Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Hard Drive, RAM, and Thermal Paste for a Macbook Pro

(Side note: It's time to let go of my irrational distain for capitalization. From now on I'll actually use the shift key.)

Anyway, my Macbook Pro has been my most prized possession over the last 4 years. As much as I try not to get caught up in the ownership of shiny objects, my MBP is my primary means of communication, entertainment, and productivity. Recently as I've started taking on freelance work, my MBP is my only office. Unfortunately it's aging and with that age has come some problems. The most notable of these is that it overheats, the hard drive is jam packed, and it bogs down sometimes when using SolidWorks (the CAD software I use for work). So, I decided to tackle all three of these with a D.I.Y. blitzkrieg. Here is the rundown on the problems and solutions:

My computer started having overheating issues a couple of years ago. Recently it's been common for my computer to be above 70 deg celsius when virtually nothing is running. There are tons of forums talking about Apple's poor application of thermal paste being the culprit. I've been using smcFanControl to monitor and manually control the fans, but even so my CPU temp has gotten into the 80s and 90s on regular occasions and has crashed the kernal several times. Admittedly I wasn't convinced it was solely a case of poor thermal pasting as I could generally get the temps down by shutting down hung up processes in the Activity Monitor. The most common offenders are Adobe Flash and iAntivirus. Even still, normal operating temps were around 60 or 70 C, which was much higher than when it was fresh out of the box. So, I did a bunch of research and found some tutorials and advice on reapplying the thermal paste and cleaning out fans and ducts. This post isn't meant to be a walkthrough, but has info on my experiences. If you're looking to do this on your MBP, check out:

- Disassembling First Generation MBP
- Reapplying Thermal Paste
- Application Instructions for Arctic Silver 5

Another problem I've been struggling with is hard drive space. My MBP came with a 120 GB drive, which was huge at the time, but I managed to fill it pretty quickly. I like keeping as much as I can on my hard drive since I travel a lot with it (I'm currently writing this in a coffee shop). My music alone takes up more than 60 GB and I find I have to cull through it periodically just to free up a gig or two. Since I'm constantly on the edge I find I am always uninstalling and reinstalling software to make room for other programs or files. I also run SolidWorks off Bootcamp, which means partitioning a cramped drive, which just makes two extra cramped drives. I did switch to Parallels recently, but now I'm having RAM issues (see below). I do have a time capsule, which is great, but it doesn't help me when I'm in the library or in Berlin. So, it's time for an upgrade. I didn't need anything huge, but I figured 500 GB should give me some breathing room. After a bit of research I settled on the Seagate Momentus 500GB 5400RPM drive. I decided to go with the 5400 RPM over the 7200 since they seem to have fewer issues and they create less heat and drain the battery slower for only a marginal decrease in speed.

I was getting tired of having to switch between OS X and Windows XP on bootcamp for work (unfortunately there is no mac version of SolidWorks). So, I decided to give Parallels a try. The advantage of Parallels is that you can run OS X and another operating system simultaneously. The downside is that running two operating systems at the same time is taxing on the processor and memory. Since upgrading the processor means getting a new computer, I opted instead to upgrade the RAM. It turns out my 15" 2.33 GHz MBP can only handle 3 GB (you can check what type of RAM you need and how much you can install here). Since I already had 2 GB, I got a single 2 GB chip to replace one of my 1 GB chips. I figure if the extra gig makes Parallels manageable, then great, otherwise I'll have a huge HD and can partition it with Bootcamp without having to stress over the space.

Ok, so now the exciting (or perhaps not-so-exciting) results. I got everything shipped and it arrived within a day or two of each other. I actually got the RAM a bit early and installed that since it's super simple. The thermal paste and HD replacement would be all one big surgery. After messing up the wifi antenna on my ipod touch I was a little nervous and was determined to go super slow and be super careful with the MPB. I carefully took it apart and wore my anti-static wrist strap once the logic board was exposed. Everything went pretty smoothly, although the screws holding in the optical drive were rather stubborn and it took a lot of patience not to strip them. I took this opportunity to clean out all the dust that's accumulated over the last 4 years. Once I got the fans out I found both the ducts completely packed with dust, which certainly wasn't helping my overheating issue. Here are some pics of thermal paste on the chip side and heat sink side.

It definitely looks like it didn't have great contact between the two. So, I cleaned off the old stuff and prepped it for a new application.

From there I applied the new paste and put the logic board back in. I then installed the new hard drive. I finished up reassembling the entire computer and then came the moment of truth. I plugged it back in and pushed the power button... and nothing. No lights, no noises, nothing on the screen, nothing. As you can imagine that's about where my heart sank. I knew there was a possibility of this sort of thing happening, but I had higher hopes. Anyway, I spent the next few hours trying everything I could to solve the issue. I tore it all apart and put it all back together several times; I tried the original configuration of components; I even tried banging my head against the wall, all to no avail. After trying everything I could think of and reading dozens of forums about people with similar issues, I concluded that it was the logic board that had been fried and it was either gonna cost me $400 to fix that or I was going to have to mortgage my soul for a new computer. So, I slept on it and the next morning I tore it apart and reassembled it again for good measure.... and then.... nothing. There was one thing that was bugging me. When I was originally reassembling the computer I accidentally used a screw that was too long along the back side of the case. There was a little resistance, so I stopped and put in the right one. When I took it back apart I saw that the cable from the screen to the logic board was right behind that screw hole. I checked the cable and it looked fine. Anyway, it was bugging me so I unplugged the screen and tried to turn it on.... success! I mean, as much success as you can have when you have a computer with no screen. It was making all the right sounds. The hard drive and fans were working and it was beeping like it's always beeped. That was sort of good news since I knew exactly what was wrong. Unfortunately a new screen costs more than a new logic board. Bummer, but I had posted about my woes on Facebook and got a message from my friend Tera who had an old busted MBP (coffee spill incident) that she'd let me cannibalize. Turns out it was the exact same model, so I swapped out the screens and total success! I now have a completely functional computer once again, despite almost totally ruining it.

Now with all the new stuff it's definitely a new computer. The RAM helps Parallels run a bit faster, although I might switch back to Bootcamp just to get ever last drop of power out of SolidWorks. The new hard drive means I can reinstall the software I'd previously taken off and keep all my docs/photos/media on the laptop. The computer has also been running a lot cooler. I've actually been in the 40s when running light applications, which I haven't seen for a long time. It still hits 80 when I'm doing photo rendering, but that is to be expected. So, all in all a total success, although I could have done without the stress of almost ruining my computer.

1 comment:

Brandon Hudson said...

Nice and very helpful information i have got from your post. Even your whole blog is full of interesting information which is the great sign of a great blogger.

Acer - 11.6" Chromebook - 4GB Memory - 320GB Hard Drive - Iron Gray

Acer - 11.6" Chromebook - 4GB Memory - 320GB Hard Drive - Iron Gray (C710-2487)