M2 MacBook Pro Screen Swaps are Kinda Haunted?
Tech News

M2 MacBook Pro Screen Swaps are Kinda Haunted?

Things break all the time, and we all have different ways of dealing with broken goods. It’s our job at iFixit to encourage people to consider fixing these things instead of throwing them out. Whether they do it themselves, give it to an independent repair shop, or go back to the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for repair services doesn’t matter. What does matter is having all of those options available, including DIY. So imagine the frustration of running into a repair roadblock, intentionally placed there by the OEM, to prevent DIY and franchise-independent repairs. 

More and more, we’re seeing this happen through software locks like parts pairing. For the uninitiated, parts pairing is a particularly egregious anti-repair tactic, especially when employed in critical infrastructure like agriculture and medicine.

While investigating murmurs from our community, we identified a potential parts pairing issue affecting screen swaps on the 14” MacBook Pro M1 and M2 devices. While parts pairing interferes with True Tone on all models, of particular concern is the artifacting that appears on all screen swaps on the 14” models.

14″ MacBook Pro M1 and M2 screen swaps result in these unsightly artifacts at the top of the screen.

It’s puzzling that this would happen at all, especially since the 16” models appear to accept donor screens without any artifacting. What’s more, our community members report that OEM screens bought through Apple’s Self Service Repair program will also present the same artifacting right up until System Configurator is deployed. The fact that Apple’s OEM screens are presenting the same symptoms suggests that this is a software issue.

While that solution remains under lock and key in Apple’s System Configurator, independent repair shops are reportedly transferring the IC’s on the TCON boards from a donor screen to the new screen as a fix for the problem since the calibration data and serial numbers reside on those IC’s.

Of course, this repair will only work if the IC’s from the original display are still intact. Only then can the individual IC’s be removed by applying a controlled amount of heat (too little and the solder won’t melt and too much will burn the IC), reball the IC’s, and install them on another screen by again carefully applying heat. Needless to say, this type of repair is well beyond the average DIY’er.

We reached out to Apple three weeks ago for a comment or explanation as to what might be going on here. In the meantime, we posed the same question to Hector Martin from the Asahi Linux project. As someone who reverse-engineers Apple’s systems day in and day out, he’s the go-to subject matter expert:

That’s 100% a matrix backlight calibration issue.

[…]it all seems to be mostly automagically handled by the [Display Coprocessor (DCP)] firmware and the panel/TCON. My understanding is there has to be both some sort of factory calibration and some sort of running aging data store to keep the backlight consistent over time.

It would be very much appreciated if Apple could help document these things and provide tooling to do things “right” that works for things like swapping parts between machines, but it’s definitely not a case of deliberately making repair difficult. It’s more like nobody at Apple puts any effort into making repair easy (because that’s not something they’re told to care about / spend time on).

Hector Martin, Asahi Linux Project

So here we’re presented with an alternative possibility to parts pairing, a far more likely narrative even. The higher ups at Apple simply don’t care. Let’s be clear though: they care about what they make, they assign massive manpower and resources to maximize the user experience, and they are uncompromising in their demand for quality. They just don’t care about anything that happens outside that narrowly defined focus. And DIY or independent repair, and the maintenance of hardware outside the Apple ecosystem, falls outside that focus.

I have to admit, what I see on the screen could definitely pass as a calibration issue. Nothing about it has the clean, typically Apple-like approach of warning you about a disabled feature. It just sorta kinda doesn’t work properly. Does disabling True Tone constitute parts pairing? Yeah, probably. Does this artifacting issue? Given what we’ve learned, probably not. 

Regardless of whether this is a calibration issue, a software bug, or parts pairing, we must ensure that the problem is corrected lest manufacturers start using such incidental failures as de facto parts pairing mechanisms designed to prevent repair. It’s not like Apple is the only device manufacturer running calibration software, some Samsung and Google components also require calibration. But unlike Apple, Samsung and Google have made at least some of their calibration software available to the public. 

We get it, not every manufacturing process can be controlled within a narrow tolerance and these screens appear to be an example of that, where to achieve the best picture quality requires the additional step of calibrating each and every screen. And kudos to Apple for going the extra mile, they are masterful at squeezing every ounce of performance out of their hardware (it’s not just the screens, examples abound). That doesn’t preclude public calibration software and, intentional or not, it’s not a reasonable justification for preventing DIY repair. 

For now, while you can still repair your 14” MacBook Pro either through the Self Service Repair program or an indy repair shop, DIY repairs of the 14” MacBook Pros will have to wait for Apple to release the software fix. Unless you want to go off and learn BGA soldering.

Apple can resolve this issue by pushing an update, releasing the calibration firmware, or at least allowing DIY’ers to call in and use System Configurator through the Self Service Repair program. Our hope is that Apple will choose to do one of these things voluntarily. With Right to Repair legislation sweeping the nation, they soon may not have a choice in the matter.