Disassembling Apple laptops

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How-to Guide

I have been asked for tips and hints about how to disassemble and re-assemble Apple laptops. Having taken apart virtually every Powerbook or iBook or MacBook/Pro since the days of the 520s and 540s, I have learned many things – most of them the hard way.  :-D

The following is a list of Helpful Hints for Apple Portable Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Repair.

It is not exhaustive, does not cover any specific steps for any given model, and may not be what you'd call "complete." It's just to help you do better and become less frustrated while taking apart your Mac-device on the kitchen table, office desk, or other "make-do" space.

The most important things to do when disassembling Powerbooks are:

1. Take your time.

2. Diagram and label everything.

3. Do it all in one sitting (or standing at a counter, if one must), so as to keep the parts in order and to avoid static build-up that can zap the drive or the RAM.

4. Don't bend the case – if it sticks, there's a reason.

My trick for easy disassembly and correct re-assembly is to take contact paper (shelf paper with adhesive on one side, usually covered with paper until you need it to stick somewhere), a stapler, a permanent marker and make a diagram with it, like this:

A. Get a piece of ordinary box cardboard and cut a hunk about the size of a regular sheet of paper.

B. Cut a piece of the shelf paper to the size of your piece of cardboard.

C. Place the shelf paper on the cardboard "face down" meaning with the decorative part that people would normally see DOWN and the adhesive side and its peel-off cover sheet UP towards you.

D. Staple the shelf paper to the cardboard. One in each corner and maybe one on each side should do it. DON'T put lots of staples or the next step will be hard.

E. From any corner, separate the cover paper from the adhesive and peel away.

F. You should now have a sheet of sticky stuff facing you. During the disassembly, you will stick the screws onto this sheet of sticky stuff, according to a diagram you will draw as you go.

G. The permanent marker is to draw a diagram on this sticky stuff. A water-based marker or gel-pen will not work. Remember: You do not need a big drawing, and it doesn't have to be to scale. It's just to help you place the screws so you can put them back accurately later.

Brief explanatory interlude

FAQ#1: WHY go to this trouble and why not just take some Dixie cups or other containers and toss the screws in them with some type of little label?

ANSWER: I did that for years and it can work..... but the potential for error or misstep is high. I spilled parts enough times to say "what can I do that will keep these teeny screws from leaping off the table, or worse, co-mingling?" I came up with the shelf paper idea while experimenting with various adhesives. Now we use it every day in the lab. The Big Plus to the "sticky diagram" is that you can – if nature calls or phone rings – walk away, come back, and not be completely lost as to what-goes-where.

Back to our directions

H. When you remove screws from the Powerbook (or iBook, or whatever), place them screw-head DOWN onto the diagram. In other words, upside down. This avoids getting adhesive on the threads of the screws. It's not a big deal, probably, but I'm a little picky about that.

NOTE: When you pull the RAM, the Airport card, or other non-screw parts, it's best NOT to stick them to the sticky sheet. Instead, but them aside in some small container like a paper cup, tea cup, small box, etc. Same is true of the keyboard, but it won't fit in a tea cup. :-)

Tools

Tools for any portable Apple laptop disassembly:

  • Phillips screwdriver, small, perhaps from a jewelers's set or similar.
  • Torx screwdriver #6 or #7, I can never remember, for the two screws on top of the inside case, above the keyboard and beneath the screen. Available at electronics stores or -- surprisingly -- large Auto Supply stores that cater to mechanics and garage professionals.
  • The above-described sticky sheet & some permanent marker ("Magic Marker" or "Sharpy" or similar).
  • Nylon prying tool for getting the case apart – DO NOT USE METAL such as a screwdriver, pliers, spanner, crow bar, pocket multi-tool, Boy Scout knife, or log-splitter. Metal tools will bend and scar the case. If you are utterly without a nylon or plastic prying tool, a used-up/no-good credit card or library card might do in a pinch. You could also use a pencil (break the point off first), a plastic pen ("biro" to some of you), or – my favorite substitute – a pair of chopsticks. [A Chinese take-out place is next door to our lab.]
  • Recommended: Static strap or similar grounding device, to avoid zapping and killing your RAM, hard drive, and assorted electronics within the computer. Some people find other solutions, and I am sure some readers will share their alternatives.

Conclusion

Please: Try to do this all in one session. By that I mean ONE disassembly, start to finish, and (later, when you have fixed whatever it was) ONE assembly again. You don't have to do both in one go, but I suggest each "leg" be done beginning to end without stopping. If you are inexperienced with the process, getting distracted can really confuse you when you come back. Hence the sticky sheet idea, for example.

Those are my Helpful Hints for Portable Disassembly, written by me and not borrowed or re-edited from anywhere; based on many years and many hundreds of Apple portables I have opened and closed, and many left-over screws I have in drawers (I'm still wondering where they came from). If you pass them around, please include my name & email, in case others have questions.

I hope it helps you! If not, and you break something important or expensive, ...remember that you did this to avoid the long drive and/or expense of going to a real, actual certified technician, and that you do this AT YOUR OWN RISK. K?  :-)

Update

iFixit.com found that the 2012 MacBookPro Retina cannot be disassembled or repaired by users at all.

See also

Credits