A $10,000 MacBook repair turns out to be a screen with the brightness set too low

Facepalm: Your MacBook Pro has “failed,” the fans are whirring away like they normally would but the screen is black. What could be the problem? Two weeks and $10,000 in warranty repairs later, “Geniuses” at Apple figure out its just a couple of key presses to adjust the LCD brightness. Turns out some of life’s (and tech’s) problems aren’t as complicated as they seem.

Last month, a DJ’s MacBook Pro caught fire and lately, photographer Greg Benz had an amusing experience with his laptop. The first time he noticed his MacBook Pro’s screen had gone black, he reached out to Apple Support and got the machine’s logic board replaced. When the same problem reared its head the second time, the logic board was changed again. The third time? A brand new MacBook replacement worth around $7,000.

Soon, the new laptop “failed” again, for the fourth time, and it wasn’t like Apple Support didn’t go to great lengths to work out a fix. The troubleshooting involved input from several Apple Geniuses, multiple diagnostic tests at the Apple Store, level 1 and 2 tech support from Apple Corporate and two diagnostic tests at Apple’s repair facility in Texas. It wasn’t until two weeks of time and effort later, that an Apple Genius found out the rather embarrassing cause for the black screen problem.

“what was the root issue?….. Ready for it?…. I’m not joking…. the screen brightness was turned all the way down (not merely dim, but off).”

What the Apple Genius did was, quite genius really. Instead of going for more complicated fixes and expensive replacements, he shone his phone’s flashlight onto the laptop display and noticed the user’s avatar on the login screen. It was after performing a blind login that the screen brightness increased to its minimum value.

“It turns out that the screen pixels are updated even when the backlight is off (at least if the clamshell is open). But even he spent a good 20+ minutes trying other things before he thought to do that.”

It’s worth mentioning here that Greg’s workflow involves using an external monitor and since he’s experienced glitches in the past with putting the laptop into clamshell mode, he keeps the lid slightly open to keep the laptop from going into sleep mode and turns down the brightness all the way down to avoid distraction. This, incidentally, also turns off the display’s back light, making it pitch black and easily mistaken for a dead screen, which usually spells trouble.

Greg notes that the screen remains blacked out even after a restart and during recovery mode and that external monitors can’t be used during boot and login because they’re disabled for the said period. He’s compiled a list of several design and support issues that might have mitigated this problem and sees them as an opportunity for Apple to take note of and fix this bug to potentially help in preventing other users from having the same awkward experience.

Image Credit: Tianyi Ma on Unsplash

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