Apple Retina MacBook Pro 15″ – Manufacturing Defects, Popping, and Creaking – Resolved October 31, 2012
As of October 31st, 2012 I officially consider this issue resolved positively. Apple replaced the MacBook Pro on the spot after identifying the issue as the adhesive between the battery and the upper case. Do please read the updates at the bottom of this post for full details. Thanks!
I use Apple hardware for almost everything these days for a few reasons including but not limited to: build quality, operating system and features, ease of use, fit and finish, and support. When you buy a $2,200 laptop from Apple, a $800 iPad, or anything else – you generally expect it to be the utmost of quality and to ‘just work.’ This has been my experience with every Apple product I’ve owned so far until now.
I purchased a base-model Apple Retina MacBook Pro 15″ from the Keystone Apple Store on the north side of Indianapolis on October 6th, 2012. I was very happy with the machine, that is, until I was sitting in my quiet hotel room during the cPanel Conference in Houston, Texas on October 8th, 2012. I found that the space bar was making such an unbearably loud ‘screech’ when pressed that there was no way I could possibly continue using the machine. I called AppleCare and they directed me to take the machine to the Apple Store in the Houston Galleria Mall, which I did.
I walked up to the Genius Bar for my appointment and explained the issue to the technician. He said that he could not hear it in the store, as Apple stores are almost always loud, and wanted to take it into the back to see if he could hear it, which I said was fine. After a minute or two in the back the tech re-appeared and agreed that the noise was unbearably loud and he said that he could understand why I was unhappy. He actually removed the key to see what was wrong, and found that when removed the key was nearly translucent. He explained that the key was simply a manufacturing defect. In trying to put the key back on, it even chipped.
I told the tech that I was fine with simply swapping a new key on, to which he informed me they do not keep spare keys on-hand. The keys, apparently, are not something that are supposed to be replaced. The only solution that was provided to me was to swap my brand new Retina MacBook Pro for another, new in box, Retina MacBook Pro. I would have been much happier to get a new key, as the rest of my machine was flawless but presented with no other option and days of sitting in a silent room working on the machine – I agreed to the exchange. I opened the new machine and made sure the space key didn’t make the same noise, and then was on my way out the door. I used the new machine on perfectly flat surfaces (a desk at the hotel in Houston, a desk at a hotel in Denver, and my desk at home) and experienced no issues whatsoever that I noticed over the next week and a half.
Fast forward to October 19th, 2012 and now I was using the machine on my lap in the car on my way to Tennessee to visit my mother-in-law and sister-in-law with the wife. I was in the passenger seat using the laptop in tandem with my iPad’s personal hotspot when I noticed the laptop was making a lot of popping and creaking sounds as I was using it. When I rest my palms on the palm rests to type, the machine tends to make a pop or creak sound almost as though the bottom case is loose or misaligned. If I pick the machine up by a corner or edge the machine many times makes a loud pop sound.
Unfortunately I didn’t have an opportunity, due to being busy with family events, to make it to an Apple Store. I had hoped to go on the 21st before leaving to drive to Florida, however, there were no Genius Bar appointments available on Sunday when I checked and I was leaving early on Monday morning, well before the Apple store opened up at 10 AM.
I arrived in Panama City Beach, Florida at around 7 PM on October 22nd, and on the drive down to Florida I had decided that I was simply being too picky and that since the machine, other than the popping and creaking, was functionally perfect that I would ignore it. I guess, in the back of my mind, I hoped that the creaking/popping would ‘settle’ or quiet down over time just the same as any new item with tight tolerances would ‘wear in.’
I was, unfortunately, incorrect as the machine is getting louder. Over the only the last two days, the machine’s popping and creaking when used on anything but a perfectly flat surface is getting louder and more annoying. I’ve also found that even when used on a flat surface, even light touches on the trackpad which are perfectly silent on my non-Retina MacBook Pro makes a small pop sound. I’m ultimately concerned that due to the 14 day return policy, that I may not even be able to get this ‘issue’ fixed. I’m unsure if my 14 day policy officially ended 14 days after my initial purchase, or 14 days after the swap to the new Retina MacBook Pro – but it’s pretty moot at this point as 14 days from the 8th was yesterday, the 22nd. Either way, at this point, I’m outside of the return period and if Apple feels that my issue is a ‘non-issue’ there is little that I can likely have done.
I do have a pentalobe screw driver that fits the screws on the bottom casing, and believing that perhaps they were too loose I checked and they are all snugged up just as they should be. I did some research on the internet and I see that there are a few others reporting popping and creaking and some that report flawless machines. To be honest, I am unsure if my original laptop had this issue as I cannot remember if I actually tried using it on anything but a perfectly flat and hard surface. If you’re interested, I’ve included some links to forum threads at the end of this post where others discuss the same issue that I am experiencing.
I’ll be completely honest, if there is a ‘fix’ for this that doesn’t involve swapping the machine out – I’m all for that. I’m not out to get a ‘new’ machine as the one I have is functionally perfect. There is, I suppose, always the chance that I will get another laptop with another bad key, dead pixels in the display, or even worse popping and creaking. What I really want, is to not have received a machine that made these noises to begin with. For a $2,200 laptop from Apple, I would not expect this build quality and these annoying noises. If this were a $400 Wal-Mart ‘Special’ laptop, then I am sure it would make all kinds of other noises that one would expect from a cheap laptop.
In the event that anybody from Apple does read this post and wants to contact me, which is unlikely, the name on my Apple ID is “Michael Denney” and the last two digits of my phone number are 84. That should, in my opinion, be enough information to locate my Apple ID. It’s unlikely that another “Michael Denney” would also have an Apple ID and a phone number ending in 84 all while living in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Links to forum threads where others discuss the popping and creaking of the Retina MacBook Pro 15″:
- macbook pro retina creaking: Apple Support Communities
- rMBP Case Popping – MacRumors Forums
- Macbook Pro – Retina – Case Squeaky??? – MacBook Pro – Apple – Whirlpool Forums
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Update 1 – October 25, 2012 at 11:40 PM CST
The laptop is making popping sounds more often. I use “tap to click” so very rarely do I ever actually click down the track pad and the laptop makes a pop sound almost every time at this point. I’ve gone through apple.com/support and scheduled a call for 11 AM CST. Hopefully this is something that can be taken care of as it’s driving me absolutely batty using this laptop in a quiet room.
Update 2 – October 26, 2012 at 11:00 AM CST
An Apple representative called, as per my last update, and listened to what I had to say. I did ask him if he had access to the internet so that I could simply link him here, however, he told me that he only has access to internal Apple pages. I explained the issue from start to finish and he told me that he was updating my case number with the information that I had provided. He said that it does sound like a hardware issue and that I would need to visit an Apple store. I expressed my concerns about the possibility of being told that the noises were ‘normal’ and he told me that he hadn’t heard any other reports similar to mine, and that he suspected it wasn’t normal. He told me that if I wasn’t happy with the way that the issue was handled in the Apple Store, to contact Apple’s Customer Relations department. Hopefully I don’t have to do that, and this issue gets resolved in a mutually amicable manner. I know I’m definitely not going to accept a refurbished machine as replacement for this darn-near brand new machine – so here’s hoping that’s not the only solution that is proposed.
Update 3 – October 30, 2012 at 9:32 PM CST
I’m sitting in the passenger seat on my way up Interstate 65 from Murfreesboro, TN (just south of Nashville) to Indianapolis and over the road noise which is admittedly loud due to the high winds (20 miles per hour sustained, gusts to 40) and the radio going, I can still hear this laptop popping and creaking. It’s loud enough that my wife turned and said, “That is dreadfully annoying, are you going to be using that laptop for very long?”
Tomorrow, when I visit the Apple Store cannot come early enough. I sincerely hope that this is a defect with my specific laptop and not something that all Retina MacBook Pros suffer from. I will be sure to post an update detailing what happened at the Keystone Apple Store, likely directly from the in-store Apple WiFi.
Update 4 – October 31, 2012 at 4:11 PM CST
I am sitting at the Genius Bar at the Keystone Apple Store now. The tech took the laptop to the back to check it out.
Update 4 – October 31, 2012 at 6:18 PM CST – RESOLVED
The representative at the Keystone Apple Store by the name of Matt has fully resolved this issue. He took the Retina MacBook Pro into the back and was able to easily reproduce the issue. At first he believed it to be the grounding pins that contact the bottom case but after removing the bottom case, the Retina MacBook Pro continued to make the same sounds. Upon further investigation he identified the issue as the adhesive that holds the battery to the upper case. Matt came back out and informed me of this, and told me that he already got approval to replace the MacBook rather than doing a repair.
Being that I’d had the MacBook for less than a month and this was an actual manufacturing defect and not damage due to use or misuse, he didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to have to go without the machine for the 5 to 7 days while the entire laptop was disassembled simply to re-apply the adhesive better. They brought out the new Retina MacBook pro and I walked out of the store where it was quiet to make sure that it did not have the same issue, which I didn’t expect but wanted to be sure of. The new Retina MacBook pro feels solid just as my initial one that had the bad space bar.
I did allow Matt to read this post and he was shocked that they didn’t swap the space bar and shocked even more by the fact that they swapped the solid state drives. He explained that the drives are serialized to the machine, which I presume means that swapping them between two machines really shouldn’t be done. He grabbed a ThunderBolt cable and assisted me in transferring the data from the old rMBP to the new rMBP which took about 6 minutes. This saved me two to three hours of my time that I would have spent conducting a restoration from my 2 TB backup drive at home.
Bear in mind that this issue was bad enough for me that the sound could easily be reproduced even on a flat surface by simply resting my hands on the palm rests. If you have to pick the laptop up and flex it to create the noise, then it’s likely normal flex in the case as even my non-Retina MacBook pro does make some popping when held with one hand on an edge. If you are experiencing popping from your Retina MacBook Pro and you are in doubt as to whether it’s normal sounds – by all means do get in touch with Apple as they will do their very best to take care of you.