Flexgate: MacBook Pro display backlight issue - Is it repairable?
MacBooks are awesome, yes? Well, yes, until they’re not.
In this article, we’re going to talk about how Apple botched up the redesign of its MacBook Pro lineup, causing a lot of users a lot of financial and mental stress.
If you’ve landed on this page through Google search, you’re probably suffering from a faulty display in your MacBook Pro.
Before we proceed: If you’re facing intermittent horizontal lines at the bottom of your display, it’s not flexgate. Your MacBook has a faulty T-CON board. Read all about it here: MacBook Pro: Horizontal lines on Screen? 2016-2017 Model
What is this "Flexgate" issue?
Flexgate is an unofficial term for display backlight related issues caused by a fractured display flex cable. This flex cable is what connects the display to its controller logic board (aka T-CON board). It is a very delicate part. Due to a recent design flaw, it now tends to break over time through repeated opening and closing of the lid.
Which models are impacted by the Flexgate issue?
This design flaw primarily afflicts the MacBook Pro 2016 and 2017 models. Both 13 inch and 15 inch models are affected.
- A1707 - MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2016-17, Touchbar model)
- A1706 - MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016-17, Touchbar model)
- A1708 - MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016-17, non-Touchbar model)
Apple made a minor change in the 2018 model to circumvent this flex cable issue. But in our experience here at Fixxo, even a few 2018 & 2019 models suffer from it. Of course, the frequency of such issues is much lower now.
What are the symptoms?
Your MacBook may exhibit one or multiple of the following behaviours:
- Stage light effect: The display backlight shows alternatively bright and dim areas along the entire bottom of the screen, creating a distinctive “stage light” effect. This is usually the initial symptom, and may progress into the more serious #2 or #3 symptoms.
- Backlight turns off after opening the lid beyond a certain angle: The display works fine when you just open the lid but goes black suddenly when you open it all the way up. It comes back on again if you reduce the lid angle. It’s a peculiar behavior, and is a clear indicator of a damaged Flex cable.
- Complete backlight failure: This is, sort of, the last stage, wherein the backlight is completely off. The display looks blank (or black?). It is easy to confuse this symptom with other faults, because a blank display could mean various different things. But if you observe very closely or shine a flashlight into the display, you’ll notice that it is not actually blank. You’ll be able to see the pictures and text on the screen. It’s just too dim to be visible - meaning the backlight is not functional.
- Graphic Glitches: This particular behaviour is slightly different. The backlight doesn’t act up. Display stays bright but shows graphic glitches - may start showing negative colours, or a tint of a certain colour throughout the entire screen, with a vertical patch of varying brightness and colour.
What actually causes this?
The MacBook Pro line underwent a major redesign in the year 2016.
Up until 2015, the MacBook display controller or logic board used to be tucked inside the hinge cover at the bottom of the display. It was part of the “lid”, so the wire connecting to it ran inside the hinge cover and was never moved or disturbed.
2016 onwards, this board is separate from the display panel. It sits inside the top case or main chassis beneath the touch bar. The flex cable connecting the display to this board is wrapped around the hinge. It is a spring-ed ribbon cable. It pulls taut each time you open the lid, and relaxes when you close the lid. This makes it susceptible to breakage after months or years of usage.
The flex/ribbon contains multiple cables. Usually the backlight cable gives way first, causing various backlight related faults. The damage progresses in stages:
- When the cable hasn’t broken but just some connection lines are worn off, it manifests as the stage light effect.
- The next stage is when the cable is cracked but remains connected while it is loose. When you open the lid, the cable is stretched and the connection breaks. This is symptom #2 wherein the display goes blank when you open the lid beyond the half-way point.
- The last stage is when the cable is completely fractured. Complete backlight failure leads to a black display.
- In cases where the graphics related flex cable breaks instead of the backlight cable, the symptom #4 is observed.
How did Apple respond?
Apple’s response in such matters usually follows the same template:
Step 1: Radio Silence. They waited and watched, while the noise of complaints grew all around.
Step 2: Quietly introduce a “fix” in the subsequent model. Apple discreetly increased the length of the flex cable in 2018 model MacBooks. Just by ~2mm. This would reduce the stress on the cable, thereby reducing chances of damage. Thus Apple tried fixing an issue they hadn’t acknowledged in the first place.
Note: Jury is still out on whether this fix solves the problem or just delays the eventual failure. In our experience at Fixxo, 2018-19 models continue to face flex cable issues, however not in as large numbers.
Step 3: Introduce a replacement program. Finally, Apple couldn’t ignore the public backlash anymore and introduced a free display replacement program.
Display Backlight Service Program by Apple
In May 2019, Apple launched a free display replacement program for the flexgate issue, thus acknowledging a flaw in the hardware design.
But wait .. this program is valid only for “13-inch MacBook Pro 2016 model”, however it is amply clear the design flaw actually impacts both 13-inch and 15-inch variants of 2016 as well as 2017 models. Well..
What if my MacBook is not eligible for the display service program?
If yours is a 13-inch MacBook Pro 2016 model, and the purchase date is between October 2016 and February 2018, you’re eligible for Apple's free display replacement program. Congratulations! Take it to an Apple Authorized Service Provider. There are a number of fake AASPs around, careful!.
If your MacBook isn’t eligible for the program, you’ll unfortunately need to get a paid display replacement. It isn’t cheap. A reputed non-Apple vendor may be your best bet.
Is the Flexgate issue repairable? Yes, it is.
Well, the cable is integrated into the screen, so it cannot be swapped out. So, the standard resolution offered is to replace the entire display panel.
At Fixxo, however, we have recently launched the flexgate repair service. We extend the backlight flex cable by micro-soldering a small piece of replacement cable onto it. It is a highly specialized and sensitive repair. So far, the results have been very encouraging, and we've managed to save our clients a ton of money. By the way, this is also the change that Apple basically introduced in its 2018 MacBooks.
At Fixxo, you may even consider buying a used display panel salvaged from other dead MacBooks. It’s 100% genuine and quite cost-effective. Contact Us to discuss.