Speculate on what is wrong with my Macbook Pro
July 31, 2014 11:24 PM   Subscribe

Something is pretty clearly wrong, and it seems to be hardware, but it's sporadic enough that it's hard to say what, and I'd rather not have a repair person just guess.

It's a 2007-ish Macbook Pro 13", bought refurbished, running Lion.

Very frequent app crashes, especially Firefox getting into crash loops of 20 crashes in a row or more.
"Grey screens of death" about once a week at bad times.

A few weeks ago had a total OS crash and had to reinstall Lion. Currently restoring from Time Machine because Macbook had a grey screen, then started just powering itself off a few seconds into booting.

Likely ruled out:
1) Software issue. I just re-installed OS from scratch and if anything things are worse.
2) RAM. I've replaced RAM with new chips from crucial, when problems started I swapped back in old RAM, which did not help.

So it seems like motherboard or hard drive? If someone can point to it being one of those things with reasonable certainty I'll have it replaced, but I'm not paying hundreds for a new part only to have the repairman guess wrong and have it still be garbage. I'd rather buy a new machine.

posted by drjimmy11 to Technology (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
1) Software issue. I just re-installed OS from scratch and if anything things are worse.

So wait, did you use it much after you did a clean install, because above that you say you're restoring from a time machine backup.

Also, you say this is a 2007... but a 13in macbook pro. That model didn't exist until 09, and even the metal one that preceded it is from 08. Both of which could run mavericks, and should be(lion is AWFUL, it's like apple's Vista). If it is from 07 though it's just a plain jane macbook. Or is it not a 13in? because if it's a 15in, and it's an 07, then it has the nvidia gpu... OF DEATH. You may, in this case get a free new motherboard from apple which will just fail again eventually. If you do that, just sell the damn thing while it works OK.

If it's a 13 and it has a dying logic board you're just hosed though. I sold off several of these half-working because of that.

Burn a linux livecd/dvd, boot that, and see if you have any weird crashes/freezes/glitches. Ubuntu should be fine. I suspect either a bad hard drive or a bad logic board if you've already swapped the ram(smart move, by the way).

Do you have a crappy netbook or something laying around that has a SATA laptop hdd? because you wanna swap that in, do a clean install, and install NOTHING and just dick around online with safari for a few days and see if it starts screwing up again. If no, restore from your time machine backup. If yes... you either have a bad logic board, or some other irritating endemic problem that likely spells "buy a new machine, this isn't worth fixing".

I've repaired and sold/flipped TONS of 06-09 macs. 13in macbooks rarely have issues that aren't just the hard drive or improperly seated RAM. But when they do, it's usually the logic board and they're just not worth dealing with. The grey screen especially spells bad logic board to me, as i've seen two machines about that age(13in macbooks both, obviously) start dying that way as the logic board began to conk out.
posted by emptythought at 11:59 PM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, fun thing to try, plug in an external monitor when it grey screens. On one of the machines i had the internal display would completely freeze and grey out, and the system would seem locked... but it was still totally usable on an external monitor. Wasn't a bad LVDS cable from the display to the mobo either, just something on the board had died. It could still output VGA, but couldn't deal with the all-digital output to the screen. Go figure.

I'm saying this because if you can't afford to replace this machine right now, it might be possible to limp it along with an external display for quite a while. I've had two machines that ran that way, one of which i used as a media center for a looong time.
posted by emptythought at 12:01 AM on August 1, 2014

Response by poster: My bad, it's more like a 2011.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:04 AM on August 1, 2014

Response by poster: And yes, I've been using it for a week or so after re-install. But the fact that it had issues on and off for a year and now those issues are back right away makes me think it's not software.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:06 AM on August 1, 2014

Response by poster: Further update: Time Machine restored Lion. Attempted to upgrade to Mavericks but as per usual got the error message "This copy of the Install OS X Mavericks application can't be verified" which is why I never upgraded before.

Tried this solution
but am utterly baffled by what he means by "Dropping into Terminal from the Mavericks installer (Utilities > Terminal)." The installer I have is just an application with no "Utilities" at all. Do I need to create a bootable disk??
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:01 AM on August 1, 2014

Response by poster: Sorry for so many posts but apparently people are trying dozens of times before they get this incredibly flawed Mavericks installer to work. Does anyone know of a better way to upgrade?
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:16 AM on August 1, 2014

There is a Terminal in the installer, I believe you have to select a language before the menu for it becomes available though. It's 100% definitely there.

If you have a spare USB hard drive, try installing your system onto that and using the option key to boot from it. This is another way of definitively excluding your hard drive as a possible cause.

When it grey screens, are there any icons on the grey background? Such as a spinning cog or a frowny face?
posted by fearnothing at 1:29 AM on August 1, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks re: terminal, I will try to find it.

When it grey screens, are there any icons on the grey background? Such as a spinning cog or a frowny face?
I'm talking about the "Grey screen of death" that says "You need to restart your computer" in multiple languages.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:11 AM on August 1, 2014

Best answer: In my experience, it's the hard drive... It's always the hard drive.

As a video editor, I've had to swap out over a dozen on my machines over the years. Hard drives fail. It happens.

Small HDDs are inexpensive. It's worth trying a new one, installing OSX from scratch, and seeing if your problems disappear.

If it's not the drive, then it's the logic board. And if it's the logic board, it's time for a new machine. Too expensive to fix.
posted by Harms at 10:59 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

What you're describing are the death throes of older MacBooks. My 2008 15" MacBook Pro started having very similar symptoms recently -- frequent crashes, occasional kernel panics (="gray screen of death"; this may be temporarily fixable by booting in single user mode and running "fsck -fy", FWIW). Then it stopped booting up completely. Took it to the shop, the tech said it was a logic board issue that they see a lot with older MacBooks, and that Apple used to replace the logic boards in such cases but no longer did. Bottom line: possibly fixable, but cheaper to just buy a new machine.

So back up your data while you can, and start shopping around.
posted by zeri at 11:07 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not a Mac user, but it sounds to me like your hard drive is developing "bad sectors." Data is becoming corrupted and that is why the software won't function properly.

If Macs come with any disk scanning utility, it will be able to tell you for sure, or maybe you can download one.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:39 AM on August 1, 2014

Best answer: My bad, it's more like a 2011.

These are essentially bulletproof. Disregard others and my own assertions about logic board failures. The 15/17in models from that year have issues, the 13in is rock solid.

You need a new hard drive.

I'm talking about the "Grey screen of death" that says "You need to restart your computer" in multiple languages.

This is a kernel panic. And yea, hard drive thing again.

This is a compatible drive, you can install it following these instructions.

Oh CRAP though, on preview my brain kicked in and i just remembered something. My friend has this machine(2011 13in) and he had the SAME PROBLEM. It was just a bad hard drive cable. This is the right cable assembly. It's not any harder to swap than the drive. I went through everything that's been discussed here thusfar(ram, drive, concluded it was probably the logic board) then the damn cable got swapped and yep, fine.

Run this. If it doesn't show "warn" on anything buy the cable. If it does, buy the drive. If you have any issues after getting a new drive, get a new cable.
posted by emptythought at 2:40 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, if you're going to swap out the drive anyways... the machine will be like 5x as fast with a cheap SSD. Just saying. That's like, i'd say, 80% of the performance difference between the new "retina" 13in macbook pros and the current ones. The CPUs aren't that much faster(especially considering you have a 2011, so you have an i5 cpu that isn't even that old), like maybe 1/4 more power. It's the SSD that makes them feel really fast.

Also OSX mavericks. After you get your HDD issue sorted, start from scratch with a clean install of lion or whatever you have and try and get it directly from the app store. Then let it install from inside lion, not clean install style, and you shouldn't run into that problem.

If you make it to that point and this thread is dead go ahead and MeMail me.
posted by emptythought at 2:45 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

The 13 inch doesn't have a separate GPU, so the logic board is unlikely to be bad (the vast majority of logic board failures are GPU-related). Replace the hard drive.
posted by w0mbat at 10:03 AM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older How can I become an effective Sales Director asap?   |   Should I change my job and my country of residence... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.