Monday, May 19, 2014

A Frustrating Experience Getting a MacBook Pro Repaired by Apple...Otherworld Computer (OWC) Support -- GREAT!

Otherworld Computer (OWC) at -- GREAT!  Apple Support - Not So Good! 

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I've been a lifetime Mac user, starting with my first Mac (and Apple's first Mac) in 1983.

I just had a 2011 model MacBook Pro die on me.   It is perhaps the first in a long line of Macs that have failed on me. I bought my first Mac -- the original Mac -- in 1983 as a senior at Stanford. Since then, I've always had one or two Macs around my home and office. From 1990 through 2005 or so, I had a small business with as many as six staff. I went through two ImageWriter dot matrix printers, a Starmax clone made by Motorola, Performa machines, a really crappy LC550 which was a precursor to the colorful iMacs that came out in 1998, and a Powerbook 100. I still have, in my garages and elsewhere, a Powerbook 540c, Powerbook G3 (Wall Street), Titanium Powerbook, G4 MacBook Pro, and the list goes on.

I've been happy with this 2011 model MacBook Pro. I used OWC's great Data Doubler bracket, which allowed me to put in two laptop-sized hard drives in the laptop. I had to remove the SuperDrive (DVD writer/reader) to do this, but for the past six months, I've enjoyed having a lightning-fast Samsung 250Gb SSD drive along with a pretty huge 1 Tb traditional hard drive, both in my laptop. The speed of starting up my laptop, along with starting applications, was phenomenal, like having a new machine. Having such a large hard drive is pretty important to me, as I keep a huge amount of my electronic life on my laptop.  It has been a very nice arrangement. I did not have to try to coordinate changes in documents across multiple machines, since I used the one laptop for just about everything.  The only downside was that this 15" MacBook Pro was pretty heavy at 5.5 pounds.

Anyway, this 2011 model of MacBook Pro died on me, and after much testing, I was pretty sure that it was a failed graphics processor (GPU).  Various online forums said that this would be a pain to repair since the GPUs are soldered onto the logic boards, necessitating a replacement of the logic board.

I took this to the local Apple Store Genius Bar.  The guy there confirmed that there was likely a problem with the GPU and said that I could have this fixed internally for over $500 or they could send it to a “flat rate repair” place (also internal?) that would check the entire laptop over and fix everything for $310.  I said that would be fine and was happy that this could be so easy to fix, and at a relatively inexpensive cost.

Alas, and of course, this was not to be.  The Genius guy came back and said sorry, you need to put in the original DVD burner.  Evidently, by removing the DVD burner to put in an OWC Data Doubler, I had voided the warranty or something (well, it was already out of warranty, so I had done something that was not user-allowable).  Apple would not accept this for repair, flat rate or otherwise, unless I put in an OEM (original equipment) DVD burner.

It was a classic "I have good news for you -- then sorry, I was wrong and the good news I just gave you is now bad news" scenario.  Not bait and switch, but more like giving a dog a taste of a bone and then taking it back.  To his credit, the Genius Bar guy (who I won't name) said that he would not make a note that I had taken out the original DVD burner. He said that I could put in the old DVD burner, bring it back, and they would repair it.

I hate this kind of crap, where you have to do a bunch of meaningless stuff in order to get something done right. I had thrown away my original DVD burner six months ago, once I determined that my new SSD drive and hard drive were working fine. So I asked a couple of friends (thanks as always, Eric Cheng and Lloyd Chambers!) if they had any recommendations. Lloyd told me to give OWC a call. I did so, and this is one of the main points of this blog post. I reached Cynthia at OWC tech support. Man, was I impressed. Cynthia knew what was going on and suggested that I buy a used DVD burner on Ebay. She said that OWC could probably repair this, but it would probably cost more than the $310 flat rate that Apple quoted me. I thanked her and decided to go look for a used DVD burner as she suggested.

An hour later, the phone rang and Cynthia left a message. She said that she had thought about my situation some more, and suggested that I look up “GPU replace” under Ebay to find vendors with high ratings that could do this GPU repair. She stated that this should be a simple solder replacement, under $200.

I was impressed! Seriously. This is the first time in my memory that any company has actually called me back to offer a suggestion on a problem that I am having. She and OWC were not trying to sell me anything – they were just recommending a service. It was a little creepy that she captured my phone number, but I've know a long time that whenever I dial an 800 toll-free number, that the company on the other end can capture what number I am calling from. I have to give Cynthia and OWC five stars for going above and over what any other company would do.

I looked for  “GPU repair” on Ebay, and I found several vendors offering to replace bad GPUs on MacBook Pros. This tells me that this is a known, recurring problem with these units.  I usually use this laptop hooked up to a 24" monitor and wonder if the heat damaged the GPU  Seems like this has happened enough that there are vendors offering this specific solution to my problem, which is suspicious. As I wrote earlier, this is the first Mac I've had that has died on me, and I've only used it for two years. It's too bad that I've had to run through hoops to get it repaired and will have to pay $300 or more to get it repaired.

I ended up buying a used DVD burner on Ebay and putting it into my machine. I took it back to the Apple Store for their flat-rate repair.  I've waited until the machine is back and running, and in my hands, before posting my experience. 

I was not impressed with Apple Support and the repair process.  Here's an email I ended up sending to some kind of supervisor in Apple Support:

Dear Jason:

Thanks for helping me out yesterday.  I am concerned that my laptop is still in limbo, waiting my authorization.  I see no evidence that it has been approved for repair.   My case ID is: 60892dddd

If I go to the link in my email from yesterday titled: Apple Store Service Request R12219dddd:

Then I see the same page that gives me only the option of paying for the repair at $610 or "Have Apple return the product to you unrepaired."

I hope you recall our conversation.  I turned in this early-2011 MacBook Pro (serial xxxx) to the Apple Genius Bar at Del Monte Center in Monterey, CA  93940 on May 9.

A week earlier, I spoke to [first genius] at that Genius Bar who confirmed that the problem with my Mac (gray screen upon startup, crashes if it does startup, and six vertical bars appearing in Safe Boot Mode) was a GPU failure.  On May 2, [first genius] quoted me the price to repair this laptop would be the flat rate repair service price of $310.

I took the laptop back to consider my options, and on May 9, I delivered the laptop to [nnn] at the Genius Bar in the same store.  [second genius] (Employee 135987dddd) quoted me the same $310 flat rate repair service and assured me that this service would look at the entire laptop and would cover any other repairs needed.  He removed the hard drive and RAM from the laptop since the hard drive and RAM were non-Apple items and he did not wish to confuse the repair folks ("Repair Depot").  I asked him if this was really necessary; he pretty much ignored my question and I did not press him, assuming that he knew better.

I discussed with you why I received a new quote for $610 rather than $310.  I emailed you the Genius Bar Work Authorization which showed that $310 flat rate repair quote and also a $19.95 "portable shipping charge" which was surprisingly added without my knowledge beforehand.

You spoke to [first genius] in the Del Monte Store, and you discovered that the additional $300 fee was because Repair Depot was charging to replace the missing hard drive and RAM (which I have in my possession, and which your Apple Genius Bar staffperson removed despite my objections).  You told me that [first genius] was going to make a notation in the repair process that the RAM and hard drive had been removed by Apple Store personnel; that the RAM and hard drive did not need to be replaced as part of this repair; that I would not need to take any further action, and that the repair would proceed and be done for the $310 that I was quoted.

Jason, I hope you will follow through on this and make sure that my repair for $310, or up to 329.95 without tax as quoted is indeed approved and going through the repair process.  I am concerned that it may be stuck in the process waiting my authorization, and I have only the choice of authorizing the higher, non-valid $610 price.

I hope that you will see to it that I receive a proper email so that I can see that the work has been authorized, or make sure that I am sent a new authorization quoting the $310 rate so that I can authorize the work going forward.

Thanks for your attention to this matter.  The longer I am without my primary laptop, the harder it is to get my work done. Thanks for understanding.
Norbert Wu Productions
Pacific Grove, CA  93950

This kind of thing went on for a while.  Jason replied, telling me that he did not see that my repair was authorized to move forward either.  He told me to call the Apple Store.  I called the Apple Store.  Of course, neither of the geniuses was available to take my call.  After some phone tag, I finally got hold of second genius, who promised that they would honor the $310 price that he had quoted me, and that I should go ahead and authorize the $610 repair.  After some more calls, phone tag, etc -- I authorized the repair.  The rest went smoothly. 

I was surprised that there was so much confusion with this repair.  I would get an email from Apple Support about the repair, talk to an Apple Support supervisor about the repair, but then the supervisor would have to talk to the Genius Bar guy who helped me.  Then the Apple Support guy would get back to me and tell me to talk to the Genius Bar guy.  Of course, that guy was never available.  The ear-splitting Muzak that this particular Apple Store used when they put my on hold was both annoying and damaging to my ears.  I recorded a clip with my iPod and may try to post it here. 

Total times that I had to explain what was going on with my laptop, and explain the repair process to Apple Store and Apple Support: eight times.  Maybe more. 
twice at Apple Store
once to Apple Support first contact
once to Apple Support supervisor
once to Apple Store second genius
followup to Apple Support supervisor
directed to Apple Store first genius
directed to Apple Store second genius
finally picked up repaired laptop at Apple Store.  Thankfully few problems picking it up and paying, finally. 

Apple Support -- not so good.  OWC support -- great.