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Video Overview

Introduction

Apple’s newest MacBook Pro is its fastest yet, featuring an optional eight-core processor—a first in a MacBook—and a mysterious new keyboard material. Since it’s unlikely that Apple’s going to expound on this ‘material,’ and we’re never satisfied with an unsolved mystery, it’s time once again to take a closer look at the infamous butterfly keyboard. Put on your detective hat and join us for a teardown!

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This teardown is not a repair guide. To repair your MacBook Pro 15" Touch Bar 2019, use our service manual.

  1. On paper, this new 2019 MacBook Pro is only a spec bump—but just how bumpy is it? Let's recap: 15.4" LED-backlit IPS Retina display with True Tone, 2880 x 1800 resolution (220 dpi), P3 wide color gamut
    • On paper, this new 2019 MacBook Pro is only a spec bump—but just how bumpy is it? Let's recap:

    • 15.4" LED-backlit IPS Retina display with True Tone, 2880 x 1800 resolution (220 dpi), P3 wide color gamut

    • 2.6 GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.5 GHz) paired with a Radeon Pro 555X

    • 16 GB of 2400 MHz DDR4 SDRAM

    • 256 GB PCIe-based SSD

    • 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0

    • Four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports

    • Our teardown victim bears the familiar A1990 model number, but a new EMC number: 3359.

  2. Last time, we needed two different teardowns to get to the bottom of one of these laptops—so for once, let's skip the formalities. Just like a cooking show, we cut out the nitty and get to the gritty—voilà! It's open! If you are curious about how to get inside, it's exactly the same procedure as the 2018 edition ... which we already have guides for!
    • Last time, we needed two different teardowns to get to the bottom of one of these laptops—so for once, let's skip the formalities.

    • Just like a cooking show, we cut out the nitty and get to the gritty—voilà! It's open!

    • If you are curious about how to get inside, it's exactly the same procedure as the 2018 edition ... which we already have guides for!

    • As promised, this is looking mostly like a spec bump—the hardware appears visually indistinguishable from last time. Let's pull the board and look closer.

  3. With zero modular components, there's no chance of upgrading any of this hardware. Speak now or forever hold your chips: 9th-generation Intel Core i7-9750H 6-core processor
    • With zero modular components, there's no chance of upgrading any of this hardware. Speak now or forever hold your chips:

    • 9th-generation Intel Core i7-9750H 6-core processor

    • 16x SK Hynix H5AN8G8NAFR 8 Gb DDR4 SDRAM (16 GB total)

    • AMD Radeon Pro 555X GPU

    • 4x Micron MT51J256M32HF-70:B 8 Gb GDDR5 RAM (4 GB total)

    • Apple T2 APL1027 339S00533 coprocessor, layered over 1 GB Micron D9VLN LPDDR4 memory

    • Toshiba TSB3226AW8815TWNA1 and TSB3226XZ2939TWNA1 flash storage (256 GB total)

    • Intel JHL7540 Thunderbolt 3 controller

    You folks have probably explained this elsewhere, but can you confirm that the SSDs Apple is using are open-market consumer-grade drives? The rationale behind their high upgraded-drive pricing is that there’s some sort of added Apple-specific value. Is there any?

    Moeskido - Reply

    @moeskido1 They don’t use an SSD in the ordinary use of the term—their flash storage chips are BGA-soldered directly to the logic board (as shown in the image above) and SSD controller functions are handled by Apple’s custom T2 chip. The upside is very fast read/write speeds and low power consumption, with the obvious downside being the complete lack of repair, upgrade, and data recovery options. And it’s hard to ignore how it benefits Apple at the expense of their customers, since you have to pay through the nose to future-proof the storage capacity.

    Jeff Suovanen -

    @jeffsu Is there any any other benefit to be had? Is this storage sourced from, say, enterprise-grade stock or otherwise modified in any way that would matter to the consumer?

    Moeskido - Reply

    “16 GB of 2400 MHz DDR4 SDRAM”

    vs

    “4x Micron MT51J256M32HF-70:B 8 Gb GDDR5 RAM (4 GB total)”

    Shouldn’t the RAM description in the layout breakdown be more like 4 4Gb chips for a total of 16 GB?

    shomizu9 - Reply

    Hi shomizu9,

    The 4GB Micron RAM is the video RAM, while the 16 GB SK Hynix RAM is the on-board system RAM.

    Arthur Shi -

  4. More chips for your perusal: Intel SR40F platform controller hub
    • More chips for your perusal:

    • Intel SR40F platform controller hub

    • Texas Instruments CD3215C00Z (likely power controllers)

    • 338S00267-A0 (likely Apple PMIC)

    • TPS51980A power controller

    • 339S00458 (likely Apple Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module)

    • Intersil 6277A PWM modulator

    • Cirrus Logic CS42L83A audio codec

    339S00458 is much likely WiFi/BT module.

    JJ Wu - Reply

  5. Onward to the keyboard! Let's recap this butterfly's metamorphosis so far. After making its debut in the 2015 Retina MacBook, the butterfly keyboard landed on the MacBook Pro line for the first time in 2016 (pictured at left). Designed to be super thin while accommodating off-center key presses, the keyboard proved controversial because of its extremely short throw—but soon proved unreliable as well.
    • Onward to the keyboard! Let's recap this butterfly's metamorphosis so far.

    • After making its debut in the 2015 Retina MacBook, the butterfly keyboard landed on the MacBook Pro line for the first time in 2016 (pictured at left).

    • Designed to be super thin while accommodating off-center key presses, the keyboard proved controversial because of its extremely short throw—but soon proved unreliable as well.

    • In summer of 2018, Apple launched a repair program, privately blaming dust for jamming the keys—and released updated models with a silicone membrane protecting the key switches (middle image). But problems have persisted.

    • Lastly, 2019's butterfly switch revision keeps the silicone membrane, but tweaks the materials in the springy metal dome and the plasticky material that covers it.

  6. Now that we have some context, let's go layer by layer through the key components of 2019's butterfly switch: Topping it all off is the key cap. This has a handy label to tell users which key is broken. The hinged white bracket is the "butterfly" mechanism controlling the key's motion—stabilizing it so as to travel up and down without tilting or wobbling.
    • Now that we have some context, let's go layer by layer through the key components of 2019's butterfly switch:

    • Topping it all off is the key cap. This has a handy label to tell users which key is broken.

    • The hinged white bracket is the "butterfly" mechanism controlling the key's motion—stabilizing it so as to travel up and down without tilting or wobbling.

    • Nesting within that bracket is a transparent cover that flexes with each key press, while keeping contaminants away from the dome switch underneath. The black dot at its center concentrates the force of your key press onto the switch.

    • The main character of this assembly is the springy metal dome switch. It deforms when the key is pressed, bridging the board's six contacts—and then bounces back when you release the key.

    • Underneath the dome switch are six metal pads. A keystroke registers whenever the top center pad is shorted to any of the other five pads.

    • To wrap it up, the silicone membrane covers the butterfly mechanism to keep debris from getting in and jamming it.

  7. So, what changed this year? First, the transparent switch cover material. The cover in the 2018 model is semi-opaque, somewhat tacky, and feels like silicone. The new model is clearer and smooth to the touch. To confirm that the materials are indeed different, we analyzed them using Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. Thanks to Eric Beaton and Cal Poly's Materials Engineering department for their equipment and expertise!
    • So, what changed this year? First, the transparent switch cover material.

    • The cover in the 2018 model is semi-opaque, somewhat tacky, and feels like silicone. The new model is clearer and smooth to the touch.

    • To confirm that the materials are indeed different, we analyzed them using Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. Thanks to Eric Beaton and Cal Poly's Materials Engineering department for their equipment and expertise!

    • FTIR analysis works by shining infrared light at a material and measuring how much light is absorbed and at what wavelengths. This data acts like a fingerprint that can be used to identify the material.

    • The differing peaks and valleys on the FTIR spectra for the two samples show us that they are different materials. But what are they?

    • When comparing these FTIR spectra to that of known polymers, the closest match for the 2018 model is either poly(acetylene) with aromatic urethane side groups, or a type of TPU (which seems more likely). The 2019 model is a match for polyamide (commonly known as nylon).

    • What this doesn't tell us is, just what problem Apple's engineers tried to solve using this updated material. Send us your ideas!

    The 2018 tackiness likely makes dust stick better. Thanks for using science here. FTIR looks like a much better instrument than the monochromator based instruments I used back in the day.

    John Lam - Reply

    Great research guys!

    Only on iFixit would you get this level of detail!

    Dan - Reply

    Didn’t a recent reddit post and experiment confirms it has nothing to do with dust ( And Heat ) ? And the problem hasn't been fixed after three years suggest no one really knows what the causes were.

    K Sec - Reply

    Following the theory that heat accelerated key failure a switch to a different material would make sense if its melting point was higher. Some quick googling indicates nylon has high temperature resistance.

    Joeri Sebrechts - Reply

    According to this site, nylon endures repeated flexing better than polyurethane.

    jimmy.cerra - Reply

    Poly(acetylene) doesn't make a lot of sense for a component like this. I suspect that the 2018 material is probably a more conventional thermoplastic polyurethane. TPU has that tacky, silicone-like quality and doesn't withstand heat as well as nylon.

    jwang158 - Reply

    Makes sense! The match with the second-highest HQI was Cytor 7040 (as you can see in the screen capture)—which as you correctly pointed out is a type of TPU. We updated the teardown accordingly. Thanks for your comment!

    Jeff Suovanen -

    A single key of my 2017 13” MBP failed, and the culprit turned out to be the black paint that helps the backlight diffuse more evenly throughout the keytop. It was the paint that had flaked off and jammed the key rather than any external dust. So look to the formulation of the black paint and its adherence to the type of plastic as an element in this problem. It appears that the plastic flexes when you press the key, and if the paint adherence is poor or the paint is too rigid, there is a non-zero chance it will break off and float around, causing trouble.

    Graeme Gill - Reply

    Interesting that they went with Polyamide, which is comonly known as Nylon 6. One problem with Nylon 6, which is used widely in under-the-hood applications in automotive sector, is that it retains moisture really well. Not sure if apple is using different materials based on different geographics (countries) because moisture retention can lead to swelling and with such small component, any kind of swelling can impact the mechanism.

    Deepak Sharma - Reply

    Le matériau de 2018 et collant donc retiens les micros poussières celui de 2019 lisse les laisse glisser et en plus il est plus résistant et rebondi mieux en reprenant ça forme initiale.

    craquouille.nounouille - Reply

    If they used a special PA such as EMS Grilamid TR on the cover, moisture absorption should be no issue.

    Sam Panton - Reply

    Forget tearing down lame consumer gear, let’s teardown that FTIR analyzer.

    jak p - Reply

    PhD in polymer engineering here. I think the black dot that concentrates the force of your key press onto the switch shifts a bit due to fatigue or thermal expansion (or may even wear off), and the key either don’t register or registers twice. See this video which demonstrates the role of the black dot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIwooQAg...

    Changing the material to nylon will make the cover more rigid and less prone to deformation thermally or under load, which means that the black dot will remain in the center and the dome is pressed evenly.

    This video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nob5MLYG...) shows that when the machine is hot, the keys make load noises as seen in the previous video mentioned, which indicates that temperature really does shift the black dot from the center.

    Mehdi Ataei - Reply

  8. What else changed? We think the metal dome switch may have. Let's look closer. The dome is like a really tiny jam lid or Snapple cap—you press down and it springs back up. If anything changes about the dome—if it's cracked or deformed—the key may behave erratically. Likewise, if the prongs break or bend, the key stops working.
    • What else changed? We think the metal dome switch may have. Let's look closer.

    • The dome is like a really tiny jam lid or Snapple cap—you press down and it springs back up.

    • If anything changes about the dome—if it's cracked or deformed—the key may behave erratically. Likewise, if the prongs break or bend, the key stops working.

    • There are myriad possible reasons for this switch to crack or wear out—manufacturing defects, plain old fatigue, prolonged heat, moisture, outgassing from other components, and corrosion are all common culprits.

    • It's entirely possible that several of these factors are contributing to switch failures, which could explain why Apple is having such a hard time untangling the problem. Fourth time's the charm?

    • These switches are also magnetized from the factory. Best guess as to their composition: ferritic stainless steel, with a thin polymer coating on the bottom. The difference in surface finish from the 2018 version (left) to the 2019 (right) indicates Apple may be using a revised heat treatment, or alloy, or possibly both.

    Liquidmetal?!

    eldermiller31 - Reply

    When the snap dome switches my company was using started to fail well before our 3 million cycle test goal, it turned out to be a couple of problems. We weren’t using a hard gold (alloy) plating on our PCB and the snap domes, instead of being the usual round shape, had legs much wider than the Apple snap domes.

    The sharp corners of the legs on our snap domes wore through the gold plating, and the stainless/copper interface corroded so that we lost electrical contact.

    Maybe the Apple snap dome legs scrape along the gold surfaces and either kick up contaminants that prevent electrical contact in the middle, or eventually wear through the gold and cause corrosion at the leg contact points. The corrosion only has to occur at the very end of the button travel (legs splayed as much as possible) to prevent electrical contact.

    If we assume they’re pretty competent people at Apple, it would be easy enough for them to diagnose that and fix those corrosion and wear issues. So maybe it’s not that.

    Mark H - Reply

    Oops, I stand corrected. There isn’t necessarily any electrical contact through the legs of their snap domes. It’s the center four bumps that are the electrical contacts, the upper two that have minimal sliding force.

    Mark H - Reply

    The center of the dome still has 2 contacts so we will still get double key presses. Wonder why this dome has a 1 center contact: https://i.imgur.com/LAM75Lz.jpg

    Malcolm Hall - Reply

    I had a great uncle that worked on computers that ran typesetting systems back in the 1960s and 70s. They had problems with key-bounce back then. I forget what the solution was, but I think software probably smoothes out a lot of these kind of problems these days. I worked on a keyboard that dated from the late 1960s for a video titler system from a company called Telemation. The keyboard was a matrix of very large switches with magnetic reed switches and plungers with magnets on the ends. After 17 or so years, the reed switches became magnetized and you would just get a full screen of a single letter pressed.

    Scott Thomas - Reply

  9. That's all she wrote!
    • That's all she wrote!

    • Or perhaps "TThat's all sh wott"

    • For now, at least. We'd love to hear from any materials engineers in the audience, and we'd love to take a peek at any failed keys we can get our hands on.

    • Meanwhile, the fundamental problem with this laptop remains—if the slightest thing ever goes wrong, you’ll be replacing half the machine. Even if the keyboard is perfect this time, you’re taking a gamble on everything else. Our advice? Save your money.

    • With that, you can probably guess where this laptop lands on the repairability scale ...

  10. Final Thoughts
    • The trackpad can be removed and replaced with very little drama.
    • The processor, RAM, and flash memory are soldered to the logic board. Repairs and upgrades will be impractical at best.
    • The top case assembly, including the keyboard, battery, speakers, and Touch Bar, is glued together—making all those components impractical to replace separately.
    • The Touch ID sensor doubles as the power switch, and is paired with the T2 chip on the logic board. Fixing a broken power switch may require help from Apple, or a new logic board.
    Repairability Score
    1
    Repairability 1 out of 10
    (10 is easiest to repair)

24 Comments

“When comparing these FTIR spectra to that of known polymers, the closest match for the 2018 model is polyacetylene with aromatic urethane side groups, while the 2019 model uses polyamide (commonly known as nylon).

What this doesn't tell us is, just what problem Apple's engineers tried to solve using this updated material. Send us your ideas!”

Spitballing, any debris would have an easier time sliding through the nylon, while the 2018 model has a more sticky material.

tipoo - Reply

Hopefully making cleaning with canned air more effective.

Mark -

The plastic dome covers the contacts so you can’t really blow air into the gap. The covers are glued down to the base 360 degrees.

Dan -

Was eagerly anticipating this teardown as soon as the tech press announced the new MacBook Pros with yet another keyboard iteration.

Question: How are the butterfly mechanism and plastic cover attached to the top case? Are they merely held in place by the silicone membrane?

I could not tell if the membrane had to be cut in order to extract the butterfly mechanism and plastic dome.

Those two keys you disassembled, can they be re-assembled and have them function normally without the key falling off?

Carlos Perez - Reply

The thing that really holds it all together is the clear plastic cover piece with the black dot in the middle. That component both holds the dome in place on the PCB and provides the pivot points for the hinged white bracket that controls the keycap travel. Unfortunately, it’s essentially riveted in place from the back with plastic pegs, and prying it out is usually pretty destructive. (In other words, don’t try this at home!) The silicone dust membrane doesn’t have to be cut however, as it’s mainly around the perimeter and not over the top of the mechanism.

Jeff Suovanen -

@jeffsu - Can you post pics of the other side of the dome contact plate or tell us if the new ones are gold plated. Thanks!

Dan -

Top side of the dome is pictured in Step 8. ;)

Jeff Suovanen -

I guess we’ll need to wait another year before we get the old reliable keyboards back! So sad …

Dan - Reply

You’re quite the optimist there.

Don Whiteside -

What about the VRM overheating issue? Where is the VRM located on your teardowns? Is there any cooling being applied to the module?

David - Reply

If this proves to be reliable, then it will be just another proof that it is a better idea to stay away from 1st (or even 2nd) Generations of any Apple product. I could make an arm’s long list, but to make a just a few examples: 1st Gen 15” Retina MacBook Pro Mid-2012 / Early-2013 - GPU Problems, 1st Gen MacBook Air - messy internal arrangement, low performance and overheating, 1st Gen iPad, 1st Gen iPhone, 1st Gen Apple Watch. In all these products and many more, it is better to wait 1.5 or 2 years for an update that is “reliable”, more powerful and what not.

Marhowl - Reply

With one of the best engineering teams in the world, that they still make big errors like this and pretty much refuse to take responsibility or at least make it so others can do repairs is sad.

I like my old Macs but want to upgrade someday, at this point I hesitate.

Thank you iFixit for all your hard work detailing the differences and advocating 3rd party repair!

Russell Courtenay -

I amazed at how apple engages in these obvious anti-consumer, anti-repair engineering “solutions” and still maintains their customer base.

zackchimento - Reply

I'll tell you what keeps me in the customer base: macOS.

I spent the 80s with Apple computers and from 1990 until 2014 on Windows PCs. I've been back in the Apple universe for 5 years, and it's like heaven compared to the ongoing, exhausting (it bears repeating — exhausting) war I had with Windows. The prospect of being able to build my own computers and customize them to my heart's content was irresistable in my youth. But creating an OS that could run on any of the infinite configurations of PC parts, in the end, made Windows too easy to break. Torvalds got it; Gates and company did not, at least for my money. The thought of going back to Windows makes me shudder.

Ron Miller -

Ein Laptop wo man den Speicher nicht nachrüsten kann kommt mir gar nicht ins haus, Wieso bleibt apple nicht bei der Pci express Lösung. Da konnte der Nutzer die “festplatte” wenigstens noch selbst wechseln.

furious - Reply

Love the teardowns, and the repair guides to which I’ve referred numerous times.

That said, it really makes me sad to see Apple make iFixit become iPokeAroundInsideIt.

Haile Unlikely - Reply

I agree with Ron Miller’s comment above. The macOS (as well as integration with iOS, is what keeps me with Apple. I used MS Dos and Windows operating systems from the 1980s to 2013 and finally had enough, so I switched to Apple. I do get frustrated with Apple, and this butterfly keyboard debacle increases the level of frustration. I guess I’ll continue with my 2012 15” retina MBP for at least another year. It’s still going strong, though a little slow at times.

Many thanks for the teardown, iFixit.

Bill Moore - Reply

I also Agee with Ron Miller. I went through numerous iterations of Windows machines, from my first 386, to bigger and much more competent desktops, work stations, and some powerful laptops. Many hesitate to go with Apple, saying they’re too expensive, and they are, upfront. But there’s more to cost than upfront cost. With Windows machines I spent innumerable hours upon hours, maintaining, updating, protecting, and repairing them. Even if we don’t consider material costs, the hours lost count as costs that far exceed any difference in upfront costs for Apple products. Since time spent is how we get money to buy things, it doesn’t much matter whether we spend employment time, maintaining time, updating time, or protecting time. All time spent equals cost we’ve spent for any product. So are Apple products really more expensive? I don’t think so.

Ronald Sauve - Reply

As a long term apple customer…. i agree with you but there is a limit. These new keyboards have been failure prone for 4 years at this point. And i personally know people who have had multiple returns, the worst case being 3 returns inside 1 month of ownership for a friend who bought an original 2015 macbook and loved the machine if it wasn’t for the un-usable failure rate. He returned it and got a Macbook Pro 13” 2015 like mine. But now the alternative macbook keyboards do not exist.

jethro.rose -

Will most definitely NOT be buying until at least 12 months have passed and the failures have come out

In the meantime, my 2015 13” Pro soldiers on.

jethro.rose - Reply

If you do not need the portability the current line of iMacs are a pretty good value. I needed a faster machine then my aging 2015 Macbook Pro because I’m doing more and more video editing so I got the 8 core iMac and never looked back.

Ryan Villanueva - Reply

Has anyone disassembled a malfunctioning switch \ switches?

Have metal fatigue, cracks, bends, etc. been observed?

Have torn plastic domes been found?

Chris Waterman - Reply

I’m probably in the minority but I love the butterfly keyboard in my 2017 15” MBP, particularly the low-travel and clicky feedback. Did this keyboard modification alter the tactile typing experience?

Ken Suzuki - Reply

我想看2019款13英寸MacBook Pro 4雷雳口的拆解

季羿臣 - Reply

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