Successful replacement of my Macbook Pro’s keyboard – some tips

Last week, my wife left her (red, non-diet) soda next to my Macbook Pro on our kitchen counter, and the inevitable happened:  my 2-year-old son tossed something up on the counter and knocked the soda over right into the keyboard of my laptop.  (This is the third laptop-spill incident that my wife has been involved in — the previous 2 were on her Dell, which I’d fixed and replaced.  Here’s hoping she actually listens to me about not putting liquids next to laptops this time).  Fortunately, the laptop was still functional, though the keys were sticky and the “f” key in particular was completely nonfunctional.  I tried taking the key apart, cleaning underneath with rubbing alcohol, and replacing the key, but it didn’t work.  (As a side-note to all of you out there learning this the hard way, one thing you should do if this happens to you is to unplug it, remove the battery, turn it upside down with the display opened at a 90-degree angle after toweling it off, and let it dry out.  My wife toweled it off, but didn’t do any of the other stuff, risking electrical damage.  Thankfully that didn’t happen).

I ordered a replacement keyboard from applecomponents.com.  Despite the amateurish web design, the service was solid, and I received my keyboard (in new, not used, condition) in a well-packed box in just 3 days from the west coast.  I have a Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro (the late-2006 “Merom” edition, not the later “Santa Rosa” edition).  The guys at ifixit.com have a nice, detailed guide for replacing such a keyboard.  I’ve used their guides before for replacing my hard drive.  I like that they have large, clear pictures for each step, and that they effectively highlight where the screws are.

Now, this is not for the faint of heart.  Obviously I’ve done this a few times (including with my old G4 powerbook, which was easier to muck with).  If you endeavor upon such a thing, you’ll want to make sure you have separate containers for the screws from each step, so that when you put it back together, you’re not wondering which parts go where.  (I used baby-food cups).  I will say that though ifixit’s guide got me most of the way there, there were a few minor issues with their instructions.

Specifically, step 9 is troublingly sparse on detail about how exactly to get the upper case free from the front of the case (near the optical drive).  They mention “rocking it back and forth”.  This is totally, completely insufficient.  There are 3 or 4 HARD LOCKING SNAPS in place in this portion of the case.  After lifting up the back portion of the case (which is screwed tight, after you’ve removed the screws) as described in the ifixit guide, you really, really have to pry this sucker open.  The first time I did it, it took a long time.  I thought it should come apart rather naturally given the instructions, but you have to apply quite a bit more force than is indicated in the guide.  I honestly thought I was going to break it until it snapped apart, and everything was fine.

The other issue I have is ifixit’s pithy “follow these instructions in reverse order” reassembly instructions.  Seriously, that’s all they give you.  Sure, that’s sufficient to get the cables reconnected & screws back in place, but it tells you NOTHING about how to properly mount and install the keyboard.  I had to assemble/unassemble/reassemble 3 more times before I got the keyboard sitting just right (not bowing).  Also, the first time I screwed the keyboard back in place, I had forgotten to thread the backlight connector down through the tiny hole where it attaches.  Regarding the proper mounting, one issue is that there are tabs on the back/top of either side of the keyboard that must be pushed fairly far into place to prevent upward “bowing” of the keyboard (ie, keys sticking up at an angle).  It’s entirely possible to get the tabs into the proper slot, but for the keyboard to still bow up after reassembly — you’ll need to take it apart & then push the tabs further into place (mine had a bit of a “click” when they got all the way in — but I did have to force it).  The other issue is that the “tabs” (which are really sharp pointed needles of metal rather than what one might think of as a “tab”) at the top of the keyboard have to be carefully aligned and pulled into place to get the keyboard taught and satisfactorily installed.  (Unless you like bleeding, you’ll need needlenose pliers.  This is not listed as a “required material” in the guide.  Sure, I have them, but it’s a small nit about the guide itself).

One last thing you might want to consider when doing this is a can of compressed air for cleaning out the insides while you’re in there.  Mine was fairly clean, but it doesn’t hurt to blow out the dust, since excessive dust buildup can lead to static discharges and shorts.  Anyway, my keyboard is literally as good as new now.  Hopefully the extra tips here will help out someone else in a similar situation.

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4 Responses to “Successful replacement of my Macbook Pro’s keyboard – some tips”

  1. Anonymous says:

    So… Your computer was on the KITCHEN counter next to a drink, and your SON knocked over said drink, and yet, this is all your wife’s fault? How about telling your dumbfuck son to stop throwing shit up on counters or keeping your computer in, oh say, AN OFFICE. Crazy ideas, huh?

  2. cantankerouscoder says:

    Wow, why didn’t I think of that? Actually, I had. But, much like retarded internet trolls such as yourself, neither my wife nor 2 year olds in general take much interest in listening to what I say unless something happens to finally break. Now run along back to your mother’s basement.

  3. oldag says:

    if you can read this, you are not a nascar fan.

  4. Murali V says:

    Hi Cantankerouscoder !
    Wonderful information. I am really glad you posted this. I am in the process of replacing the keyboard on macbook pro.

    Thank you so much.