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View Full Version : Design Flaw: Aluminum Bathtub, Single Motherboard




curmudgeon99
Nov 27, 2010, 10:21 PM
First of all, I understand I committed an error and the consequences are my fault.

I bought a MacBook Air for $999. Because of the all-aluminum frame and the no-moving-parts hard drive, I expected it to be durable.
Unfortunately, while moving a coffee cup to my lips, I spilled a drop or two of coffee on my brand-new MacBook Air. It shut down in about 30 seconds forever, a total loss. All my data is 100% gone forever. $700 to repair.

Of course, I am responsible for my own mistake. Yet, when you start to google: " 'MacBook Air' water", you see legions of customers who have encountered this problem. Couple drops of water in the top--total loss.

Why? The aluminum housing acts like a bath tub.

The design decision to include a single aluminum housing came with consequences. It introduced a new vulnerability not shared by a machine with a porous bottom, one that cooled through the bottom instead of through the keys.

The design decision to move away from a spinning hard drive to flash memory chips naked on the motherboard also came with consequences. When your data is within a hard drive, it is pretty safe--it's raised off the bottom of the laptop. Your precious data is safe. When it's on the motherboard, your precious data is naked to the wind.

The failure mode of a laptop with a traditional hard drive is not pretty but it's survivable. It sucks but you can usually recover all your data. It's also rare to have a motherboard and hard drive fail simultaneously. It's actually pretty hard to make a traditional hard drive fail--they are sealed up tightly.
The failure mode of a MacBook Air is obscene: two drops of water, rain--and everything is gone, all of your data. Your entire motherboard, hard drive, memory--everything--is toast.



neteng101
Nov 27, 2010, 10:30 PM
Interesting - never thought about that... recovery of data could pose to be a problem. Possible but much harder - it looks like there will be some USB type enclosure that could work with the SSD, or you could install the SSD into another Air (a bit of an undertaking).

Sorry to hear about your loss. :(

robby818
Nov 27, 2010, 10:37 PM
Yikes, sorry for your loss. Really, a couple of drops can do that to the MBA? I debated whether to remove my moshi keyguard from my old MBP as it doesn't fit the MBA perfectly but now I think I'll leave it in place for awhile. Thanks for sharing.

catdog02481
Nov 27, 2010, 10:46 PM
www.dropbox.com is your friend....

you won't have to worry about data loss or backup (at least up to 100 GB)

bcaslis
Nov 27, 2010, 10:54 PM
Two drops and it's toast? Oh please. :rolleyes:

teski
Nov 27, 2010, 10:56 PM
www.dropbox.com is your friend....

you won't have to worry about data loss or backup (at least up to 100 GB)

You might want to mention that 100GB is $19.99 per month...Not cheap. Skydrive is free from Microsoft and you get 25GB free where dropbox only gives you 2GB for free.

Dropbox is great though, but not cheap beyond that 2GB.

shznt
Nov 27, 2010, 11:05 PM
1: that sucks

2: couldn't you have just turned you MBA upside down? i know this doesn't help YOUR current situation, but maybe it will save a few shiny laptops in the future :)

brdnboy
Nov 27, 2010, 11:39 PM
No Apple notebook made in recent history has any vents or holes of any type on the bottom like many PC's do. This is not a fault of the new "unibody" design. If you are saying that having a mostly sealed enclosure is holding in liquid and causing more damage than it would if the bottom had holes, I disagree. By the time liquid gets held in the bottom in the "bathtub", it has traveled through the keyboard, onto the logic board and other components and past them to settle into the bottom. The same would apply to any computer, except that some excess liquid would seep out easier in other notebooks. By the time this has occurred with any computer it is effectively ruined (will need thorough cleaning and repair). As for the SSD, it is separated from the logic board and is lower as well. Liquid would have to travel over the logic board and down below it to even reach the SSD. I would wager that your data is recoverable if you pulled the SSD and cleaned it up. Also, you did not spill "a drop or two". A few drops will not make it past the keyboard (especially if you wipe it up quickly) to cause any real damage, particularly to the SSD which has an entire logic board between it and the keyboard. There is a bit more to story about the amount of liquid you spilled and what you did afterwards (let it keep running with a decent amount of liquid seeping into the keyboard). Also, the first things to fail when liquid is spilled on a logic board are high power draw items, (magsafe, battery and LCD backlight are most common). The drive is relatively low power and it likely not killed by liquid unless, again, it is substantial.

Thunderbird1
Nov 28, 2010, 12:02 AM
Too bad about the accident, but your 2 drops are more like the cup of coffee splashed into the keyboard. Drops will not do that kind of damage. Being a tech and seeing all the strange things people can accidentally do to their electronic equipment, you would be amazed. Drops will not harm almost anything electronic. In order for it to be 2 drops you would almost need an eye dropper to be that accurate. Good rule of thumb is, don't eat, drink, or carry near liquid items.

Rain does not do damage either, unless it is a torrential down pour. Accidents do happen, but following a few simple guidelines outlined above and no problems along the liquid line will occur.:D

The Viking
Nov 28, 2010, 12:33 AM
While I shed few tears for the OP's loss, there's a good point here: Hard drive data has a lot of gray areas. There is very little you can do to completely destroy your data, so there's always some last resort, even moving the platters to a different housing to recover.

SSD data is pretty much binary: You're either up 100% or you're fscked.

Apple has been shoring up for this for several years. Since introducing Time Machine, they've said "there's no reason not to back up." Plug in any external drive and it'll eagerly await you clicking "yes" so it can get started on protecting your data.

If you don't have Time Machine, then the only failure is the purchase of a $39 external USB hard disk.

We've all got horror stories of data loss (I am missing an entire year's worth of photos from 2004, sadly, after poor decisions on my part). But these days there is such little excuse for not having backups of critical data, either online or off, that it's impossible to muster much sympathy.

Plus, your time machine data is likely stored on spinning platters.

P.S. I'm more prone to spilling than most, and other than some backlit keyboard problems a few years back, I've never suffered serious consequences after removing the battery and turning the laptop (or keyboard) upside down for 48 hours.

naujoks
Nov 28, 2010, 03:14 AM
Two drops! Come on.

KnightWRX
Nov 28, 2010, 03:30 AM
I've had more than 2 drops of water on my MBA and it survives to this day. Be honest at least. :rolleyes:

ZenErik
Nov 28, 2010, 03:36 AM
What does the SSD in the MBA look like? I know that it's non-standard, but I would be surprised if all the chips were exposed. The SSD I popped in my MBP is covered up just fine. If anything, it is covered up much better than a regular HDD.

foiden
Nov 28, 2010, 03:52 AM
The SSD in the MBA isn't in the traditional casing. It looks more like typical memory sticks. Water is bad for any laptop, though. You wouldn't do that even for the white Macbook. And even then, if you want to save the machine, don't wait 30 seconds. Your best bet is to beat it to the punch and immediately shut the machine down. Things eventually dry in 2 days, at the most (unless you really pour some crazy liquid in there). Then, and only then, would you chance to turn it on again.

Sorry about the loss, but if you google for any laptop in existence, you'll find horror stories of spillage and laptops. Liquid is a laptop's worst enemy, and even a few non-towered desktops. It's just that due to portability, more people tend to put laptops at risk by having open drinks near them. I'm paranoid that way, I hardly have anything that isn't a sealed container (spill proof) anywhere close to a laptop. Even my old Gateway machine was kept pristine because I kept drinks away from that thing. I've only had 1 spill incident with an old laptop, and I was fortunate to be quick enough to save that one. I think I shut that down in 5-10 seconds. Gave me a real doozy. The thing practically threatened to not come on again, but in about 2 days, it mostly recovered. I dare not repeat the experience.

Of course, this presents also one of the few advantages of certain small electronics like the iPad. When a system is truly sealed without keyboard holes exposing electronics, it's much harder for liquid to penetrate the stuff. So in a way, stuff like the iPad would be one of the safer electronics to have drinks around, though you still want to avoid it.

Also, when it comes to regular heat, the Macbooks are usually good at dealing with it. From throttling down the electronics, to a fairly efficient way of dispensing heat out through the vent in the back, hinge area, which is fully opened whenever the laptop is open. If you're just doing regular computing, you may want to get a keyboard cover for the keyboard, next time. Yeah, they do often make typing feel just a little bit less awesome than when the keys are exposed, but at the same time, it could truly be a life saver against minor spills. Those things are generally good defenders against the spill, keeping most anything from entering the crevaces of the keyboard while not completely keeping the whole thing sealed from the passage of air. My MBP 2009 has pretty much the same amount of heat dispensing locations as the MBA. It always has the keyboard cover on. Though I've never spilled anything on it. It is a decent peace of mind.

(Take note: I don't know if they have the MBA equivalent keyboard protectors out yet. The sizing may be a tad different given the change to the power button and all. And especially with the 11" having the different sized function keys)

hsl
Nov 28, 2010, 04:08 AM
interesting,.. but the SSD chip is replaceable, so clean it with distilled water and pop into a usb casing and you have all your data back (if the coffee even hit the SSD chip).

naujoks
Nov 28, 2010, 04:14 AM
Reminds me of that scene in "The Naked Gun", where Frank points out to the tall guy who's face is out of the frame that he's got something in the corner of his mouth. Up goes it hand to remove it, and down falls half a banana.

chrono1081
Nov 28, 2010, 04:18 AM
No offense OP but have you ever taken a laptop apart? They are all like this. It doesn't matter about vents anywhere, the water will still land on the motherboard and all over the components before it gets (if it gets which most likely it wont) to any vents. To get to the vents on most laptops you'd have to spill it in exactly the right place, but even then it will hit a metal tray and drift onto the mobo before it hits the fan which will spray it everywhere.

Oh and theres NO way two drops did it. First its almost impossible to spill exactly two drops of water, also if it was two drops it would creep under the keys and hit the little plastic thing under there.

If its ruined I'm pretty positive its more then two drops...

mac jones
Nov 28, 2010, 11:54 AM
Sorry for your loss. Ouch!!

I've done it. Dell D800. Cost my $700 also and that was a few years ago.

I tried to send it in without admiting anything. (has anyone EVER addmited this first? :D )

Anyway, they were very polite when they accused me of being a liar and a cheat, then gave me the bill.

I think if anyone where to somehow do this twice, they would go insane/postal and end up on the 6pm news.

Argon21
Nov 28, 2010, 12:05 PM
Sorry about your misfortune. I cannot comment on the durability or design of the MBA, but the data loss is 100% your own fault.

A 2.5" hard drive costs so little these days, there's no reason not to back up your data. You can get a 250 GB or 320 GB USB drive for under $100. Is your data worth more than $100 to you? Ok, then you need to back it up regularly.

Plus with tools like Carbon Copy Cloner, you can make a bootable clone of your internal drive.

If you want to get more elaborate, you can store your backup drive at your office, girlfriend's house, or even in a safe deposit box at the bank. Storing your backup drive offsite protects your data against whole site disasters (flood, fire, burglars, etc)

BigPrince
Nov 28, 2010, 12:08 PM
I just placed 5 drops on mine on purpose and its still running! I must be incredibly lucky!

miggitymac
Nov 28, 2010, 01:51 PM
Yet, when you start to google: " 'MacBook Air' water", you see legions of customers who have encountered this problem. Couple drops of water in the top--total loss.


I did google "MacBook Air water" and did not find the legions you spoke of. Maybe a handful of people who have damaged their Airs...and none with a couple drops of water.

I guess your exaggerations about the "legions" are balanced out by the down-played amount of water that you spilled right?

Just because something is not waterproof does not make its design flawed.

bcaslis
Nov 28, 2010, 01:57 PM
First he says he spilled coffee (but only two drops!) and he's in multiple threads telling everyone that two drops of water will kill an MBA. Anyone ever spill only drops from a cup of coffee? Either he spilled the whole cup of coffee (why would anyone with a brain hold a cup of coffee over any laptop), or he's completely making this up.

This has got nothing to do with the MBA. Spill enough to kill a laptop and it will kill any laptop from any manufacturer.

DeuxIt
Nov 28, 2010, 02:23 PM
OP: chances are if you purchased the computer with a credit card (visa, mc.amex) not a debit card, you have full purchase protection for30 (or is it 90) days. so act quick and you may be able to get it repaired or replace for no out of pocket $. might also check your homeowners or renters insurance for accidental damage to computers. that's why i have time capsule for my mbp and square trade purchase protection for all my portables.

brdnboy
Nov 28, 2010, 02:29 PM
OP: chances are if you purchased the computer with a credit card (visa, mc.amex) not a debit card, you have full purchase protection for30 (or is it 90) days. so act quick and you may be able to get it repaired or replace for no out of pocket $. might also check your homeowners or renters insurance for accidental damage to computers. that's why i have time capsule for my mbp and square trade purchase protection for all my portables.

Its typically 90 days, so he should be covered in the case of CC purchase.

wordoflife
Nov 28, 2010, 02:31 PM
The only thing I agree is how vulnerable your data is.
I know you can prevent messes and data loss from happening but the MBA doesn't give you a second chance when something unexpected happens, like water damage. At least with a MacBook Pro, you still have pretty decent chances of retrieving your data even if you fry out the rest of your computer.

I guess thats the disadvantage to having the luxury of a thin laptop.

iPhysicist
Nov 28, 2010, 02:52 PM
The motherboard is not coated? That is very uncommon.

Transporteur
Nov 28, 2010, 02:59 PM
Sorry, but who EVER said that an SSD is not mentioned to fail, hence doesn't require a proper backup?

That's an illusion, SSD's fail as much as mechanical discs do. Only because they don't have moving parts doesn't mean that they are bullet proof.

myuserid08
Nov 28, 2010, 03:21 PM
I've spilt a pint of beer on mine, turned it off and let it dry - worked fine a week later!!
I did take it apart later on and cleaned the boards.

So I would say it would take a little more than a "couple of drops" to kill your Air.

double329
Nov 28, 2010, 03:34 PM
I am sorry about the accident. But, I don't know if I want to call it a design flaw? To me a design flaw is something that don't function as the way it was designed to. I don't think Steve indicated any Macbook is a waterproof device. If he did, then I will agree with you that it is a design flaw. I don't eat or drink when I use or near my computer. When I drink or eat, I want to enjoy that. My computer is not anywhere close. Again, sorry about your accident.

JonLa
Nov 28, 2010, 03:54 PM
Wirelessly posted (Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU iPhone OS 4_2_1 like Mac OS X; en-gb) AppleWebKit/533.17.9 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/5.0.2 Mobile/8C148a Safari/6533.18.5)

Where did the drops land on the air? Keyboard?

animatedude
Nov 28, 2010, 04:16 PM
was it starbucks **** coffee?

JoeG4
Nov 28, 2010, 05:22 PM
Call me insane, but I think in the right circumstances you could probably dunk a macbook air in a bathtub and still save it.

Of course, I wouldn't dare try that one because it'd be too much of a headache and take forever to dry out, but yea.. people would describe some kinda catastrophic arcing going on with water shorting out connectors, but laptops don't really have the kinda stuff in them to cause high-voltage arcing that would actually damage something.

The MBA doesn't even have an inverter lol.

jmoore5196
Nov 28, 2010, 05:48 PM
I doubt there's an engineer or designer alive who will create a product while allowing for every unintentional contingency that could befall it.

Seriously, are we to believe that because Apple designed for beauty and functionality rather than your "two drops" finding their way to the innards of your MBA that they're somehow lying, cheating propagators of low-end cr@p?

The truth, OP, is that you created the problem and Apple's design had nothing to do with your decision to spill liquid on your computer. I could not in good conscience throw my iPhone into a running stream and then claim Apple's at fault because it's not watertight.

I'm sure I'll get banned for this, but let me share with you a lesson I've learned with bitter tears and great sacrifice: Never have liquid on any surface above your laptop.

Learn it. Love it. Live it.

Dammit Cubs
Nov 29, 2010, 01:16 AM
....turn it upside down....and then hang for a couple of hours?

sorry for your loss.

RandiC
Nov 29, 2010, 04:23 AM
First of all, I understand I committed an error and the consequences are my fault.

I bought a MacBook Air for $999. Because of the all-aluminum frame and the no-moving-parts hard drive, I expected it to be durable.
Unfortunately, while moving a coffee cup to my lips, I spilled a drop or two of coffee on my brand-new MacBook Air. It shut down in about 30 seconds forever, a total loss. All my data is 100% gone forever. $700 to repair.

Of course, I am responsible for my own mistake. Yet, when you start to google: " 'MacBook Air' water", you see legions of customers who have encountered this problem. Couple drops of water in the top--total loss.

Why? The aluminum housing acts like a bath tub.

The design decision to include a single aluminum housing came with consequences. It introduced a new vulnerability not shared by a machine with a porous bottom, one that cooled through the bottom instead of through the keys.

The design decision to move away from a spinning hard drive to flash memory chips naked on the motherboard also came with consequences. When your data is within a hard drive, it is pretty safe--it's raised off the bottom of the laptop. Your precious data is safe. When it's on the motherboard, your precious data is naked to the wind.

The failure mode of a laptop with a traditional hard drive is not pretty but it's survivable. It sucks but you can usually recover all your data. It's also rare to have a motherboard and hard drive fail simultaneously. It's actually pretty hard to make a traditional hard drive fail--they are sealed up tightly.
The failure mode of a MacBook Air is obscene: two drops of water, rain--and everything is gone, all of your data. Your entire motherboard, hard drive, memory--everything--is toast.


Take a 1" drill bit and make a hole in the bottom of your laptop... No more bath tub we do it all the time it leaks two drops out very well.

darngooddesign
Nov 29, 2010, 09:06 AM
I'm still wrapping my head around a laptop with a porous bottom. Perhaps English isn't the OP's first language, in which case he/she probably meant something else.

GoCubsGo
Nov 29, 2010, 09:21 AM
I bought a MacBook Air for $999. Because of the all-aluminum frame and the no-moving-parts hard drive, I expected it to be durable.

I'm sorry that your laptop is toast but please do not mistake durability for water resistant.

jimboutilier
Nov 29, 2010, 10:12 AM
No offense but if you look at the tear downs of the new MBAs it's unlikely two drops of water could ever get to the bottom and if they did and managed to pool at the lowest point they would not be touching anything but the battery at that point until the case was fairly full.

So while I'm sorry for your loss, the design has nothing to do with your issue and would be common to a lot of laptops that don't vent on the bottom.

blimey
Nov 29, 2010, 09:32 PM
sorry op. while your situation could be different, it is just un-heard off. a couple of drops? i sprayed the Zagg mist thingy to protect the palm are and pretty sure i drench the keyboard. i did have the laptop completely off during the application. it's just crazy that a couple of drop fried your MBA.

i know a coworker who spilled coffee on his IBM at work and that was fried! :D