What I learned from replacing the top case of a Macbook Pro (Mid-2010)

When the keyboard dies on your out of warranty Macbook Pro you can either try to sell it on Gazelle  or buy a top case on ifixit for $330 and replace it yourself.

A few keys died on my Macbook Pro today so I embarked on the 43 step adventure of replacing the top case.  The ifixit walk-through is the best I’ve seen online.  There are copious pictures and notes near complicated steps that can make even neophytes feel like they have what it takes.  Some of the images even show multiple views of the part in question. This will boost your confidence as you undertake the difficult procedure of replacing your keyboard which ultimately means replacing the entire top case.

The Process

I can avow that replacing the top case of a 2010 Macbook Pro is a herculean task.  I explained the laborious process of tracking the tiny screws in my post on repairing the Macbook Air and that advice is relevant for the Macbook Pro too.  Make sure you organize your screws in a logical fashion so you know which screws go with which components.  I like to use the transparent halves of my Buckyball box to keep my screws together but you can use labeled cups or professional screw organizers which you can find at most hardware stores.

Everything starts with powering off the Macbook Pro, flipping it over and removing the 10 Philips screws on the lower case.  After you get those out of the way you can gently lift up the bottom and put it aside.

This is what it looks like when you remove the bottom case of the Macbook Pro Mid-2010 model:

Macbook Pro Bottom Case Removed Mid 2010

Starting from the top right moving clockwise we have the right fan, the humongous battery, hard drive, optical drive and the left fan.  The green rectangle smack dab in the middle is your system memory, also known as RAM.

The hardest part of taking out the guts is removing the logic board.   It’s large, ponderous size takes a careful, precise hand.  All the other cables such as the AirPort, Bluetooth, iSight, Optical Drive, Hard Drive and Speaker cables will inexorably try to cling to the logic board as you rock it free so be careful as you use your free hand to brush them aside.

Macbook Pro Mid 2010 disassembled

An hour and a half later I had everything removed and I was ready to swap in the new top case.

Macbook Pro Mid 2010 Topcase

The top case is the unibody aluminum mold that houses the keyboard, trackpad, power button and battery indicator light.

Problems I encountered…

As I was reattaching the LCD display to the hinges I noticed the hinges felt flimsy and wobbly.  To tighten them I had to slide the black horizontal bezel at the base of the display to the right and then gently pull it up to expose two T6 screws which i tightened to fix the wobble problem.

But in retrospect I learned that the most arduous part of the repair was really a function of my own carelessness.

Keep cables above the logic board

For example, after I affixed the logic board to the new top case I realized the iSight cable was between the board and the chassis.  This put me in a little conundrum because the iSight socket was on the surface of the logic board not underneath it.  So I had to remove all seven T6 screws that secured the logic board to the chassis so I could fish out the iSight cable and then screw the logic board back down while making sure all the ribbons and cables were on top of the board.

Don’t make that mistake because I’m telling you, it really killed my motivation.

Remove divider from old top case

The other thing that threw me off course was the iFixit guide didn’t mention that I needed to remove the center divider from the chassis.  There’s a long, black thin plastic piece that runs the height of the bottom case.  You have to unscrew it from the chassis before you ditch the old top case.  My new top case didn’t include this piece so I had to dive in the dumpster to retrieve it.  Without the center divider the logic board won’t mount correctly and your optical drive will be a screw short so make sure you save this part before you scrap your old case.

Macbook Pro Mid 2010 Center Divider

Also don’t forget to reconnect everything as you’re finishing up.  I know this sounds obvious but I counted 10 ribbons and cables that you’ll need to reconnect:

  • Battery Cable Connector
  • Airport/Bluetooth Ribbon
  • iSight Ribbon
  • Optical Drive Cable
  • Subwoofer and Left Speaker Cables
  • Hard Drive Cable
  • Trackpad Ribbon
  • Keyboard Ribbon
  • Battery Indicator Ribbon
  • Display Data Cable

Everything is labeled on the iFixit site but as you can see this is an exacting task; I actually forgot to reconnect the iSight cable and had to reopen the bottom case to fix that.

You have to be both thoughtful and meticulous to pull this off.  No rushing allowed.

Ultimately, I would say that replacing the top case of a Macbook Pro is a pretty difficult thing but if you take the time to do it right you’ll be elated when you press the power button and it works.

I’ve got to say, that moment of truth is priceless.

Have you ever had keyboard or trackpad problems with your Macbooks or had a bad experience trying to repair one?  Let me know in the comments. Thanks.

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  • Jacob Cline

    i have the mid 2010 macbook pro and the only way it will turn on is by pressing on the bottom of it, so I’m thinking about trying to replace the top case to see if it will make a difference. I’ve repaired a lot of hardware problems with pc’s but this is my first time handling a Mac.

    • The little ribbon cable that connects the battery to the logic board might be loose. I would definitely open it up and take a look. Since it’s Mid 2010 warranty is already voided so you’ve got nothing to lose.

  • Antonio Santamaria

    I currently have a mid 2012 15″ MacBook pro that I have upgraded with a 1 TB SSD drive. I have replace the battery and the fans too, but the keyboard has been having problems for some time. The T, I, P and other keys on the right hand side of the keyboard sometimes just stop working and what I do to fix it, temporarily, is to use all four fingers on my right and left hands and pound the keys down form the E to the P. That often helps me fix the problem for a while, and then the keys go out again. I’m thinking of trying to replace the top case soon.

    Thanks for your advice!