MacBook Pro: Horizontal lines on Screen? 2016-2017 Model
Does your MacBook Pro screen start showing ominous horizontal lines at the bottom and top of the screen? Does it worsen with long intense usage? Goes back to normal if you keep it shut down overnight?
As awesome as they are, most Apple MacBook models do tend to have some flaw - design or build quality related - and quite often that flaw blows up massively. After endless discussions on online forums, avalanche of tech articles, petitions and lawsuits, the defect is acknowledged by the company. In some cases, they even start a “Quality Program”, under which the affected devices are offered a free service even outside warranty. Some of the major “defects” over the years have been MacBook Pro 15inch Battery Issue, Butterfly keyboard issue, FlexGate: MacBook Pro Display Backlight Issue etc.
The issue at hand is called “T-CON board display issue”.
What are the symptoms?
- The MacBook Pro screen starts to develop grey or black horizontal lines from the bottom edge (sometimes the top), typically 1-2 cm “tall”. This band of lines is often flickering/strobing.
- The issue usually occurs when the laptop is used intensively for long hours. It gradually increases with time.
- The lines may completely disappear if you shut down the MacBook and let it cool for a few hours. This of course depends on how far damaged it is. In early stages, it may be completely reversible. In the worst case scenario, the entire screen is covered with lines rendering the device unusable.
Note: Is your MacBook display showing Stage Light Effect - alternatively bright & dim areas along the bottom of the display? Or is it going blank when you open the lid beyond a certain angle? If yes, it is not a T-CON board issue. Although both impact the same MacBook models, that issue is actually entirely different. Read about it here: Flexgate: MacBook Pro display backlight issue - Is it repairable?
Which MacBooks are impacted?
Technically, all MacBook Pro models launched after 2016, with an Intel CPU chip inside, would be vulnerable to this issue. These include 13 inch, 15 inch, even 16 inch devices. Model Numbers: A1706, A1707, A1708, A1989, A1990, A2159, A2141. MacBooks with Apple M1 chips are considered safe.
However, in our experience here at Fixxo, the 13 inch MacBook Pro non Touch Bar model 2016-17 (Model A1708) is the most frequently impacted model. There is a technical explanation for this. Read on.
[Not sure which MacBook you own? Read this: How to identify your MacBook model?]
Why does this happen?
It is believed to be a design flaw from Apple. Poor thermal management leads to the display logic board (T-CON board) getting cooked from overheating.
All MacBook displays have a small logic board of their own. Up until 2015 this board used to be tucked inside the hinge cover at the bottom edge of the display. It was part of the “lid”, removed from the main chassis. 2016 onwards, this board, while still being connected to the display, sits inside the top case or main chassis (read: keyboard panel). It is mounted very close to the heatsink radiator.
There is hardly any air circulation in the T-CON board compartment, making it extremely vulnerable to damage from overheating. This could be triggered by clogged or malfunctioning fans, dust build-up in the heatsink fins, or even poor air circulation around the MacBook (think using MacBook on a pillow).
Disclaimer: Please be informed that this explanation is offered by independent experts (hat tip to Mr Dan at iFixit). Apple hasn’t verified this theory. For more discussion around it check this and this.
Why is the 13 inch non Touch bar model 2016-17 especially vulnerable?
Simple - the 13 inch non Touch Bar model (A1708) has a single internal Fan, while most of the other MacBook Pro models 2016 onwards, have two (don’t ask why!). This leads to insufficient heat management, ergo higher chances of conking off.
Is there a resolution?
Yes, but it is expensive - getting the display replaced. The T-CON board is attached to the display assembly, and there’s no way to replace the board alone. So, display assembly replacement is the only real, sure-shot solution.
“If it is a design flaw, won’t my new display also get damaged?” you ask? Good question. Unfortunately, yes, you do run that risk. But, now, with this new-found knowledge, you can proactively avoid any overheating in your MacBook. Read the What can I do to avoid this? section below. Follow that, and you can almost certainly avoid recurrence.
If your device is still under warranty, you’re in luck! For a free replacement, walk in to an Apple Authorized Service Provider (there are a number of fake AASPs around, careful!). If the warranty has expired, consider bringing it to us at Fixxo, for competitive pricing, top-notch quality, great customer support and quick TATs!
Is there a resolution without burning a hole in my pocket?
Well, I wish I could say “yes”. Your only hope really is that you have alerted at a very early stage of this “ailment”.
- Shut down the MacBook. Let it cool overnight. Try using again the next day - if the lines don’t reappear after a couple of hours, voila! Do read the next section for precautions.
- If those stubborn lines keep reappearing, well, it is only a matter of time. Display assembly replacement is the only end-game. To delay the inevitable, read the next section.
[Secret Tip: Some users have reported to have successfully squeezed a free out-of-warranty replacement from Apple. Maybe try that if you’re feeling lucky!]
What can I do to avoid this?
Basically, keep the MacBook cool:
- Make sure to regularly service the MacBook - good thermal paste, clean fans, clear heat sink vents go a long way.
- Install a good thermal monitoring app (like TG Pro), and set it to kick the fans on sooner.
- Never use these MacBooks (or any laptops for that matter) on the bed or a pillow. For better airflow and ventilation, keep the MacBook on a table or a hard surface.
- Manage the processor load! Don’t overdo it. Fewer chrome tabs, smaller rendering jobs.
If it is a design flaw, shouldn’t there be a recall program?
Well, what can you say. Apple hasn’t acknowledged there is a design flaw. The good news is that there is a lot of pressure building up online towards this cause [too little, too late?]. If and when Apple does relent, it’ll appear on the Apple Service Programs page. Keep checking!
Until then, to support the campaign, you can sign this petition, provide feedback to Apple, or just visit an AASP and (politely) give them a piece of your mind.