Mid 2010 Model A1278 / 2.4 or 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo processor

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MacBook Pro turns off randomly

Hi there,

since some time my MacBook Pro 7.1 (Late 2010) turns off randomly (like you press the power button for a few seconds while running). I have already tested the following things:

  • Disconnect the battery (run from MagSafe)
  • Disconnected MagSafe (run from battery)
  • Replaced HDD
  • Disconnected ODD
  • Tested the RAM modules seperately
  • Tested the RAM slots seperately
  • Tested with Mac OS 10.6, 10.7 and gParted (Linux Live Distro)

Nothing of this has fixed the problem. I think, it's an heat related problem. I opened the MacBook and turned an ventilator directly to the Logicboard (see this fotography). With this testcase, everything worked fine.

So I've installed temperature monitor. Even without the ventilator, the temperatures seem fine. Then I've put the CPU under a stress test with the terminal command yes > /dev/null (I've entered this command twice to stress both cores). I noticed that the fan hasn't speed up, even when the core reached about 105°C. The fan itself works fine.

Then I've installed a software fan control. This temporarly fixed the problem when I turn on the fan @ 6000rpm (max. Speed) but this isn't an acceptable solution. I have tested the system with the fan @ 3000rpm (the fan is good hearable) under idle too but it still turns off.

In the meantime I've brought the MacBook to an certified apple support. In a short demonstration the fan spinned up there under stress so I thought the problem has solved itself and took the MacBook home (without "repair"). At home it turned off randomly again (but the fan control seems to work again).

Does anyone has an idea what it could be?

Update

I forgot to mention that I've already done a PRAM and SMC Reset.

How precise are the temp sensors? I've looked at every temperature and they should be okay when the macbook turns off (in the range from 35 to 65°C).

Update

Another update: the fan only spinned up, because there were some leftovers from fan control. After following the uninstall instructions, the fan doesn't spin up even at more than 80°C (CPU).

Could it possibly be a firmware error or some broken temperature diode? Am I able to reapply the latest firmware update?

@Dan: I've disconnected the battery for testing purposes, so the battery could not be the problem. There were not dust at the fan so I do not think that there's any "dust problem".

Another interesting thing: the first time I power up the macbook after the night, the system runs for a much longer time than when I restart the machine after the random turn off. This is another indicator for a temp related problem. But as I've stated: the temperatures look okay with Temperature Gauge and TemperatureMonitor. So possible there is a short when some metal expands by temperature?

Update

So what are your recommendations? Is it worthwhile to bring the MacBook to the Apple authorized service provider to let him do a hardware check?

Do you think that reapplying termal paste could fix the problem? When nothing helps... would you recommend me baking my logic board (when I have nothing to loose)?

Update

I have now reapplied the termal paste, that doesn't fix the problem. But now I got another problem too: the internal monitor doesn't work anymore.

It flashes only one time when starting the macbook but then turns off. I've already checked the monitor cable (near to the magsafe connector) but it looks correctly connected. Some ideas?

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The use of coconut was to gain access to the batteries temp. As you have removed the battery from the puzzle and the monitoring of the temp values inside appear OK. That leaves it down to what I feared here, most likely a cold solder joint or one of the discreet components is going. The problem here you need to swap out the logic board and see what happens. Touching up the solder joints is to big a task by hand and you could make things worse without the correct tools to handle SMD.

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We'll sorta... A quick hardware check won't do it here. They need to be able to swap components. I don't think re-applying the thermo paste will do it but its worth the try. Re-floating the solder without fluxing won't help here. Do you have access to a SMD float station? Have you done this kind of soldering before? I don't have access to the gear any longer and wouldn't try doing it with out it with such a large & complex circuit bd.

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Believe it or not, on my A1181 it was the built-in keyboard that was causing the shutdown problem.

On many Macbook Pros, you need the keyboard with cover assembly to turn on the machine, but as soon as the machine has booted up to the OS, unplug the built-in keyboard (the unit will have been partly disassembled to be able to do this).

Then wait to see if the shutdown happens again. In the meantime you can use an external mouse and keyboard.

If that was your problem, you should change the whole keyboard/touchpad assembly because they are usually electronically inter- connected.

But a word of caution here. It could also be the logic board itself, so it would be nice to be able to borrow the keyboard assembly from another machine to make sure.

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Deck the Halls
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It sounds lika thermal issue. Take the computer apart and clean the fans, along with using new thermal paste. Canned air can help, but the problem is it's not effective.

Once you do this, use canned air every now and again as a maintenance item. If it gets bad, you will need to open the computer up again and take the fans out.

The computer is shutting off as a protective measure. It needs to be cleaned or this will continue to happen.

My recommendation is Artic Silver 5. It's older paste, but it's still very good thermal paste. You can find it on Amazon.

Here is the guides for disassembly:

MacBook Pro 13" Unibody Mid 2010 Fan Replacement

MacBook Pro 13" Unibody Mid 2010 Heat Sink Replacement

If this doesn't work, you can try resetting the SMC and PRAM.

To reset the PRAM: Shut down the computer and press command, option P and R at the same time. The computer will restart.

The SMC reset is done accordingly for your model:

  • Shut down the computer.
  • Plug in the MagSafe power adapter to a power source, connecting it to the Mac if its not already connected.
  • On the built-in keyboard, press the (left side) Shift-Control-Option keys and the power button at the same time.
  • Release all the keys and the power button at the same time.
  • Press the power button to turn on the computer.
  • Note: The LED on the MagSafe power adapter may change states or temporarily turn off when you reset the SMC.

Now that we know you did the SMC and PRAM reset, start with a good cleaning of dust inside and work from there if that does not work, but this works more often then not

If all else fails, it's a bad GPU, which means bad motherboard. Scrap the machine for parts at this point unless you find the board cheap.

The video issue will be the GPU or screen. Try an external monitor and see if yoy get an image. If you do it's the panel or cable. If not (or it acts up) it's the GPU.

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As you have stated you tried resetting the PRAM & SMC settings and your CPU temp is normal (when its together using monitoring software). You also stated you brought the system in to an Apple authorized servicer and they couldn't find any problem (heat or otherwise). The thermo couplers Apple uses are pretty reliable and they use multiple ones so you should be OK if they are within the normal range. The fans do have some lag in ramping up and down so I wouldn't worry they don't jump into high speed when you think they should. As you got a newer system the thermal paste should be OK and the pic you have doesn't show if you have a lot of dirt buildup inside (and you don't say you did either) So I don't think this is the correct direction in your problem. I'd first rule out software as it can cause the CPU to run hot if something is running that shouldn't be.

When you replaced out the HD did you make an image of the old files on to it? Or did you re-install everything from original program CD's or from the App Store? If you did an image you could have something messing up your OS.

Have you run Mac OS Update in the last few weeks? If not I'd start there. As there has been some OS-X Malware out there.

Do you have any antivirus running on your system if so make sure you have the latest updates applied and check your system out.

The next thing I would do is check if any OS or browser add-ons are running that need updating or disable them. Did that fix things?

Are you running Linux as a dual boot setup or running a virtual machine under OS-X? you talk about running gParted and running Linux Live Distro.

Could the OS boot blocks be messed up some how so your page files are getting corrupted (VM mode). Try running Apples Disk Utility program booting from a second HD or the OS install DVD.

Lastly, I would run Apples Activity Monitor to see what is running that is consuming the CPU when the system is getting hot and you've stopped running any apps.

Let us know what you find - Good luck

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Nick - From my experience Apple tends to be pretty good with the thermo paste not over doing it. I do agree it can dry out but in a year?? I think thats pushing it. I tend to look for the simple stuff first then look into the deeper causes. I've seen a lot of software causes for heat build up so I look there first. Besides its better to rule it out first before opening the system to clean and/or redoing the thermo paste.

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Hi Dan,

the problem is definitely not software related. I've tested everything with a fresh install of Mac OS 10.6 and 10.7 (with all updates). I've even cleaned out the two tested HDDs with zeros (under Linux with dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/<hdd> bs=8k). In addition the problem occurs with a Linux Live CD (bootet directly on the MacBook from CD, not a VM).

But as you mentioned virtualization... I've used the MacBook some time to virtualize a linux server with VirtualBox. I ran the MacBook with closed clamshell and this software to prevent shutting down when closing the clamshell. But the virtual machine had no impact on CPU (the VM was in idle mode most of time). I think the problem occurred during this time. The macbook did run 24/7 for approximately one week.

Maybe I hadn't expressed the thing with the Apple authorized service provider clearly. I brought my MacBook there and wanted to demonstrate the random shut downs and that the fan doesn't spin up. The guy started an 1080p YouTube video and the fan didn't turn up. He found that unusal because every MacBook he had tested before began to spin up the fan by that video. Then I've stressed the CPU and the fan worked again - even with the 1080p video (and still works like expected). So I took the MacBook immediately with me - the MacBook wasn't even opened by the service provider.

Any other idea? Maybe a termal related short?

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If you encountered problems with the system shutting down running Linux directly as well as OS-X that does imply it's a hardware type of issue now.

I don't like running laptops in general with their lids closed as the air flow through the system is designed with an open display. Just because someone created an App to over ride the lid switch it's not always going to work as they imply. Depending on what your software is doing on your given machine you could easily cook your system to death. You could have created the needed conditions just enough to cause a cold solder joint or weaken one of the components.

Have you reviewed the Monitor log file if it has any clues on what is happening (it might not have had the time to write it out to file before shutting down)? What was running when you ran Activity Monitor just before the system shuts down?

Have you tried running Temperature Gauge as well as coconutBattery to monitor things better here? And did you see a temp ramp up just before the system shut it's self off?

Temperature Gauge

coconutBattery

You might try cleaning the fans out and any other dirt build up in the system. As Nick pointed out redoing the thermo paste on the CPU might help. From what you've stated here I don't think thats going to solve it but it's still worth a try.

The only way I think you are likely to isolate this out is by swapping things out until the problem goes away. Which means you need to have some of the major parts on hand. Which I doubt you are likely to spend that kind of cash to do. That leaves you going to a well equipped independent or taking it to an Apple Store or lastly, shipping it to Apple for repairs as they have the needed pieces.

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Did you try looking at the monitor log file to see if it could offer some clues as well as watch the Activity monitor. Sometimes they can lead you to which area of the logic things stopped at so you could focus your repairs on that part of the logic bd and/or sub system.

I think your over thinking the fan control aspect here. If the temp was not recorded or a direct temp measure was quite different, or the fans just didn't work then that would lead me down that path. From what you have stated none of these holds true.

The fact you used 'Fan Control' to over-ride the fans and you only noted a time difference when things failed supports the diagnostic of a cold solder joint or failing discreet component. You ruled out the possibility of a runaway running process creating a heat buildup as you noted you try two different OS's natively on the hardware (not within a VM). Which I fine more often as the root cause of heat issues.

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