Apple MacBook Pro 'Flexgate' Design Defect Leads To Premature Display Failures

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Throttlegate, batterygate, bendgate... flexgate? It looks as though MacBook Pro owners have yet another hardware failure to watch out for as their devices age. No, we're not talking about keyboards that are crippled by tiny specs of dust; we're talking about the flex cable that is used to connect the 13-inch or 15-inch display panel to the display controller on the motherboard of 2016 and newer MacBook Pro devices.

The latest hardware failure has been dubbed “flexgate,” and users who experience it will often see a "stage light effect" at the bottom of the display. A website was erected to chronicle the problem, and the teardown specialists over at iFixit took a more in-depth look at the problem to see exactly what is going on.

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The flex cables in question (Image courtesy iFixit)

The problem stems from the fact that Apple decided to forgo its previously sturdy wire cables to connect the display to the controller in favor of thinner flex cables. iFixit found that the flex cable is loosely wrapped about the display controller when the display lid is in the closed position. However, when the display lid is opened, the flex cable is pulled taut, which can cause it to eventually deteriorate over time. Given how many times people open and close their laptops over the course of a day, week, month, or years, this a big concern.

According to iFixit, the backlight cable is usually the first to fail, which leads to the stage light effect that you see in the image at the top of the article (and also in the video embed above). If the laptop is then opened at more than a 40-degree angle, the cables are liable to fail completely, leaving you with a non-functional display.

To make matters worse, the flex cables aren't separate components that can be easily replaced. Instead, they are directly integrated into the display which means that you have to replace the entire display assembly. That makes for a costly repair.

Compounding matters is the fact that this is a failure that develops over time, which means that the oldest MacBook Pros with this design (which were introduced in 2016) are the most likely to be affected. And chances are, most of those devices are out of warranty, which would lead to a display replacement cost of around $600 or more at the Apple Store.

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Apple has made similar questionable design choices with its keyboard assembly, which is fully integrated into the top case of MacBook Pro devices. Not only does the case house the keyboard and Touch Bar (on select 13-inch and all 15-inch MacBook Pros), but it also integrates the battery pack, making for another expensive repair. However, at least Apple has a keyboard replacement program in place for defective keyboards that is of no cost to customers.

It remains to be seen if there will be enough public outcry -- as there was with the butterfly keyboard design-- to force Apple's hand at offering a replacement program for flexgate.

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