3 min read

Beheading a MacBook Pro for Apple's sins

Beheading a MacBook Pro for Apple's sins
A beheaded MacBook Pro plugged into a Thunderbolt dock

Late last year, my 2017 15" MacBook Pro (MBP) developed a display issue. When the display was opened past a certain angle (far too narrow for it to be usable), it simply turned off, or at least the backlight did.

This indicated a somewhat common problem with the display flex cables in this design of MacBook Pros. The flexible cables that connect the display to the logic board had failed in some way.

Apple identified this problem with their 13" MacBook Pros and provided an extended warranty programme. But never did so with the 15" model. I visited the Apple Store and showed the problem, they told me they couldn't do anything and it was a £600+ charge to fix it. Definitely not.

All because the cable that could damage over time wasn't replaceable separately from the display itself. I believe Apple have now addressed this design flaw and Apple repairs are much cheaper and can repair the cable alone.

Third party repairs were available for a significantly lower cost, but I had been angling for an upgrade around this time anyway, so I didn't need much convincing to upgrade to a M2 Pro MacBook Pro. My first non-15/16", thanks to the fact you didn't have to sacrifice performance to get the smaller, more portable laptop now. As an aside, it's by far the best laptop I've ever owned or used.

Anyway, I left my 2017 15" MBP aside, I knew it worked okay still, it wasn't the fastest machine anymore and given it was an Intel MBP, it was noisy too. But it was still usable and it felt like a shame to just leave it to rot.

I had seen the various posts of people removing the displays from their MacBooks and using them as-is, and I thought it looked quite novel. I also wanted to maybe stick it on power, with an ethernet adapter plugged in, and house it next to my desktop home servers - an additional macOS powered server could come in handy at some point.

Excuse the dust... please.

So I took it apart and removed the display. It wasn't as tricky as I expected, some fiddly parts, but my main problem was the lack of tools (right size screwdriver bits). The bottom cover is way trickier to get off than it used to be, with annoying clips and slide-in sections.

But once I got the right tools, it came apart reasonably easy - reconnecting the antenna was probably the trickiest part when putting it back together, but that was a relatively minor inconvenience.

It works! It's a pretty novel experience, holding and using it like this. I'll eventually have to find a way to mount it next to my current home servers, but for now it's living its headless life next to its (for now) headed younger brothers (work and personal MBPs) on my desk. Perhaps it can find solace in the fact that the desktop machine under my desk never experienced an attached head like it did.

When it's not plugged into any displays, as long as it has power, I can screen share into it and use it that way - I have a dummy HDMI dongle which makes macOS work as if it has a 1080p display plugged into it.

My desk setup, where the headless MBP sits, taunted by the laptops surrounding it who have so far kept their head.
My desk setup, where the headless MBP sits, taunted by the laptops surrounding it

Maybe I'll follow up with another post at some point if I find some interesting uses for this as a server. I could possibly even mod it more, stick a ridiculous heatsink onto the CPU and make it actually quiet.