Catalina Bricked my Mac. Now What?
See also wiki page Mac bricked by Catalina.
Normal software upgrade bricked MacBook to the point where EFI bios firmware and/or SMC firmware must be re-flashed by hardware means. I wander which repair methods really worked for you (I list few possibilities, including pressure on Apple to fix it properly). I provide a lot of background below, however I still do not know the answer, even though I propose several. I’d be grateful for answers of those who really managed to fix similar problem. Here is my story (excuse a bit newspaper-like style, I originally wanted to just publish it but ifixit looks like much better place for it):
Being conservative, I did not upgrade to Catalina yet. But my children did and deep trouble started. One MacBook ended totally bricked. No magic buttons for various resets helped. No reinstall possible. Machine randomly shut down in less then a minute, sometimes frenetically blinking the display. Even Linux did not finish boot (did you know that a normal Debian usb stick can also boot on Mac?). Problem was deep, and that deep part is called EFI firmware. Once broken, no software can fix it.
Quick search revealed the problem is widespread. Hundreds of frustrated users on various forums. Some articles about it. Just search for "catalina" and "bricked". Standard Apple answer seemed to be replacement of the logic board. Users gritted their teeth and either paid a hefty price or tried a non-Apple service - and got it fixed for much less.
I considered my own rusted hardware skills and faithfully brought MacBook to Apple. And I got the now standard answer: Failed logic board. After a few emails, I got staff's sympathy but not a better price.
I directly contacted the highest Apple management. I was a bit creative in choosing the right channel for this nontrivial task - I'll keep details for myself but I did it without using any previous personal links I might have had. And I got a very warmhearted answer. Apple assured me that their engineers are now seriously looking into the problem. And my MacBook was repaired for free. I asked about fellow sufferers who are in a similar situation and the answer was promising, yet still not concrete: Engineers are working on it and future solution may involve e.g. software updates or extending warranty in some cases.
For those trapped with a bricked MacBook just now - what are the practical steps to take? I have only my personal guess with no guarantees of any type, albeit this guess is based on very extensive searches all over the net. Try authorized Apple service. Describe what happened and ask about updating EFI firmware via hardware tool or free replacement of the logic board even after the warranty period. Official Apple policy may allow one of these by the time you ask.
If this fails and you don't want to pay for the logic board nor do you want to negotiate further, you have many unofficial options. I tried none of them so decisions and risks are all yours (including risk that problem is not in EFI but in SMC firmware which could also brick a Mac, or there might really be a hardware fault). Here is my list:
- macstube.de in Munchen does the repair for EUR 189. They un-solder the EFI firmware chip, re-program and solder back. They did it many times.
- appleguru.cz in Prague say they could fix it for CZK 6.990 or just CZK 3.990 if you say magic word "VaclavBrick".
- www.cmizapper.com sells a small thing called Matt Card for EUR 65 incl. delivery, you just stick it into the logic board. Unscrewing pentalobe screws is up to you but no soldering, no cables. They mention Catalina problems can be fixed with this. They also sell Medusa tool which you may prefer if you want to fix more Macs. Looks very professional to me.
- www.macunlocks.com has thing similar to Matt Card for GBP 50 plus delivery. (They also plan to make fix possible via their EFI Bios Master tool in the future.)
- People messing with things have seen similar EFI problems before - caused not by Catalina but by improper use of software called "clover". This is your keyword to find their adventurous ways to fix it using tools like Raspberry Pi, e.g. here: https://www.ghostlyhaks.com/forum/macboo...
I am grateful to Apple that I personally did not have to try any of these and wish them success in analyzing what was wrong in Catalina and improving service - maybe adding something like Medusa tool among permitted methods of repair (much more environment friendly, isn't it?) and maybe deciding to replace logic boards for free in the meantime. Because Apple always was a cult of things done well for their users and it is hard to imagine this mess would not be fixed.
Update: I have another MacBook in my family which shuts down randomly every few hours after being touched by Catalina. This is how it started with the first one, later escalating to total brick. So I might need the fix myself soon.