While attending Macworld Conference and Expo '08, a hairline crack developed in my 1st Generation MacBook, which was just outside its one-year manufacturers warranty. That hairline crack has since become a split in the plastic casing which, when not held down by a piece of tape, results in a sliver of plastic jutting out from the area where my wrist comes in contact with the laptop as I type.
For the record:
- The MacBook has never been dropped.
- Being portable, the MacBook is ported around in a backpack designed for a MacBook but is otherwise treated gingerly.
- Having a lid, the lid is often opened and closed. (Shocking, I know.)
- The MacBook has 2GB of third-party RAM which probably didn't play a role in the split casing, but which I'm noting for posterity because Apple's support technicians usually make a big deal of pointing it out.
- The MacBook has been in for repairs once, under warranty, for a split in the display casing, which occurred along a seam.
Until recently, I simply sighed every time I opened the lid on my MacBook. The crack was annoying, but I wrote it off as an anomaly that I'd have to live with, based on being outside the one-year, manufacturer's warranty.
Yesterday, I left a comment on this article [Newsvine link] by Kyle Baxter:
Whenever I end up in the market for a new portable, I'm either going with an Air or a MacBook Pro.
I won't consider another MacBook until they move beyond plastic casings, because they just don't hold up. My Macbook still runs just fine, but it drives me nuts that I'm holding a piece of the casing down with a piece of scotch tape.
Shortly thereafter, multiple MacBook owners came forward to state that they too had a split casing, in the exact same location. A quick flickr [Flickr link] search for the terms "macbook" and "crack" turned up [Flickr link] 317 photos, most of which depict cracks in the same location.
Searching Google with similar terms brought up multiple hits, often to forums, describing the same issue.
Jeremy Emberling blogged about an identical crack in July of 2007:
MacBook Cracked [jeremyemberling.com]
Emberling speculates that the magnet which holds the MacBook display shut may be too strong, thus creating a stress fracture on the plastic base.
Engadget also reported on the issue in 2007:
Revenge of the crackBook [Engadget link]
No precise word on whether Apple is feeling generous with repairs here, but a few anecdotal reports make it sound like Apple isn't buying claims of it being a problem with build quality. We can understand a bit of skepticism, but given the fact that this isn't the first time cracking has appeared, we would hope Apple fesses up and fixes these things right quick.
To be fair, many of those who posted images on Flickr are reporting that Apple is fixing the issue under warranty. With that said, others are reporting that Apple support representatives have denied the existence of a design defect in the MacBook casing, no official acknowledgment of the issue has been posted to Apple's support website, and no recall has been announced.
Unfortunately, this leaves those who are outside their manufacturer warranty with a cracked, but still relatively young, laptop -- or, presumably, paying the price to have the issue corrected.
One could argue that purchasing the three-year AppleCare plan would extend the coverage and negate the issue, but it's hard to swallow that argument, unless you imagine an Apple Store employee selling the extended coverage on the basis that "your MacBook is going to crack, so you'll want to purchase an AppleCare plan to avoid paying for the repairs when it happens."
Proving a design or manufacturing defect may be difficult, but setting legal definitions aside:
The plastic casing on Apple's current MacBook lineup sucks, and evidence seems to indicate that it's as likely as not to crack, within (or just after) a year of ownership, under normal usage.
To that end, I've created a Flickr group to collect evidence of widespread cracking:
MacBook Casing Defects [Flickr link]
Yesterday, I sent out an email to the firstname.lastname@example.org address to inquire about the issue and also to point to this article.
Today, Nate Doss, from Apple Customer Service, contacted me in response to that email. He had read through the discussion.
- He also confirmed that it's not currently classified as a "known issue" but added that it's an issue that is being looked into.
- MacBooks that are out of warranty will be repaired, on a case-by-case basis. This means: So long as you haven't dropped it, they'll probably repair it for free.
- They're sending me an overnight box, and the tech I was transferred to thought that if all goes well, I should have it back by Wednesday if I mail it off on Monday, but that it could take 3-5 business days once they get it.
- When asked, that same technician confirmed that they use a different top case now, and that a certain subset of MacBooks are affected by the issue, but he didn't provide anything specific on that front, and I didn't press the issue.
- Regarding those who are in a similar situation, I asked Nate Doss who to contact and he said to just call the tech support line (1-800-800-2775) and if the person you speak with is unfamiliar with the issue, ask them to do a bit more research. If that doesn't help, he said to request a Customer Service Representative.