Dealing With 10 Common MacBook/Pro Problems

Everyone’s heard the rumor that Mac’s are perfect, never have problems and life is so much easier with OS X. Nobody’s perfect and neither is OS X, Mac hardware or Apple. In fact, there’s a few common ailments specific to MacBooks and MacBookPros.

Below are some of the most common problem’s I’ve come across with Apple laptops, how to identify them, what to do about them and fixing them.

1. The Splintering Case / Top Cover:

Polycarbonite (White/Black) MacBooks all have this common cosmetic problem. As you open and close your MacBook, the little risers above the display push against the plastic on the top cover where the trackpad is. Time goes by and the top cover begins to crack and splinter off at the edges.

This is a purely cosmetic issue and shouldn’t affect your warranty or be confused with accidental damage. You can either live with the blemish or have an Apple Technician replace the top case. Due to the design of the MacBook and the nature of the materials, the new cover may begin to splinter.

2. Stuck CD/DVD:

The internal slot-load CD/DVD drives in all Apple laptops and iMacs make the stuck CD extremely common. Without a tray or a manual eject, its also frustrating. Before you run out to the Apple Store to fix this, find out the following: Is the DVD physically stuck, or is OS X just holding onto it and won’t let it go?

To force-eject a CD/DVD that OS X won’t recognize or let go of, restart the computer. When you hear the chime, hold down the trackpad button (the eject key also works) as your Mac restarts. It will eject the disc.

Another very common problem is the SuperDrive’s opening gets warped or bowed. This is usually caused by pressure around the area over time. When this happens, the disc will eject but it hits the warped opening and goes back inside. To get the disc out, GENTLY stretch the opening enough to give the disc room and eject it. Once its out enough for you to grab it, slowly pull it out if its stuck.

3. SuperDrive Failing:

A stuck disc isn’t the only issue with the SuperDrives. Sometimes they break inside. You’ll know this happens if a disc is stuck in there, there’s no warping and it still won’t come out – even though you hear the drive trying to eject it. Other times, a disc won’t go in – the mechanism is locked in the “closed” position. And finally, sometimes the mechanism works fine but it refuses to read everything that you put in there. Even discs that work fine on other Macs. When this happens, it’s repair time. Take the MacBook into the Apple Store of certified repair center. If you’re still under warranty (or have AppleCare), it should be covered unless you physically broke it yourself or inserted anything else in there besides a standard-size CD/DVD.

Note: Never insert one of those Mini-CDs, Triangle CDs or Square CDs into your Mac.

4. Hard Drive Problems:

Hard Drive issues are common to all laptops; Apple, HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, etc. They either break from being dropped, gradually go bad from vibration / movement, develop bad sectors over time or just outright fail. To keep your data safe, you need to run backups. With Time Machine, there’s no excuse. Don’t learn the hard way that you should’ve made backups.

The flashing folder / question mark is a telltale sign of hard drive problems. Either it’s not properly inserted or your Mac doesn’t find its disk volume. Another, less obvious sign but quite noticeable is an annoyingly often amount of spinning beach-ball time. Especially when doing regular tasks that aren’t supposed to lock up OS X. Getting the “The file …. can not be read or written” error often is another sign of bad / corrupt hard drive sectors.

There’s not much that can be done once the drive begins to go bad other than replace it. I don’t recommend re-using a drive that’s beginning to develop bad sectors due to more developing. Especially if the drive is older. If you do want to re-use a drive with bad sectors by marking them, the free with AppleCare Tech Tool Deluxe will scan and mark bad sectors for you.

Note: There is a rumor that Disk Utility will mark bad sectors for you if you do a secure erase. There’s no official Apple word that it will do this. Doing so may or may not get rid of the bad sectors and results may vary. Just use Tech Tool Deluxe.

5. Trackpad Issues:

On newer MacBooks this is less of an issue with the glass trackpads. On the older polycarbonite models, the trackpad button begins to separate, resulting in a bouncy trackpad button, one that sticks, or one thats difficult to use. If its under warranty or you’ve got AppleCare, use it to get this fixed. If not, you can always use an external mouse.. Its the same piece that splinters – if you suffer from both a bad trackpad and splintering case, you can fix both at the same time.

Other times the trackpad isn’t physically bad, but it behaves strangely. If you have sweaty or wet hands, heavy amounts of moisturizer or lotion, or static electricity, your trackpad is sensitive to these and may act strangely. Shut down the computer and clean the trackpad to get it acting right again.

6. Bad Battery:

Bad Batteries are more common that you may think. A bad battery is one that doesn’t last as long as it should, doesn’t charge, or isn’t recognized (X over the battery symbol when the battery is properly inserted).

If you suspect your battery is bad:

- Click on the Apple in the upper left.

- Select “About this Mac”.

- Click “More Info…” to open up System Profiler.

- Select “Power” from the left hand side.

What you want to look for is three things. Cycle count, Full charge capacity and Condition. If your Cycle Count is under 300, your condition is “Check Battery” and your Full Charge capacity is under 3,000, Apple should replace the battery under warranty. The 300 Cycle Count is the magic number here. After 300 Cycles, Apple won’t replace your battery under warranty – you’re on your own even if your laptop is only a few months old.

7. Discolored Case:

The white polycarbonite MacBooks begin to stain and yellow with time. Even if you clean them regularly, eventually they begin to lose their whiteness. Bleach won’t work and neither will Fantastik or 409. What you need to get rid of the discoloration is clear non-acetone nail polish remover. Acetone based nail polish remover or isopropyl alcohol may damage the plastic. Make sure its non-acetone and clear.

8. Not Waking Up From Sleep:

Even Macs get cranky when they wake up. Try pushing the power button once. If that doesn’t work, close the lid and re-open it, then push the power button once again. If that still doesn’t work, attach it to its power adapter and try opening the lid and pushing the power button once. Be sure to check the battery level, sometimes the battery is low enough that it stays asleep until it gets connected to its charger.

If all else fails and your Mac just totally refuses to wake up, push and hold the power button until its forced off and restart it. Make sure you saved all your work before doing the forced shutdown, it won’t be waiting for you when it starts up again.

9. Dead Power Adapter / Charger:

Sometimes the power adapters fail. You know your adapter is bad when:

- The light never goes on and the battery doesn’t charge.

- The battery won’t charge when it needs it and it charges with a different adapter.

If your Mac is still under warranty or AppleCare, Apple should replace it but it its not, you’ll have to shell out the $85 for a replacement adapter.

10. Bad Airport Card:

Like the power adapter, the Airport card often goes bad. Either OS X thinks there’s no Airport card installed / not present, or the antennae fails and you have horrible reception. The Airport car not being recognized / present is pretty easy to prove – it just won’t work. Apple will replace this under warranty / AppleCare.

A bad antennae is going to be a bit tricky. You have to rule out that it’s not just the area you are in versus the AP’s location. The best way to test this is by using another MacBook.

- Connect to your AP.

- Once connected, hold down Option and click on the Airport symbol in the Menu Bar.

- Note your RSSI and Transmit Rate settings.

- Connect in the same place with your bad antennae MacBook.

- Note its RSSI and Transmit Rate settings.

If the settings are noticeably worse, let the Apple Technician know. For Transmit Rate – the higher, the better. For RSSI, its also the higher, the better but since its a negative number, -40 RSSI is much better than -80 RSSI.


  1. Sherprinia says:

    Can anyone help me to figure out how to change an admin passwrd, but can’t remember the old one. I either mispelled the current passwrd, and the thing won’t let me change the od passwrd cause I don’t have the old one. What must I do you all, I know that there is a very computer savy person out there that would to love 2 make some extra cash, right?

  2. David Balogh says:

    @Sherprinia – You’re going to need the OS X Install DVD to reset it. Or just take your Mac to the Apple Store (or Apple repair center) closest to you and they’ll be able to help you out.