In 2012, Apple introduced its MacBook Pro Retina—a super sleek laptop with an impossibly high-res screen to match. We’ve been fans of MacBook Pros for a long time—they have a legacy of user-repair and upgradability. But the 2012 MacBook Pro Retina broke with tradition: under the case, we found a non-upgradable machine and a battery glued down to the frame.
The 2012 MBP Retina might have been built for Pros, but it wasn’t built to last. The MacBook Pro Retina line has remained incredibly difficult for users to repair ever since. But broken shouldn’t have to mean the end.
The Problem With the MacBook Pro Retina
We’re firm believers in upgradeable, repairable technology. Electronics should be built with an eye to longevity. Making laptops and other smart devices requires a massive outlay of natural resources, energy, and human effort. According to Apple’s own environmental reports, over its lifetime, a single 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina is responsible for 592 kg of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s 1,305 pounds. Numbers that big are a little hard to conceptualize, so here’s some other things that weigh 1,300 pounds:
The majority of those greenhouse gases (79%, by Apple’s account) are emitted during the production phase—when the materials for your new computer are mined, refined, processed, and assembled into a sleek final product.
Choosing energy-efficient devices helps—but the biggest problem isn’t how we use electronics, it’s how we make electronics. Extending the lifespan of your device is really the best way an individual consumer can mitigate the environmental impact tied to manufacturing. Here’s our rule of thumb when it comes to electronics: get one, use it for as long as possible, repair it, repeat.
Unfortunately, the Retina’s glued-down battery is a big hurdle to that use-as-long-as-possible plan. Unlike earlier models of the machine, the Retina’s battery is an absolute bear for DIYers to tackle. So the life of the laptop is pretty much limited to the life of the battery.
It’s worth noting that laptops normally aren’t designed this way. In a recent analysis of 44 popular devices by 17 different manufacturers, we found that laptops, in general, are still the most repairable portable electronic. Which makes sense; they’re pricey and users expect to use them for a good, long while. Among the laptops that we analyzed from Apple, HP, Dell, LG, Microsoft, and Samsung, only Apple’s and Microsoft’s notebooks stood out as being overly difficult to repair and upgrade.
Of course, even if you can’t upgrade the components, Apple Stores will still replace your MacBook Pro Retina battery when it inevitably wears out for $199. But that’s not an option for every consumer: some people can’t get to an Apple store; some folks need a cheaper, quicker option; and some folks (like us) just prefer to do their repairs at home. Because we’re resourceful like that. What’s more, in most parts of the world, Apple only services their products for 5 years—and the 2012 MacBook Pro Retina is nearing its fifth birthday. Lots of people need their laptops to last for longer than that.
So, when manufacturers like Apple present us with a device that’s impossible to repair, we take it as a challenge: find a way to fix it.
We’ve been looking for a good, consistent DIY repair solution for folks who want to replace their own Retina MacBook Pro battery for a while. But that battery glue makes it really challenging. Even Apple doesn’t remove those batteries—they just replace the whole upper case, including the keyboard. But that makes the replacement part more expensive for owners.
So, what’s a tinkerer to do?
Fixing the Un-Fixable
We experimented with a lot of different options for how best to loosen that adhesive without compromising the battery. We tried heat—our go-to method for adhesive-logged devices. But getting heat to a Retina’s battery adhesive is hard: you either have to push heat through the battery (not safe), or pump enough heat through the keyboard and trackpad to turn your laptop into a hot plate (not good).
Heat exhausted, we turned to other solutions. We needed to find a solvent that was powerful enough to cut through the adhesive, gentle enough to not compromise the Li-ion battery cells, safe enough for consumers (and us!) to use, and friendly enough for the environment.
After a lot of testing and dozens of formulations, we came up with a solution. It’s a blend of household chemicals—safe to use, but potent enough to get the job done. The repair is still a fair bit of work: removing the battery requires a lot of caution and patience—but it’s definitely doable with the right tools, the right instructions, and the right adhesive removal technique.
If you’re up for a challenge, and you want a computer that’s back in fighting shape—then swap out the battery of your MacBook Pro Retina. If you’ve never fixed electronics before, try this with a friend who has. Having extra hands comes in handy. Either way, we think the repair is worth the effort—especially if the alternative is discarding the laptop for a new one. A new battery makes all the difference in the world for a laptop’s usability: namely, up to 2-3 more years of battery life. And that’s pretty awesome. Plus, you can say you did it yourself.
Check out the MacBook Pro Retina Battery Replacement instructions here and Battery Replacement Kits for the 2012-2015 Retina MBPs here.