Liquid Damaged MacBook Saved With A Keen Eye

Even among those of us with a penchant for repairing electronics, there are some failures which are generally considered too severe to come back from. A good example is liquid damage in a laptop; with so many components and complex circuits crammed into such a small area, making heads or tails of it once the corrosion sets in can be a real nightmare. Especially in the case of an older laptop, the conventional wisdom is to try and recover your files and then buy a new one.

But as we’ve come to learn, [Jason Gin] is not a man who often finds himself concerned with conventional wisdom. After finding an older MacBook with suspected liquid damage, he decided to see what it would take to restore it to working order. According to a note on the device, the screen was dead, the USB ports were fried, the battery didn’t take a charge, and it wouldn’t boot. No problem then, should be easy.

Upon opening up the circa-2012 laptop, [Jason] found the machine to be riddled with corrosion. We’re not just talking surface gunk either. After giving everything a good cleaning with isopropyl alcohol, the true extent of the damage became clear. Not only had traces on the PCB rotted away, but there were many components that were either damaged or missing altogether. Whatever spilled inside this poor Mac was clearly some nasty stuff.

[Jason] used OpenBoardView to pull up schematics and diagrams of the motherboard, and started the arduous task of visually comparing them to his damaged unit. In some areas, the corrosion was so bad he still had trouble locating the correct traces and pads. But with time and effort, he was able to start probing around and seeing what components had actually given up the ghost.

For the USB ports it ended up being a bad 10-microfarad ceramic capacitor, but for the LCD, he ended up having to replace the entire backlight driver IC. The prospect of working on this tiny BGA-25 device might have been enough for some to throw in the towel, but compared to the hand-soldered magnet wire repairs required elsewhere on the board, [Jason] says the installation of the new LP8550 chip was one of the easier aspects of the whole operation.

The write-up is a great read if you like a good repair success story, and we especially like the way he documented his diagnosis and resulting work on a per-system basis. It makes it much easier to understand just how many individual fires [Jason] had to put out. But if you’re more interested in feats of steady-handed soldering, check out his recent project to add a PCI-E slot to the Atomic Pi.

20 thoughts on “Liquid Damaged MacBook Saved With A Keen Eye

      1. You nailed it. Its quite corrosive. Ive lost quite a few keyboards from this till my buddy who does it explained he sees it constantly.

        Switched to dairy creamer…. no more problems. Spill coffee in the keyboard, wipe it up and np.

        1. Copper can react with sugar in an oxidation reaction. This then forms acids which can attack the copper even more. The main ingredient in non-dairy creamer is corn syrup so I bet this is what’s happening.

          1. plus some fats and proteins. I thought, that these sugars (corn syrup is glucose and fructose) are reducing sugars (more like a fuel, not an oxidizer). But perhaps it’s possible, that the copper catalytically converts the sugars to acids.

      2. When I was a teenager we would use the powdered non-dairy creamer as a pyrotechnic; you hold a match or lighter at arms length, and with the other hand you throw the whole packet at the flame.

        If you do it right, and create a nice cloud with the powder before it hits the flame, you get a giant whooshing fireball that lasts a fraction of a second.

        If you do it wrong, you either don’t have eyebrows anymore, or your arm is on fire. (hint: take off the sports jacket before attempting)

        1. FWIW this isn’t unique to non-dairy creamer: any substance with high surface area and even slight flammability will do this. I live in an agricultural area and have seen grain milling elevators explode because they can contain a large volume of grain dust. Wheat flour is particularly notorious for its flammability if aerosolized, and I’ve heard coal dust is similarly disastrous. When I was a child, a grain elevator in the center of the town where I grew up exploded and I remember seeing chunks of concrete 30cm thick and meters on a side sitting in the front yards of houses several streets away from where the explosion happened. Some of the workers onsite vanished: there were no remains found.

          1. No, but the ones with fats have better energy density, which is handy for pyrotechnics. Especially at…a rather larger scale…than the single serving packets.
            Formula for feeding young livestock is readily available near me in 40 pound bags, and quite inexpensive.

          2. Recently I discovered that even wood smoke is flammable. Get enough smoke inside a building and a flame, and there you go, blowing the place.

  1. That takes a lot of determination to salvage a computer. Nearly all computer parts made in the last decade or so are 6 layers or more, and following them even with hidden layers are not for the feint of the heart.

  2. My wife once spilled orange juice all over a brand new laptop and killed it would no longer turn on. I quickly took out the battery, ram, and hard drive and soaked the whole laptop in a tub full of alcohol to flush everything out. All I had to do was replace the keyboard after $17 fix. Laptop worked for 2 years before it finally died from corrosion.

    1. I worked for a pc company who would pour a cup of coffee on the keyboard as part of the new product qualification. There would be subtle drains designed in the product to keep the liquid from entering. If it failed, removing the battery immediately and flushing the laptop with water, then allowing a week of drying in a warm location almost always returned normal function if the liquid had not been in an energized system too long. I use that method on the industrial equipment that I work on now, if it gets submerged, and it truly minimizes damage.

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