Swapping Retina MacBook Pro battery costs DIYers $500

iFixit warns of possible toxic fumes and fires if the job's not done just right

Replacing the battery in the nearly impossible-to-repair Retina MacBook Pro laptop will run do-it-yourselfers $500, two-and-a-half times what Apple charges for the service, said iFixit.com today.

The popular website, which today published a repair guide to the laptop, explained the high price. "We estimate that third-party battery replacements will cost over $500 if technicians follow the safer Apple-suggested procedure and replace the entire upper case assembly along with the battery," said iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens in an email Wednesday.

Apple charges $199 to replace a Retina MacBook Pro battery, 54% more than for a same-sized 15-in. notebook minus the high-resolution screen.

According to Treehugger.com, Apple's own technicians have been told that the battery is not a replaceable part. Instead, the top case assembly, to which the battery is fixed, must be swapped out.

Shortly after Apple unveiled the Retina MacBook Pro, iFixit dubbed it the "least repairable laptop we've ever taken apart," citing assembly practices that included proprietary screws, copious amounts of glue, expensive parts that must be completely replaced even after the smallest failure, and fused components that may break when a neighboring part is removed.

The notebook's battery is fixed to the case with so much adhesive that in June, iFixit was not able to remove it.

The site's pull-it-apart experts have now done that, although Wiens continued to stress the difficulty do-it-yourselfers will face.

"It's clear that Apple did not design this computer for the sake of repair-conscious customers," Wiens said on his company's blog today.

In his email, Wiens forewarned Retina MacBook Pro owners who decided to replace the battery. "While it's possible to remove the battery, chances are high that it will be punctured in the process," said Wiens. "Puncturing Lithium-polymer batteries releases noxious fumes and can cause fires."

The firm's repair guide seconds those comments. "Removing the battery is very difficult. There is always a chance of inhaling noxious fumes and lighting the battery on fire. Work in a well ventilated area," it cautioned.

That guide listed 45 different steps in the battery replacement process, most with multiple sub-steps.

Apple's Retina MacBook Pro starts at $2,199, and comes with a one-year warranty that covers, among other things, defective batteries. An AppleCare support plan, which adds two more years to the warranty, costs $349 for all 15-in. MacBook Pros, 40% more than the same extension for the smaller and lighter-weight MacBook Air notebooks.

AppleCare does not cover batteries unless they have failed or are not up to specifications as "the result of a manufacturing defect," according to Apple.

Retina MacBook Pro opened
iFixit managed to remove the Retina MacBook Pro battery without causing a fire or toxic fumes. Your mileage may vary. (Image: iFixit.com.)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.


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