Apple MacBook Pro Teardown Finds Improved Wireless, Quality Complaints

iFixit's Apple MacBook Pro teardown took a look at the notebook's Intel Thunderbolt technology, discovered perks to its wireless connectivity and questioned Apple's quality control.

iFixit's teardown team got its hands on a new Apple MacBook Pro Feb. 24, the same day Apple introduced two new 13-inch models, two 15-inch models and a 17-incher. With the notebook's innards laid bare, particular points of interest included the MacBook Pro's seemingly improved wireless connectivity, the overall quality of its construction and of course its Thunderbolt port-a brand new connectivity technology created by Apple and Intel.

The Thunderbolt port combines PCI Express and DisplayPort technology into a single connector, to simplify connecting the notebook to peripherals. The iFixit team found that the Thunderbolt port-which it wants to call the "Thunderport," an admittedly catchier name-has its own controller IC.

"The IC is quite prominent on the logic board, being the fourth-largest chip after the CPU, GPU and logic board controller," Miroslav Djuric, iFixit's director of technical communication, said in a press statement. While iFixit is waiting for a company like Chipworks to study the Thunderbolt IC more closely, Djuric adds, "We believe the chip's footprint is a testament to the potential of this port."

Apple, introducing the notebooks, said users can daisy-chain up to six Thunderbolt-supporting devices, which iFixit points out isn't a problem, as "we're not even aware of six products that support Thunderbolt yet." Going forward, however, this could be a bit of an issue, though perhaps one that Intel and Apple will address, as Firewire, by comparison, supports 63 devices and USB supports 127.

Two other points of interest the team came across as it dug in: The MacBook Pro's battery is the same as in earlier models, though Apple now says it achieves 7 hours of battery life instead of 8 to 9. Is Apple being more realistic, or is the quad-core Intel Core i7 processor-another first on an Apple laptop-a little hungrier than its predecessor, the team wondered.

Also, there are no "evil" pentalobe screws on the MacBook Pro's case, like Apple employs to keep owners out of the iPhone 4. The lower case is instead secured with Phillips screws.

When introducing these new notebooks, Apple talked up their processor speeds but made little mention of their wireless connectivity-which may also be faster. Six steps into the teardown, iFixit discovered that "the wireless card received a makeover and now includes four antennas instead of three."

Removing an EMI shield, the team found a Broadcom BCM4331 "wireless solution," seemingly some more good news.

"According to Broadcom," iFixit reports on its site, "this chip provides three transmitting and three receiving streams of data in both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. Increased number of streams and antennas results in faster speeds, longer range, fewer dropped connections, and better overall wireless coverage.'"

Two steps later, though, the team uncovered what looks like toothpaste blobs.

"Holy thermal paste! Time will tell if the gobs of thermal paste applied to the CPU and GPU will cause overheating issues down the road," wrote iFixit, coming across the first issue to make it wonder whether Apple is having some quality control issues with the MacBook Pro. A few steps later, the team also discovered a stripped screw near the subwoofer enclosure and an "unlocked ZIF socket for the IR sensor," two things, said iFixit, that should not be found "inside a completely unmolested computer with an $1,800 base price."

All told, the repair team gave the new Apple MacBook Pro a "very respectable" 7 out of 10 repairability score. The team liked that these new models allow one to disconnect the battery without removing it from the laptop. And that the main board lifts out with the heat sink still attached. Also, that "the unibody design allows for easy access to most of the other components, so it won't be terribly hard to replace things on the machine," wrote Djuric.

The team was less enthusiastic, however, about the LCD's glass display, which it thought could easily shatter, should the LCD need to be replaced.

Still, compared with the 4 out of 10 that the refreshed Apple MacBook Air was rated, the new MacBook Pros seem to be practically perfect tens.