Flexgate failure on Macbooks

What is a Flex Cable?

Macbook Pro Flexgate Cable
Macbook Pro Flexgate Cable

Screens on new Macbooks built after 2015 use a flexible flat cable or flexible printed cable. In Apple’s language, this cable is called flex cable.

This cable is as thin as printer paper. It is made of a flexible film surface, covered (etched) with copper traces. The film surface mostly is flexible enough to handle prolonged bending and flexing.

Exposed traces on Macbook Pro Flexgate Cable
Exposed traces on Macbook Pro Flexgate Cable

However, considering the bending angle of over 90* and infused copper layers which are brittle under stress in a narrow area, we often see these cables getting crippled without any user intervention.

Why do Flex Cables fail on Macbooks?

Crippled FlexGate Cable on A1708 Macbook Pro causing No Backlight
Crippled Flexgate Cable on A1708 Macbook Pro causing No Backlight

Flexgate issues occurred mainly in 2016 and 2017 built Macboks from A1706, A1707 and A1708 series. The cable in these models is a couple of millimetres shorter. Also, the solder mask coating is considered to be thinner, thus causing a drastic cripple when the screen is entirely open or closed. However, from our observations, we also see this problem occurring with the 2018 model Macbooks. We also anticipate the newer models to experience a similar failure as time passes, caused by crippling or dust/debris collected between the Flexgate cable and slowly wearing out or puncturing paper-thin exposed cable.

In addition, it is the area where all the heat generated by the logic board is trapped. This is the area where its serial number is engraved. If we touch underneath our Macbook, we will notice the top middle area of the Macbook is hotter than others.

Visible crack on Flexgate traces on the backlight FlexGate cable of A1708 Macbook Pro
Visible crack on the traces of the backlight Flexgate cable of A1708 Macbook Pro

The same area is where the flex cable is. Hence it is under immense heat pressure, breaking down the cable’s flexibility.

Difference between Previous Generation Retina Screens and Current Generation Retina Screens

2013-2015 Macbook Pro Retina Screen2016 and Newer Macbook Pro Screens

Apple’s design principles have changed (some may say “evolved”) over the years. Models before 2016, retina screens used a tick strip of cables. They run on the side of the hinges and into the LCD panel.
Nowadays, four ribbon flex cables go across the screen, connecting it to the main board. These cables are located next to or between the exhaust areas. Therefore, they are causing a fair amount of dust and debris directed around them. This section of the LCD strip (flex cable) is located where the logo is printed on the LCD panel cover and continues towards the bottom, where the serial number is engraved.

Identifying Macbook Flexgate Failure

Macbook Pro text visible if we shine a light on the screen - Macbook Flexgate on A1708
Macbook Pro text visible if we shine a light on the screen – Macbook Flexgate on A1708

Macbook Flexgate failure doesn’t usually happen overnight, and it deteriorates slowly.

As the Flexgate backlight cable loses its flexibility, imprinted copper layers start to crack, which Results in partial separation of the backlight power lines. As a result, they transmit higher voltage and current to keep up with the LED backlight brightness.

  • At the initial stage, we may notice some Staggering effects on the backlight of the LCD where some rows of the LED backlight may initiate while others do not.
  • In other cases, we may notice the screen backlight comes on when the screen is open under a particular angle.
  • Often the result is a complete backlight loss. Due to the internal traces of the Flexgate cable breaking down and the LED backlight not initiating on the screen.

A missing backlight on Macbooks should not be confused with the Macbook Backlight Issues caused by Electronic failure of the Logic Board.

Why is it essential to shed light on this?

Faulty Macbook Screens
Faulty Macbook Screens

Although we all believe this is over-engineering with an LCD panel functionality. There are too many failure points on new Macbooks. Another failure point on Macbook screens quite often is the thin and fragile LCD matrix, which flexes and turns black or experiences colourful lines even with a superficial impact. This matrix is not made of glass anymore, but rather nylon layers. Those layers bent under pressure which causes the liquid to leak and turn the screen black.

We still remember when a magnetic charger Macbooks would come to our workshop all dented and scuffed from drops and impacts with a solid undamaged screen!

Planned or UnPlanned, we see this trend unfolding across all consumer and non-consumer electronics. They seem designed not to outlast their predators, sometimes even their own packaging.
Each newer model comes with a more complex design. This creates a plethora of failure points and forces consumers to bin them and buy new every 2-4 years.

What does this do to our Planet?

Inside Ghana’s ‘graveyard’ for Europe’s e-waste

Although Apple claims they offset their emissions by planting new trees. Each new Macbook requires precious metals to be mined from the ground or synthetic materials manufactured. While a perfectly repairable and reasonably performant Macbook is left to rot or dismantled and burned somewhere in third-world country landfills – i.e. ToxicCity, eWaste Hell, The eWaste Basket of the World.

Albeit not documented or reported recently due to the issue’s sensitivity. Practices, unfortunately, continue as we generate more e-waste than anyone can be reimbursed to process and recycle.
Plus, new devices are being built with a visual design in mind first. Often by gluing all parts together rather than using screws or latch mechanisms. This makes disassembling, repairing or even processing them as eWaste almost impossible without burning or melting altogether. Resulting in immense emissions and pollution.

Why Planned Obsolescence is unsustainable!

Engineering design practices entirely amend or ignore these devices’ Repairability or Recyclability. The Right to Repair movement aims to address that, although, with the high-profit stakes and fastly changing mentality towards accommodating short-lived devices, we do not know how much it can affect the current situation.

The saddest part of all this is that soon we will not have an alternative of purchasing a long-lasting device even if we want to. Due to high-quality device manufacturers being slowly pushed out of the business by low-quality volume manufacturers. Think of 20$ Pedestal fans on our curbsides every Autumn or 10$ Target/Kmart toasters that barely last a year. Where do they all end up when thrown away?
We as consumers do not object to these practices of not-that-cheap electronics filling up world landfills.