Sunday, January 2, 2011

Reflowing a GPU on a Macbook Pro

*UPDATE 12/11* In the last year I've done this two more times and both times it has come back like a champ. The moral is, it's not as much of a crap shoot as I had anticipated. Also, it's not necessarily a permanent fix, but I've got an extra year out of it with minimal effort. If you're planning on doing this I highly encourage giving it a try.

It was heartbreaking. My screen went black and the computer froze. Maybe par for the course with my PC, but I expect more from my Macbook Pro. I rebooted to find a checkerboard of confusion where my desktop used to be. It looked like this:

You could sort of navigate around, but it was nearly impossible to read anything on the screen. Subsequent reboots changed nothing and I began to fear the worse, my computer was finally dead and there was no bringing her back. I'm certainly in no financial position to buy a new MBP, so this represents a serious blow to my ability to work. I did some research on the interweb and discovered that the most likely cause for my issues was a loose connection between the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) and the logic board. The only way to fix it was to replace the whole logic board or reflow the GPU. Reflowing is heating the solder connecting the chip to the board until it melts and "reflows". Then you just hope that it reflows in such a way that the broken connection fixes itself. The whole thing is complicated by the fact that the solder connections are all hidden under the chip, so a soldering iron will not help you. The trick is to heat the whole chip and just hope you don't ruin it or the rest of the logic board in the process. The techniques I came across involved either candles, blow torches, or heat guns. Since I wasn't going to spend $700 for a new logic board I decided there was nothing to lose. I might as well cook the chip and give it a try. I decided to go with the heat gun technique since I couldn't bring myself to expose my laptop to an open flame.

I'm not going to do a step by step walkthrough, but I will tell you some of the important specifics if you are looking to do this yourself. If you want more info check out these posts here, here, and here.

First step was taking apart the laptop, removing the logic board, and cleaning off the thermal paste. Luckily I have lots of experience with this from my last laptop adventure. Once the logic board was out and cleaned I made a heat shield out of about 6 layers of aluminum foil:


Next came the fun part (by "fun" I really mean "harrowing"). It was time to cook the chip. I got it as horizontal as I could and then placed a couple pieces of solder next to the chip on the foil. This was my temp gauge. In a perfect world I would have had a IR thermometer. This was procedure:

1. I started out with the heat gun about a foot above the chip with the fan on low and the temp set to about ~300C (although the controls on the gun are pretty crude). I think the solder in the chip needs to hit about 210C. Over about 60 seconds I slowly moved the gun down until it was about 2 inches above the chip.

2. I held it there for about 5 minutes then I put the fan on high. After about 5 more minutes the solder pieces on the foil melted. I was using 60/40 solder, which melts at 188C, so I knew I was close.

3. I continued to heat the chip for two more minutes. That seemed like a reasonable amount of time for the heat to soak through the chip and melt the solder below.

4. Finally I turned the fan down to low and slowly raised the gun up to about a foot over 60 seconds to slow the cooling a bit.



I removed the aluminum foil and let the board cool for about 30 minutes. I did the reassembly (don't forget the thermal paste) and then came the moment of truth. Honestly I didn't think there was any way in the world this was going to work. I figured I actually made it worse. No loss since it was essentially and expensive paperweight by that point. Anyway.... I turned it on.... and success! No f@#$ing way! I could not believe it. All in all it only took me about an hour and a half and it's been working great for the last three days. At this point I just need it to survive until I find a new job and can buy a new one, but in the interest of avoiding needless consumption I hope this one lasts for as long as possible.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Success! Thank you for your help

geoff said...

Awesome! Glad it helped.

Anonymous said...

I need to do this fix, but must ask you first.
How long did it work, before it broke down again?
Thanks in advance! / Max

geoff said...

Hi Max,

I've done it 3 times now and each time it has worked for 6-8 months. Not a permanent solution, but I got almost 2 extra years of service out of it. If you were more aggressive with the time and temperature it may last longer, but I was always pretty cautious. Hope that helps.

Geoff

skebner said...

A friend gave me this laptop after having the same problem. My solution is throwing it inside a grill and solar heating it in the AZ sun. Works every time!

uwe Stegmann said...

I tryed but after that thr board was rubbish only dont do that ! I can't recommend.

Paul said...

Thanks for the advice - tried this and tested it today - seems to have worked, at least for now.

Set a heat gun to 310 deg C and spent similar time (total of 15 minutes) to slowly heat up, hold for 8 minutes then slowly cool down.

BambooSamurai22 said...

Success here.

Used my rework station as I work with QFN packages frequently. Reworking isn't as nearly as scary or dangerous as most think, it is a very simple concept. You will not break anything as long as you don't over heat the components.

Set: 200C Medium air, started from 1 foot and slowly moved to 3" above, all within 80 seconds.

Set: 250C High air, slowly moved to 1", all within 12 seconds

Hover 1/2" over in a small circular motion for 10 seconds (no longer)

Slowly move back to 1.5 feet, within 2 minutes

Immediately put my computer back together and jammed out Tangled in Blue in full screen.

tadmaz said...

This worked great, my solder test pieces on the foil melted after about 2 minutes, so I went another 2 minutes. Early 2011 macbook pro is now back to normal!

Paul said...

Hmmm, well my fix stopped working last week, so did it again, luckily success this time as well, but it's definitely not a permanent fix.
Helps if you monitor which gpu is in use and really minimise use of the discrete gpu and check it's temperature if you're doing graphic intensive stuff - my fix stopped after scrolling though 200-odd Aperture images.....

geoff said...

Glad to hear most of you are having some success. It doesn't seem to be a permanent fix, but that may have something to do with how aggressive you are with the re-flow temperature as well as how much you push the GPU to the limit when you're using it after the fix.

Anonymous said...

just tried this right now. will find out if it works in half an hour. just a thought, right after heating if you have the aluminum foil heat shield, just pull the headshield up a little so it covers up the chip. it may help more slowly cool down the chip. not sure if it will work because im still waiting for my chip to cool but just an idea.

Anonymous said...

anonymous again here. worked out just fine. thanks! the solder trick is genius. i was trying to figure out how to check the temperature during the reflowing haha. and i guess putting the aluminum foil over helped, since its maybe 18C where i am right now and i just left it out to cool on its own.

geoff said...

Congrats on getting it up and running again! I like the aluminum foil over the chip idea while it's cooling.

Anonymous said...

My MacBookPro mid 2010 was having graphics issues from time to time. After carefully following the instructions...
BAM!! it didn't power on. Never... It seems I fried the motherboard.

Anonymous said...

Alternate solution that has been awesome for me...put Debian on it and don't load the nvidia drivers. The built in on cpu graphics is perfect for almost all applications beyond gaming and intense graphics. because the Nvidia GPU is never used, it never crashes. I didn't have problems as bad as what you are describing, but my OSX was crashing all the time during graphics operations. Reloading, updating, nothing really worked. You can't turn off the drivers with OSX (at least not permanently, the os re-enables them) but with Linux it takes some effort to use the nvidia gpu at all.

Anonymous said...

Done this and after one year I can say everything runs smooth! However, you must install gfxcardstatus and macsfancontrol, it really helps!! I think i'll dp it again on my early MBP 2011 just for maintenance, but it's performing awesome! Alonso.

Anonymous said...

You can also try this, if not keen on taking the logic board out or just want a quick fix. Take off the back cover, disable the fans by unplugging them, put the cover back on and start up. Leave running until you think it's warmed up sufficiently - I did this a couple of times until it now runs fine. (Don't forget to plug the fans back in). Theory is that it re-flows the AMD in situ. So far mine is working fine after 3 days and should the problem happen again I can do this 'fix' wherever I am (pack a Phillips screwdriver).

Bob Wettermann said...

Thanks for the post. It's a great technique of soldering with metal iron to join broken area. When the solder melts, which happens at about 700° Fahrenheit temperature. I want to share with all that at BEST. We are providing training on BGA Reflowing/Rework for PCB.

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