worth a try. Then you can resort to external peripherals.
posted by dirm at 7:26 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can replace the keyboard and trackpad. A bulging battery is kind of alarming; I would just dispose of the battery before it catches fire or explodes or something, even if you're not going to replace it.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:28 PM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

I have about the same era MBP I am using right now. There was a wifi issue with that batch; the Apple store took care of that. Mine is also hotter than the sun, and I'm thinking about an iPad or an Air for secondary, on-the-couch sort of uses.

I've been having some problems with text selection, so I was interested in your comment on that. It might be my nails, though. I replaced the battery in 2010, but it's discharges rapidly in a surf session on the couch.

But, get the battery out of there! That's a recipe for disaster!

You could end up with much worse problems than a wonky machine!
posted by jgirl at 7:40 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I have a 2005 Macbook and have noticed issues with the wifi for the last three years (slowness, random spontaneous disconnects). When I created a new account on it (because I wanted to keep some functions form work separate from my 'personal' account), I noticed the Wifi was not prone to these 'issues' on the new account. I don't know enough to guess about why this is, but it's worth a quick try for you and costs nothing.

I would also make an attempt to get that CD out -- even my newish Macbook Pro overheats when there's a CD in it, so that could be adding to your heating issues (although I'd agree with bonobo's and AndrewStephen's suggestions on overheating). A friend of mine had a dvd stuck in her 2006 mbp and eventually just dragged it out manually while pushing the eject button, which is dangerous unless you don't care too much about the drive or the disc. I feel you might look around on google to find tips on this....

and nthing on the keyboard/mouse suggestions. i do that anyway because i like a bigger keyboard and a number pad. and recommend to get a new battery -- if that starts leaking or blows up or melts other components, you'll instantly need a new computer.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:40 PM on January 26, 2012

A bulging battery will be replaced for free, no warranty required. You should make an appointment at the Genius Bar ASAP and take care of this (they did this for me last year with my 2006-vintage MacBook, no questions asked). In fact, you should take the battery out, and put it someplace fire-safe (and/or outside). A bulging battery is in danger of rupture, which can lead to a serious no-joke fire. This is not something to play around with.
posted by autojack at 7:41 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

To be precise, I showed up at my appointment and walked out with a free new battery. Didn't need to send the computer anywhere or anything.
posted by autojack at 7:42 PM on January 26, 2012

All MacBook Pros have two USB ports, so you shouldn't need a hub to plug in a keyboard and mouse.

Seconding that it's likely that Apple will give you a free battery if you bring it in to an Apple Store.
posted by zsazsa at 8:19 PM on January 26, 2012

Also, there was an SMC update to solve overheating problems.
posted by zsazsa at 8:21 PM on January 26, 2012

seconding autojack: bulging batteries are an acknowledged problem. Get thee to the Genius Bar. The trackpad and keyboard issues may be knock-ons from that.
posted by holgate at 8:24 PM on January 26, 2012

(While the official replacement programme is closed, as autojack mentioned, you can still go to Apple with the problem.)
posted by holgate at 8:26 PM on January 26, 2012

--the battery is literally bursting out of the seams. It barely snaps into place and it bulges out visibly.

Wow. Get that battery out of there! Your computer will work just as well w/o the battery as long as you leave it plugged in (obviously).

--the trackpad is super faulty. It will randomly click whenever or wherever it wants. It just tried to select and move the last four sentences I wrote. I can barely get it to funtion well enough to navigate any website. Fixable with a USB mouse?

Is the battery right below the trackpad? This could be related to the bulging battery. The battery won't just swell down, but also up, and that puts pressure on the trackpad from underneath. Enough swelling in the battery and it can trip the trackpad button, making the computer think you're trying to drag (your text selection issue) or ignore clicks (because the button gets in a permanent pressed state).

several keys don't work.

Probably gunk under the keys. It happens after awhile. You can try to clean it yourself by taking the thing apart (iFix It helps) but it would be easier to buy an external keyboard. Some of the keyboards have additional USB ports on them, which would let you plugin a mouse too.

Or have bluetooth? Maybe time to get a wireless keyboard and mouse.

the CD drive has a disk stuck in there. It's been like that since March 21st, 2008. I can see a small compression of the space where the disk ejects.

It doesn't take much case deformation to bork these. The drive thinks something is blocking the eject, so rather than burn out the motor it just gives up. You might have to take the computer apart to get at the disk, but it is do-able. I'm not sure you can re-bend the case to make the drive functional again, though.

-the internet is super slow and I can barely stream videos on youtube or hulu.

Your browsers up to date? Not running any extensions? Do you have the latest flash installed? Are you running only a minimum of programs in the background (do you know how to check this)? Don't forget things in the Login Items pane or in the notification area.

Adding more RAM can help here. You might only be talking an additional cost of $60.

Part of the problem is simply that webpages get more complex everyday. And MPEG4 with H.264 (video) is a hell of a lot more common now than it was 6 years ago. H.264 is a bit of a processor intensive format. All modern Apple hardware has hardware decoders for it, and I think most other manufacturers are doing the same.
posted by sbutler at 8:46 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your battery is a fire hazard and needs to be discarded RIGHT NOW. If you can get a new battery out of it, that's cool, but your bulging battery is dangerous. If you have the original T-shaped charger, you should get that replaced as well (Apple might fix this for you for free as well).

If you discard the battery, you can get a USB mouse, keyboard and hub and have a stylish desktop. If you have a desktop, then you might as well see if killing wireless and going wired is an option (MBPs of that vintage do not have 802.11n, only a/b/g). If you aren't afraid and really want to you can go to powerbookmedic.com or ifixit.com and get a small tool kit to take apart your MBP and remove the disc and/or optical drive.

Charger $79
Battery: $130
Generic Mouse: $8
Keyboard: $50
Hub: $8
Ethernet cable: $10
Tool kit: $13

That's almost $300, not including tax and shipping, just to be able to fix by yourself or workaround the most annoying problems. It's a third of the price of a brand-new MacBook Air (again, not including tax).
posted by infinitewindow at 8:48 PM on January 26, 2012

in addition to what everyone else is saying...

if you have your machine permanently plugged into the wall, you don't even need the battery present in the laptop to use it.
posted by raihan_ at 8:52 PM on January 26, 2012

Wrap a wide-tipped flat head screw driver up in a piece of soft cloth, insert just the very tip of it into your drive slot, and pry it up a bit. I've had the casings on those get bent, and it just needs to be un-bent, and probably not even all that much.

Nth-ing the motion to get rid of that battery yesterday. I've seen one explode,and it's fucking scary. I'm the guy who grabbed it and ran it out the door for fear that it was going to trip the warehouse sprinklers. It was belching sparks, and thick black smoke the whole way.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:04 PM on January 26, 2012

Don't throw away the battery - though definitely remove it from the computer - Last I checked Apple had a "Repair Program" in place for swollen batteries. They may replace it free of charge for you. (Like jgirl suggested, your trackpad problems may be due to the battery applying pressure to the back of it).
posted by Packed Lunch at 9:09 PM on January 26, 2012

I believe that you can buy a new battery for that model for 30-40 bucks on Amazon. Maybe not as good as the ones that you pay 130 for from Apple, but they work. And they are safer than what you have right now.
posted by SantosLHalper at 10:34 PM on January 26, 2012

I also had an issue a bulging MacBook battery. It also gave me trackpad issues where the trackpad would click at the slightest provocation; completely fixed after replacing the battery. When I called Apple, they replaced the battery without having to send in the whole computer. Bring the battery in to an Apple Store for another try?
posted by JiBB at 11:55 PM on January 26, 2012

Also, the keyboard connects to the trackpad via a ribbon cable. A separate cable that combines the sleep(reed) switch, bluetooth antenna, keyboard and trackpad then connects from the trackpad to the logic board. It's conceivable that a swollen battery may have damaged one of those cables. So you may be able to argue that your keyboard problems could have been caused by a defective battery.
posted by Packed Lunch at 12:18 AM on January 27, 2012

Oh, you might want to check your print queue for hung print jobs too.
posted by Packed Lunch at 12:26 AM on January 27, 2012

The disc drives in the MPB were always crap. Go to the Apple store and persuade them to use their very basic, very expensive little metal tool to hold open the drive while you hit eject. The disc will come right out, and it won't cost you anything. They won't want to do this--they will try to persuade you to replace the drive. Just keep making puppy eyes at them and convince them to just help you on the spot, because "you just need that disc RIGHT NOW".

No apple store? Us a very thin but sturdy piece of metal, about an inch wide, and "hold open" the disc slot while holding your computer up at a 45-degree angle and hitting eject. What probably happened is you, like me, rest your wrists on the right side of the computer, and you squished a little stupid metal bit down that guides the disc out.When the disc starts to move toward the opening, it gets caught on the lip of whatever crunched in, so you need to wiggle it past there with your metal bit. You can totally ruin your drive doing this (though I haven't, yet) but at least you won't have that damn disc stuck in there any longer.

Don't buy an after market battery. I did that, and mine bulges now. Go to the store for that. Removing and replacing the battery at home also mucks up the shoddy plastic bit that they made to lock the battery in, so best to have the professionals ruin anything, so it'll get fixed for free.

USB hub for the keyboard/mouse?
posted by zinful at 12:30 AM on January 27, 2012

Oh, and as far as the internet being slowwwww....when you get the stupid disc out, put another one right back in: your recovery disc. Hit "R" while restarting the computer (this might not work, it certainly didn't for me and I had to manually open the disc from the desktop, but whatever) and do a system repair. It might help speed all the processes up a little bit.
posted by zinful at 12:34 AM on January 27, 2012

I've had batteries replaced on three different macs, and they weren't bulging, just not holding charge very well. It's almost certain that they'll replace it then and there with a new battery from stock. Please do it soon!

You could try Onyx to see if there are any minor maintenance issues, i.e. caches that need clearing, permissions, etc.

FWIW, I was able to sell my 2006 pro with freshly replaced battery, no other issues, for most of the cost of my new Air. So it's worth fixing up even if you definitely want a new one.
posted by danteGideon at 4:33 AM on January 27, 2012

Apple laptops downclock the processor when there is no (or bad) battery. That could be the source of the slowness. The random trackpad clicks are from the bulging battery.
posted by narcoleptic at 6:00 AM on January 27, 2012

A few months ago the screen of my late-2007 macbook (long out of warranty) stopped working, and when I took it to an apple store they said I could have it diagnosed in-house and pay for specific repairs (upwards of $800 if it was the screen, less if the inverter or cables), or send it off to the apple factory and have it diagnosed and repaired for a flat rate ($280).

When I got it back from the factory (4 days later), not only did I have a new LCD screen and inverter board, I also had a brand spankin' new optical drive (I thought the previous one worked fine) and case (including new keyboard and trackpad) due to "cosmetic damage." They also fixed other miscellaneous things I didn't know were broken.

My point being: if you can part with it for a few days, you will pay a fairly low price to have your 2006 mbp restored to factory new condition. Is it worth $280 to have a new 2006 mbp when you could save for a laptop that's not 6 years old? That is your call.
posted by ke rose ne at 7:41 AM on January 27, 2012

Apple laptops downclock the processor when there is no (or bad) battery.

Where did you read that? Because it makes no sense to this Computer Engineer. Most laptops processors will downclock (or dynamically adjust the speed based on load) when the computer is only on battery. But when it's plugged into the wall there's no reason to.
posted by sbutler at 11:14 AM on January 27, 2012

there's a thermal sensor in the battery
posted by Packed Lunch at 11:23 AM on January 27, 2012

There are thermal sensors all over a modern machine. On the battery, on the processor, on the motherboard, on the video card.

The one on the battery is there because Lithium-ion batteries are very dangerous when they get hot. In that, they like to explode. The battery thermal sensor is a safety mechanism to shutdown charging when the temperature is too high.

It doesn't control the processor speed; unless you can cite a knowledgable article that it does.
posted by sbutler at 11:43 AM on January 27, 2012

True, but the fans can and do go nuts when any thermistor reads out of whack.

Not really relevant to the OP's problem though...
posted by Packed Lunch at 12:02 PM on January 27, 2012

Seconding ke rose ne. The LCD on my MBP went out (and it was not covered under the recall). It was a 2007 iirc, out of warranty. They told me that they could repair it at a flat rate as long as there was no visible body damage. Mine actually had a small corner dent, but it turned out they were still cool with that.

For $300 flat feee they replaced: new lcd panel, new bezel, new logic board, new optical drive along with a 90 warranty. Like ke rose ne, though, I had a hardware issue that made the machine broke broke, so ymmv.
posted by sub-culture at 2:46 PM on January 27, 2012

Response by poster: I'm within driving distance of several apple stores. I'll try that first - if they can replace the battery, that would be awesome.

With the disk drive, I've literally done every "do-it-yourself" suggestion on the internet to no avail. I'll ask the genius bar to look at it too. I do puss-in-boots-from-Shrek eyes really well, so hopefully that'll help.

I will report back! Thanks for all the helpful answers, everyone!
posted by guster4lovers at 3:27 PM on January 27, 2012

Where did you read that? Because it makes no sense to this Computer Engineer. Most laptops processors will downclock (or dynamically adjust the speed based on load) when the computer is only on battery. But when it's plugged into the wall there's no reason to.

Straight from Apple.
posted by narcoleptic at 6:09 PM on January 27, 2012

This is ridiculous. Just buy a used but working laptop for $100 and use it until you have the all the money saved up. No-one should have to deal with an every day tool with this many serious usability problems. Don't throw any more cash at that piece of junk, it's much better spent elsewhere.

Oh, and when you do get a new Macbook, immediately start putting away money for a replacement. Think of it as your own extended warranty fund.
posted by Orchestra at 5:12 PM on January 28, 2012

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