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Old Nov 27, 2010, 11:21 PM   #1
curmudgeon99
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Design Flaw: Aluminum Bathtub, Single Motherboard

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.

Last edited by curmudgeon99; Nov 27, 2010 at 11:30 PM. Reason: clarity
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Old Nov 27, 2010, 11:30 PM   #2
neteng101
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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.
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Old Nov 27, 2010, 11:37 PM   #3
robby818
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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.
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Old Nov 27, 2010, 11:46 PM   #4
catdog02481
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www.dropbox.com is your friend....

you won't have to worry about data loss or backup (at least up to 100 GB)
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Old Nov 27, 2010, 11:54 PM   #5
bcaslis
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Two drops and it's toast? Oh please.
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Old Nov 27, 2010, 11:56 PM   #6
teski
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Originally Posted by catdog02481 View Post
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.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 12:05 AM   #7
shznt
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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
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 12:39 AM   #8
brdnboy
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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.

Last edited by brdnboy; Nov 28, 2010 at 08:52 AM.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 01:02 AM   #9
Thunderbird1
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Unfortunate

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.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 01:33 AM   #10
The Viking
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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.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 04:14 AM   #11
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Two drops! Come on.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 04:30 AM   #12
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I've had more than 2 drops of water on my MBA and it survives to this day. Be honest at least.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 04:36 AM   #13
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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.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 04:52 AM   #14
foiden
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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)

Last edited by foiden; Nov 28, 2010 at 05:06 AM.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 05:08 AM   #15
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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).
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 05:14 AM   #16
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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.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 05:18 AM   #17
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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...
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 12:54 PM   #18
mac jones
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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? )

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.

Last edited by mac jones; Nov 28, 2010 at 01:00 PM.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 01:05 PM   #19
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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)

Last edited by Argon21; Nov 28, 2010 at 01:12 PM.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 01:08 PM   #20
BigPrince
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I just placed 5 drops on mine on purpose and its still running! I must be incredibly lucky!
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 02:51 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by curmudgeon99 View Post
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.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 02:57 PM   #22
bcaslis
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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.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 03:23 PM   #23
DeuxIt
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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.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 03:29 PM   #24
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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.
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Old Nov 28, 2010, 03:31 PM   #25
wordoflife
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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.
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