Apple Support: It Gets Better

A few months ago, one of the feet on my laptop fell off. I called Apple hoping they could send out a replacement, but AppleCare personnel insisted the foot was attached at the factory, and I couldn’t do my own repair. So, after a few calls, insisting that I have been disassembling laptops for over a decade, I relented and took my machine in for a bottom case swap. At that time there were no other problems with the laptop. When I got the machine back, the next time I used the optical drive, it no longer worked. I had to take it in again and have that swapped.

But then after a few weeks, I noticed the machine was acting strangely. The machine would often hang coming out of sleep or the bluetooth agent would crash when it lost contact with the bluetooth module. The final straw was the keyboard backlight was no longer reliable. I tracked the problems back to the SMC unit. The SMC’s (System Management Controller) settings are stored in non-volatile RAM. It is responsible for the things that keep a Mac cool and responsive, even when the OS is not running. Fans rev’ed up? That’s the SMC noticing one of the heat sensors your machine is too hot. Machine sleep when the battery is down to 1%? That’s the SMC in action. The SMC handles these and other essential machine operations as well. The only way to clear the SMC’s settings is to hold down the power key until the power LED blinks rapidly.

With less than a month left of my 3 years of AppleCare, I knew I had to act fast or else suffer the same fate as my iPhone 4. My iPhone 4’s home button started failing to respond about a month before the 1 year warranty was up. I was traveling a lot at the time and didn’t have a chance to take it in until after the warranty expired. Apple wouldn’t help me unless I coughed up the full retail value of the phone (with no option  to upgrade at the same time), so I ordered the replacement part (a single home button assembly) and had a 37 step (x2) process standing between me and a working home button.

Despite the sour taste of nasty tier 2 AppleCare, and clumsy Apple Geniuses destroying optical drives and frying components, I called AppleCare once more. The Apple representative’s attitude was 180° different than the previous AppleCare rep. He encouraged me to take it in and even made an appointment for me. (The previous Tier 2 refused to do anything to help me saying he couldn’t make appointments.) The Apple Genius at the store was knowledgable and quickly came to the same conclusion based on my symptoms. The fact that I had already wiped the drive, reinstalled the OS and cleared out the SMC a few times with no luck, helped.

Unfortunately, the SMC is on the main logic board, and they didn’t have my model’s main board in stock. But the part came in a few days later. I got a call from the AppleCare representative who made the appointment the same day I received an email letting me know the part came in. He made an appointment for me to have the board actually swapped out.

When I got to my appointment, I checked in and the technician wanted to confirm the problem with Apple’s testing tools. I told him that the problem would not show up since the SMC’s memory was not tested with the tools they have at the genius bar. He was a bit surprised at my depth of knowledge, but insisted on running a diagnosis. But when he went to read the notes, the previous genius (who also handled my Optical drive swap coincidentally) made some sort of note that made him decide the first appointment’s diagnosis would be sufficient to facilitate the repair.

When I got the laptop back, I put it through its paces: setting and resetting the backlight, toggling the bluetooth devices on and off, sleeping and waking my machine quickly to see if it balked. (If anyone knows of better/automated SMC memory tests, let me know.) All in all, it was one of the most positive experiences I have had with tech support, Apple or any other PC manufacturer. Now I wonder if they still offer AppleCare warranty extensions. Usually, at about 3 years, I consider upgrading to one less than bleeding edge, but with this latest OS update, this machine could easily handle another 2 years of my needs in terms of speed.

This whole experience reminds me of what calling apple Support used to be like: employees that wanted to fix your problem and make everything work instead of passing the buck and making excuses.

PS: The SMC reset also works on iPads that fail to charge as well. Just hold down the top button when powering it up until it resets and reboots. You will lose a few settings though.

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