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My 2015 MacBook Pro Retina Exploded (medium.com)
372 points by zepolen on Feb 27, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 216 comments



I get the whole "cautionary tale" thing, but you should probably contact Apple to remedy both your personal loss and so that they have more information about failing components. In my experience they take this stuff very seriously.


Agreed. In 2005, I worked for a company where there was an incident that led to the 2005 PowerBook G4/iBook G4 battery recall [0].

I worked on the IT helpdesk at the time, and though I wasn't working the late shift that night, we all found out about it the next morning. A woman called the helpdesk because her PowerBook had caught fire. (Side note: the department was very insistent on not having water/liquids near equipment, so she actually apologized for pouring water on her flaming laptop.) Thankfully she put it out immediately. Her desk was scorched and the laptop was burned beyond repair (but we did manage to get a DriveSavers-like company to recover most of the data on the HDD). The IT director called our Apple rep the next day and they immediately began a process of investigation. They paid to have the desk replaced, replaced the laptop and paid for the third-party data recovery.

Granted this was 12 years ago and I wasn't involved in direct conversations with Apple myself as a lowly level 1 helpdesk technician, but from everything I saw they handled the situation completely professionally and seriously.

The model number A1078 is forever etched into my mind.

[0] https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2005/cpsc-apple-announce-recall...


Same. I had an issue with a failed charger many years ago, and in addition to getting a new charger, I was contacted by their product safety group for more information on how it was used to make it stronger in the future. Confirmed, they take product safety seriously.

> In fact it could be happening to your battery right now.

Yes, any lithium battery in any device could have this problem. Odds are good that it was swelling before it finally failed, and if the machine hadn't been restarted and instead had been checked, that may have been identified. Would this article be getting the same traction if it wasn't a MacBook?


I had the exact opposite experience, I went in to a store with a MacBook Pro (2013) which had morphed by a good 1-2cm's due to the battery expanding over the course of the previous hour. They refused to take it and insisted I book a genius appointment for the following week.

After much insisting (30-40minutes) they finally agreed to take the battery and keep it in their safe for a week, until the first available genius appointment was available. There they said it was out of warranty as its a disposable part and therefore not covered by the AppleCare+ plan I had at the time. Genuinely it was the worst experience I've had in an apple store to date.


You might have countered with I understand it isn't covered by AppleCare. I suppose we'll found out if it's covered by Apple liability.


But then we couldn't have snarky internet posts about how terrible Apple is!


True but we'd get snarky internet posts about the cleverness of their in-house legal defense team.


"most valuable company on Earth sues man whose testicles they burned off" is about the worst PR possible


It's unfortunate that this was the experience you had. I imagine whomever you talked to was under the impression that hardware can't be taken that isn't accepted as part of a Genius Bar appointment, and didn't know the severity of what could happen would the battery fail. A training failure on Apple's part. That said, my cousin took a similar era MacBook to the Apple Store for swelling, and was able to see a Genius that afternoon and got a battery swap.


Back in the day, I had a removable white polycarb macbook battery swell. Brought it in and they gave me a quick swap (no charge). I was pretty happy. I wonder how much the extra work dealing with internal batteries cost a company.


But the battery is covered (had it swapped out on the retina mbpro (2013) and mb air (2012)). That's one of the main reasons to get Applecare. You can at least swap out the battery once for free before the three years is up. I even forgot to tell them and they did it for me anyway. Sounds like they were just shirking their responsibilities in your case.


You drove around with a battery swollen by 1-2 cm? I'm equally shocked that the Apple store didn't evacuate the area when you brought the laptop to their counter. That is some serious swelling.


I have found that it really seems to vary by country. In Japan, my mbp's battery was covered when it needed to be replaced after 2 years and an half but in China they told me that it wasn't covered.


> Would this article be getting the same traction if it wasn't a MacBook?

There was a huge amount of attention, which included the things being banned on aircraft, for Samsung's fire-prone phones. Before that, it was "hoverboards." I think the answer is yes, it would.


EgyptAir is investigating if a phone or tablet may have led to a crash of one of their jets:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/13/pilots-phone-tabl...

There have been many devices that have come under scrutiny for their Li-Ion cells. At least few devices explode, and I'm not aware of any killing people, but many have had these meltdowns.

Big Clive successfully took one apart without it going boomb if anyone is interested in what's inside of them:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uI1eRy0uBI8


A few aircraft incidents/accidents were caused by batteries.

There is of course the 787 of All Nippon Airway: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_787_Dreamliner_battery_...

And with battery as a cargo this time, there is a UPS 747: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UPS_Airlines_Flight_6

It's funny/terrifying how we deeply need higher capacity batteries, with shorter charging time and greater energy density, but as a same time, it will probably lead to more unstable and more "prone to burst into flames" items...


All popular devices will have a few that have this happen of the lifetime of the device. The Note 7 and hoverboards were exploding at a rate far higher than should be expected -- that was the news. For example, there was a video of an Inspiron exploding a few weeks ago that new made its way to HN (that I saw).


I had a charger with cords that frayed quickly, but was slightly out of warranty. Not only were the people at the Apple store not concerned, they insisted it was entirely my fault, and were very rude to me. Then when I called and complained the manager said they'd give me a free replacement. Then, when I returned, it was a repeat of the first time - they blamed it on me, were not interested at all in my explanation of ow the charger was damaged, and were very rude.


> Confirmed, they take product safety seriously

Technically all that really confirms is that they take the PR/image aspect of safety seriously. May have been more a CYA than anything else. Yes, cynical view, I know.


In 2016, I called Apple about a 2011 Macbook Air (purchased with AppleCare, expired in 2014) about its bulging battery.

After a short conversation with a tier-2 support person, they agreed to replace the battery for free. They were also willing to replace the keyboard and bottom case, if there were any permanent deformations (there weren't). I took it in to my local Apple Store and they had it back to me in 48 hours.

I'm sure this is a YMMV issue, so the best lesson is perhaps to call several times until you get a good answer.


You can't just open a Mac though and have a look, they use proprietary screws and it's unreasonable to assume that anyone would think before reading this article that their laptop could completely EXPLODE!


> it's unreasonable to assume that anyone would think before reading this article that their laptop could completely EXPLODE!

Then they really haven't been paying attention, batteries exploding is mentioned regularly in media, makes for very popular Youtube videos, ...

It's understandable that people don't expect it happening to them (it's fairly unlikely).


> Would this article be getting the same traction if it wasn't a MacBook?

No, but then Apple often invites it by continuing to claim it's s#1t doesn't stink.


>> If you have a MacBook be careful leaving it unattended on the bed.

Beautiful line here.

> Would this article be getting the same traction if it wasn't a MacBook?

This.


I run across this all the time with (insert item that uses lithium batteries here). People ask "can't those things explode?!" Well, yeah, if it's got a lithium battery it can.

That's why you buy batteries from reputable sources (or items with integrated batteries from reputable sources), don't charge them unattended, and be aware of anything getting warm or expanding.


That's ridiculous. My 2015 MacBook gets warm/hot as a matter of course during the normal use of software. How am I supposed to know whether it is a precursor to an explosion or just normal usage?

Apparently there is no way to know, and it is a matter of luck whether your <insert lithium charged device here> explodes.

As a society why are we selling these things (not just apple) that can explode during normal usage. If a car manufacturer had an equivalent such design, the manufacturer would recall and fix said problem for free.

And yes, if there is no "fix" then they should not sell this technology at all. I suspect that the tech-industry lobbyists would not agree.


And yes, if there is no "fix" then they should not sell this technology at all.

I suspect when you see the impact on battery life or weight you might change your mind.

Cars do catch fire during normal use. It's not common, but it does happen. So it's not like it's some hard and fast rule that the risk must be zero. It's a matter of what we consider acceptable given the downsides.


Yes I am well aware of the benefits of Lithium tech, and I agree that the alternative is not attractive, however your analogy is flawed.

Most people (adults) understand they are dealing with a controlled explosion (the engine), and the adult is always (presumably) monitoring the car whilst the engine is on. "Adult" and continually "monitoring" are the keywords here.

The difference is that these things are consumer items that my little son plays with.


You're kidding right. I was just at a gas station the other day where a guy REFUELLED HIS RUNNING CAR. He even left it unattended to walk into the store! I think you overestimate the average persons understanding of automotive fire hazard.


we can do only so much.... :)


Too much soda can kill you - should we keep selling soda? If you eat too many apple seeds, the arsenic in them could kill you - do we need to get rid of apples?

Lithium batteries can explode, but the data captured shows that it happens rarely, and when it doesn't, like with the Samsung batteries, we talk about it. This is one incident. It's not widespread exploding MacBooks.

The way to know if you're facing a problem is to check for bulges. Under normal circumstances, where the machine is properly ventilated (clear ducts, not under a comforter), then statistically safe.


This is not a case of "too much ..." can kill you.

This is the tech industry taking shortcuts (not singling out apple here) in order to "push the industry" forward - There are a multitude of ways in which this risk could be eliminated, but without tight(er) regulation, it wont happen.

Even though the risk is slim, the severity is high. And due to to the "consumer" target market, these risks should be engineered away. We should not wait until some kid looses their sight. Even one. Simple as that.


>>don't charge them unattended

I really hope this is a joke, because I can't imagine having to watch over anything while charging it. I'm sure that almost everyone charges their phone and laptop when sleeping for instance.


Unfortunately, no joke.

Minimally, do not charge things in a bed or covered by a blanket.


It used to be a mixed bag - it's good to hear that they've improved their attitude to battery issues.

I remember taking a bulging in-warranty battery for a white unibody-era Macbook into the Valley Fair Apple Store and being told that it was my fault the battery was damaged. Genius bar wanted to charge for a battery swap and wouldn't dispose the battery for me if I didn't pay for the swap.


A few years back, I had a 6-year-old white uni-body MacBook with a swollen battery that was long out of warranty. I made an appointment at the Apple Store, and when I took it in, they took one look at the battery, gave me new battery and sent me on my way. They didn't even mention the word warranty. I was there for 5 minutes. I had zero expectations going in, so was quite happy and impressed with their response.


They take it especially seriously when a story like this gains traction in the press. You get immediate escalation to the executive team.


My fiancee's older Macbook Pro (non-unibody) had a battery swelling issue. The bottom cover of the computer popped off in the middle of the night from the swelling. We went to the Apple store, and were told "you charged this battery too many times, we will replace it for $99." The computer was about 5 years old at the time.


That's an oversimplification. Macbooks tell you how many cycles the computer has left and give you a safety warning to have the battery serviced or replaced once you reach the 85% mark of usable cycles. You clearly ignored the service warning and/or the safety warning and continued to charge it. It wasn't a defective battery, it was the user ignoring (perhaps unintentionally) that their battery was no longer usable. Why should they replace it without charging for it?


> In my experience they take this stuff very seriously.

In my experience they tell you that your computer is at risk of catching on fire, but that they're not going to pay to replace your swelling battery.


> but that they're not going to pay to replace your swelling battery

I don't think that's strange. Here in N/W Europe, warranties are quite good. However warranty on consumables such as batteries is only 6 months.


>After reading up on the matter it seems that lithium batteries can swell, and there have been numerous reports in the past about older MacBook batteries swelling up and catching fire — however with the newer unibody laptops there is no way you can see this swelling happening.

That's true. Damn, Apple, how about a bloody sensor for such stuff at least to give an early warning?

>If you have a MacBook be careful leaving it unattended on the bed, battery fires burn hot and fast with little time to react.

Whereas if you have any other brand it's OK?

Millions of computer users were on red alert last night after they were warned that their laptops could burst into flames at any moment. In an extraordinary admission, the world's largest computer firm, Dell, said yesterday that 4.1 million laptops are at risk. The computer giant was forced to confess that problems with the laptop's batteries, made by Sony, means they are a major 'fire hazard'.

http://www.nbclosangeles.com/investigations/I-Team-Investiga...


> how about a bloody sensor for such stuff at least to give an early warning?

FWIW, the MBP in question did shut itself off abruptly right before this happened. The author then immediately turned it on again and it proceeded to meltdown. Perhaps the protection against this sort of thing could have been a bit more reliable, but it appears the laptop did try to protect itself.


>FWIW, the MBP in question did shut itself off abruptly right before this happened. The author then immediately turned it on again and it proceeded to meltdown.

How is merely turning off a warning?

How would the user tell it from a random glitch with power, battery disconnect, etc?


>How is merely turning off a warning?

It's not, but if it works reliably, it is at least protection against fires while no one is home.

Given the choice, is it better to start a fire when someone is home or out? That's a toughie, but on balance I think it's better when someones home, as there's a better chance for them to stop it or at least evacuate pets and gather important documents and treasures.


It's not a warning, it's a fail-safe. It's likely the sensor on the battery failed, so the heat sensor was all that was left.

A user can guess at the problem based on the temperature of the laptop. I've had my laptop turn off like this and I always let it cool down before powering it on again. You can argue that Apple needs more protection for issues like these and needs to message users better about how to deal with the behavior exhibited by the laptop, but you can't say that Apple does nothing or doesn't have any sensors.


How do you generate an appropriate warning without power ?

And you are assuming Apple can detect a battery failure distinct from say a component along the power supply path that has failed. So the safest solution is to switch off immediately.


>How do you generate an appropriate warning without power ?

Obviously by using a separate power source for the monitoring, which can be minimal and last forever?

Like, e.g. logic boards had a separate from the mains power "BIOS battery":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonvolatile_BIOS_memory


How do you show a warning?

The main thing that a warning would need to do is to shut off the power (especially since there's no guarantee that the device is attended at that moment) and the display+circuitry to drive it require nontrivial power.


I believe those greeting cards that sing happy birthday only cost a few cents


>How do you generate an appropriate warning without power ?

Assuming they do detect it is a battery issue, how about warning by refusing to turn back on?


but doesn't that mean firing up all sensors again, screen and other hardware required to display or perform the said warning, which will ofcourse create burden for the main battery again? I don't think CMOS/BIOS battery can be used for that task. And I don't understand why only Apple has to do everything, it's not like only Macs are known to burn. User must have minimum knowledge on laptop over-heating.


The 2011 MBP I had given to mother had a similar issue. It's battery suddenly became swollen and just before that happened the computer shut down too, so yes I think there's some amount of protection. Luckily, there was no smoke or fire, just the battery being swollen and deforming the mbp.


I don't know if it is a sensor or just a timer but my 2012 MBP warns me about my battery nearing the end of my life.


I hope your MBP is not warning you about the end of your life ;)

My thinking about what your Mac is doing is in line with rsynnott, it might be based on your battery's current charge capacity vs. its original capacity, I'm more inclined to think the message is triggered by your battery's cycle count. You can find all this information in the System Information application, under Power.


I think that warning is just based on diminished remaining capacity vs design capacity.


I recently replaced the battery in my 2010. No warning, but I was unable to "click" the trackpad. Battery was expanding and needed replacement.


There is a sensor. It tells you about your battery health all the time. You can even get further details by forcing the sensor information if you press Alt and click on the battery meter in the menu bar. It'll even tell you how many cycles are left.


whoa, that's really interesting, didn't know about that feature! not seeing the "cycles left" anywhere on my end though.


Sorry, my comment was a little ambiguous. The sensor will tell you how many cycles are left, not the little menu bar trick. If you want to see how many cycles are used and left, click on the Apple menu in the upper-left corner of the screen, click on "About this Mac", and then click on "System Report". Click on the "Power" section on the left, and it'll show you all the sensor information including battery charge capacity, cycle count, and more.


By the way, option-click on a menu item to see more verbose info / more options works for most Apple menu items. It's super helpful for Sound, Wifi, Bluetooth, etc.


the WiFi one is super useful actually... thanks! :)


How much extra space did Apple allow around the battery for swelling? Samsung's problem seems to be that they fit the battery in so tightly that if it ever swells, it's contained by the limited space. Then pressure builds up until it shorts, goes into thermal runaway, and catches fire.[1]

Maybe it's time to require that anything bigger than a phone use lithium-iron-phosphate battery technology, which doesn't have a thermal runaway problem. Most pro power tools already do; it's expected that they will be used hard and abused. So do "Boosted" brand electric skateboards, and many (all?) second generation UL approved "hoverboards". If it's going to be banged around, that seems to be the way to go.

There's a 14% energy density penalty with lithium-iron-phosphate batters vs regular lithium-ion. They're also more expensive. But the "does not blow up or catch fire" feature is worth it. Here's a video of someone driving a 3" nail through a LiFePo battery.[2] Five minutes of heavy white smoke and some runny black stuff, but no flames or explosion. Compare the standard nail test (done by remote control) of a LIon battery.[3]

[1] https://www.cnet.com/news/why-is-samsung-galaxy-note-7-explo... [2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMARDvMz62A [3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f30fBFitkSM


Not sure how much empty space Apple leaves for swelling, but when I had it happen to me, it actually warped the laptop's case and caused it to noticeably bow outward. The trackpad also stopped clicking, so it there must be some room there.


That 14% works out to around a billion + per year in the US which is IMO not really worth it for the few actual issues with lithium ion batteries.


Can you clarify what you're referring to? A billion what per year? Dollars?


Yea, dollars based on approximate US sales. Though I can't find exact figures so that may be low or high.


I'd pay extra for it. Not sure if Apple cares enough, but maybe they do.


The last time I took my 2015 rMBP on a flight with me, TSA saw my laptop on the scanner and the guy at the machine's eyes bugged out while he did a double take. They swabbed the crap out of my laptop, detected nothing and then let me through.

I was confused and didn't understand why, but I wonder if maybe battery swelling is why.


I'd be surprised if they could detect battery swelling on a scanner. The battery's horizontal area doesn't really change, it just kind of bulges. The scanners are two dimensional and they make you lay your computer flat in a separate bin so it's not like they could detect vertical swelling.

I also had a similar reaction to my 2014 rMBP once (and only once, over a few dozen flights). I figured MBPs just look scary from the wrong angle, or maybe new scanner employees who haven't figured out what all the common laptops look like yet.


Maybe it's all the little "terraced" sections the battery cells are cut into. If it's your first time seeing that as a scanner employee, it doesn't really look much like any other "battery."


The number of MBPs that go through the TSA lines at Newark can't be small.


One time at LGA, there were 4, 15" MBPs going through the X-ray in a row. Mine was #3, and it got pulled for additional screening. When I asked why mine, they're all the same laptop and the guy just shrugged.


Random spot check?

Leaving KEF a few weeks ago, my bags were pulled for a random check. But, at least the Icelandic security guy was nice enough to tell me as much...

"Your bag was selected at random for an inspection." "Now, I'm going to carry it over to that table. Please follow me. "Now, I'm going to unzip it." "Now, I'm swabbing for residue."

Quick, professional, and not at all stressful. Unlike similar experiences at IAD and FCO.


The system puts in random fake images to make sure the techs are paying attention.


It's not working. They missed 67 out of 70: http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/01/politics/tsa-failed-undercover...


In the end it's all "security theater", huh.


Yes but don't follow the money, it is depressing.


I always wondered how airport X-ray machine operators stayed focused on what's going through. This seems like a simple yet effective solution.


So if a fake bomb picture comes through, do they go tackle the guy who's bag was next in line? I never got how that worked..


No, they always press a button if they want to screen an item again. If it was just a test image, it will disappear. If it wasn't, they'll be notified and it will either be screened again or the employee at the scanner informs his colleagues.


Before 2001, I toyed with the idea of making metal cutouts that looked like cartoon versions of bombs or weapons (ball bomb, dagger).

I guess I'll never be able to do that.


wouldnt a metal cutout of a dagger be a dagger?


Maybe he's making negative-space cut-outs to fuck with TSA.


I was thinking about just the contour of the blade with a solid handle but, still, it could be used as a very bad dagger. Netcraft made a good point.


I once got my bag searched by a friendly TSA agent who explained that having more than one or two books stacked in a bag would probably get it pulled, because the machines don't see through that much organic matter very well.


A neatly stacked supply of energy bars will also earn you a complimentary bag unpacking.


No, the problem was it was the TSA. That's all.


Aren't you supposed to put laptops "alone in its own tray"?


Sure. Where did he say he didn't do that?


US: Rule is non-thin laptops go in a separate tray. Tablets and super-thin laptops can stay in the bag. But, this is enforced inconsistently.

Europe (UK, Ireland, Italy, and Iceland): Separate tray every time I've passed through in the last 4 years.


I have a backpack where the sleeve for the laptop pulls out completely from the backpack itself but stays attached with "rails" to prevent theft. I've never had an issue with this and never needed to place the laptop in a new tray. I fly once a month round trip in the US.


True enough, I forgot about the TSA bags with flip-out sleeves.


Not necessarily. My backpack, for example, has a laptop compartment that folds out flat. I don't have to remove my laptop, just send my backpack through.


I've had some TSA folks tell me to do that and some say I can leave it in my bag.


It was.


Hmm, reading this I think my old Kindle Keyboard has a swollen battery. I googled a bit and found this excellent write-up [0]. It suggests to stop using it immediately. Bummer! I have been using it for 2 years now (I think) in the swollen state...

[0] https://www.howtogeek.com/244846/what-to-do-when-your-phone-...


do you prefer the keyboard over the paperwhite or are you just using it because it's good enough?


It's still good enough for me :)


I do not know what happened, but given that bed is in the picture, it could happen that the laptop was put on a blanket or a pillow, which closed the air ducts.

Having said that, of course, safety mechanisms should have shut down everything before the temperature goes into the proximity of the danger zone.


>>Having said that, of course, safety mechanisms should have shut down everything before the temperature goes into the proximity of the danger zone.

Um, they did. It's literally the very first sentence of the article.

The guy decided to turn it back on, which is when it blew up.


From the description of events, it seems more likely that the thermal runaway already started. The CPU detected the critical heat and shut off, as it is designed to do to protect THE CPU from damage. The problem is that it wasn't the CPU creating the heat, but the battery. Turning the device back on likely had nothing to do with the problem.

I think this comes from a lack of understanding about how the problem started. Yes, excessive heat CAN cause a critical battery condition, but this seems unlikely, as the batteries should be designed to handle much more heat than the CPU can generate. Rather, I think the batteries caused the heat, not the other way around.


Except that normal CPU usage assumes proper airflow. Once the CPU shut down, he turned it back on which could have potentially put the battery back into a critical state. If the battery was already cycled out, then that would further support that story.


> The guy decided to turn it back on, which is when it blew up.

Which is exactly what anyone else would do if their laptop suddenly shut off without giving any clear warning that the situation was dangerous. A proper safety system would need to notify the user of the possibility of a battery fire and advise them to take the laptop somewhere where fire damage would be minimized.

But it's not entirely clear to me that safety features were actually triggered. Perhaps the battery failed and the machine shut down due to lack of power or a power fluctuation. The fire could have been inevitable at that point, and his actions after the shutdown and before the fire are just red herrings.


If your computer randomly turned off, wouldn't your first thought be to turn it back on?

If it did indeed recognize the heat problem and turn itself off, they should likely either tell the user or not allow it to turn back on until it cools down.


If your thermal "don't explode" protection can be overridden by pressing the power button, what's the point?

I'm not sure this is what actually happened, anyway. He says it caught fire within a few seconds of being turned back on. Either the thermal protection is faulty (it should shut off before the battery gets anywhere near that point) or the machine shut off for some other reason (excessive CPU temperature, say).


I don't know about Macbooks, but my desktop PC will refuse to POST if temps are past the critical threshold.


My lenovo laptop sometimes tests if boil-in-bag might be a good idea for laptops now even if it hasn't been anytime before.

I'll notice when I open my bag and find a hot laptop with little battery left.

Oh and burn marks in the screen. Lenovo has already replaced one screen.


I have a Dell craptop from the dayjob that sometimes puts itself into hell when going to sleep while unplugged. It gets REALLY hot, probably burning 100% cpu on whatever little nightmare Windows is having, until the battery runs out. If I notice it, pop the lid, and press the power button, it goes right to sleep properly.

To the point of a comment above, this is why the article is noticed when a MacBook is involved, but it wouldn't be if it was, say, a Dell. We just assume that this obviously shoddy piece of generic Windows crap could just catch fire due to design flaws. If my MacBook caught fire, I'd be shocked. If my Samsung Chromebook caught fire, I wouldn't be. If the dayjob Dell caught fire, I'd call it par for the course.


My Macbook does the same thing. Annoyingly frequently I remove it from my bag to find a dead battery and a hot laptop. Worryingly it seems when it's in this weird state, the fans don't run at all.


That doesn't matter; most PCs and Macs (which are just PCs really) will flood the motherboard with power to wake everything up.

Where is that power going to come from if not the battery? you can't have any logic without power.


It ought to have a hard cutoff right at the battery involving only simple electronics, no software, which prevents it from providing the rest of the computer with any power if the battery is at an unsafe temperature.


You can have a small battery or capacitor that powers a small circuit that performs overheating checks pre-boot.


It would be interesting to find out whether Apple's safety mechanism is part of the OS or the firmware.

The firmware on my PC will detect that it is running too hot, and halt. Presumably it will halt to catch fire since it seems as though the only thermal management at that point are the fans, but that is another story.


what air ducts? this is a mac we are talking about, not a thinkpad. There are thin inadequate slits in the case, they are the reason any cpu load results in 80'C, and every discrete GPU mac dies to be eventually grudgingly covered by some small time window "we care enough to not get sued" recall program.


Defective batteries aren't that new to Apple, I remember having to exchange the battery from my white pre-unibody MacBook twice because it was swollen by over a centimeter. There was a recall even IIRC. Of course, back then you could swap it out yourself.


Defective batteries aren't that new to Apple

Exactly, happened to me as well like 6 years ago (which in combo with the magnetic power connector made me lose work more than once due to me continueing to use the macbook without bad battery followed by me/cats/wife tripping over the cable). Just searching for e.g. 'macbook swollen battery' gives quite some results.


>Defective batteries aren't that new to Apple

It was even their business model with the iPods back in the days.


There have been a number of stories about laptops and mobile phones exploding due to issues with batteries. Fortunately the author here managed to get the Mac into a reasonably safe place just before it really exploded and he got away with only blistered fingers.

What I'm curious about is, are companies like Tesla able to put some sort of safety precautions into their cars and their PowerWall to prevent this from happening and to alert the user that something in their battery is horribly wrong? An electric car battery is way bigger than a Mac's battery, but at least the car owner has the chance to get out of the car and get away from it. But a Powerwall? If it's going to blow up is it going to burn your house down in the process?


If unseen swelling is a problem, couldn't you fix it with a simple sensor, like a fragile paper tape conductor that goes around the battery?

It swells, the circuit goes dead, and that's the signal for the charger to stop charging.


Those things already have very little space tolerance because the most important feature of any 'premium' laptop is that is as thin as absolutely possible and it is thinner than the previous model. All else is secondary. This would mean an even further thinning of the battery itself.


Correct me if I'm wrong but these incidents are sometimes triggered by charging, but never escalated by it.

Once the layers of the cell make contact it shorts the entire battery and causes the battery to discharge quickly, releasing the energy in the form of heat.

Just because you've removed the power source from the battery doesn't mean the battery won't stop discharging.


I've had plenty of batteries swell, and none catch fire before I got them replaced, so I have to think it could help.

In my experience Apple is not consistently good about dealing with this. In every case, I've ultimately been able to get the battery replaced at no cost to me, but with an iPhone 6 that started swelling about a year ago, pushing the screen out, phone support told me flatly that this wasn't something that could possibly happen with such a new device, and suggested that I try to make a Genius Bar appointment on my own. When I brought the phone into the store later that day, they replaced it on the spot, with no appointment. (I wasn't going to accept carrying around a time bomb for another week or more.)


Batteries (can, not always) swell quite a while before they "go off", so detecting swelling would be a useful sign that something is wrong and to stop charging to not trigger it.


A pressure sensor between battery and its enclosure could be used. Or strain sensors on the pack itself. It should probably just disallow charging completely, as people have a tendency to ignore warnings.


Sort of like a fuse


This really worries me: I own three laptops, use a fourth for work and thus I often have three — and sometimes four — laptops fully-charged at home. What exactly are the parameters under which an unattended laptop may catch fire? Only when the laptop itself is running? Only if running and heat exchange is impeded?

I honestly don't know, and that worries me.


I'm thinking maybe purchase a fireproof safe and lock the laptops in there while not in use?

I can't think of much else, really.


Unsurprisingly even Apple laptops require ventilation; I thought it was common knowledge that you can easily destroy any laptop by running it on a soft, heat multiplying surface like a bedspread....


With modern technology, it's completely unacceptable for consumer electronics to catch fire when running it on a bedspread. It should shut itself down when it gets too hot. Worst case, it might break due to being too hot, but it should never catch fire.


I don't think anyone disagrees with you on this.


Apparently the parent comment does as it appears to be blaming the victim


No one knows if this was truly a defective battery before overheating.

The way I read it: CPU gets hot, battery damage from overheating begins, computer shuts off. User turns it on again not knowing the state of the electronics inside. Possibly weakened or damaged electronics cause the battery to blow up.

Bad ventilation weakens electronics and continued use causes catastrophic failure. This is not new.


It is highly unlikely that thermal runaway was caused by the computer overheating.

It's far more likely that a defect in the battery caused this. Perhaps the laptop tried to draw too much power from the battery, and it failed.


The electronics shouldn't allow the computer to be turned back on if it's too hot. If they did, it's the fault of the electronics, not the user.


Well it did shut down according to the article, but it was probably too late.


Because the heat came from the battery, not the CPU. If you just block ventilation, most modern computers/laptops won't break. I had a fan problem with my computer a couple weeks back, it just shut down at some point and didn't switch on again (until it was cool enough). No damage to the CPU or any other component.

But if the battery creates the heat, the sensors for CPU temp will react too late.


There are sensors for battery temperature: my 2011 MacBook Pro appears to have two battery temperature sensors and a battery charger temperature sensor. It's quite possible that in this case the System Management Controller detected the overheating battery and shut down the computer - I'm not an expert on Mac hardware, though.


Routinely blocking the air inlets and outlets on a laptop increases the probability that electronic components will fail over time, though most modern laptops have multiple forms over overheat protection and will throttle CPU speed or even shut down if they get too hot. I should note that all the airflow in a Macbook Pro is through the sides and rear, not the bottom, so setting it on a soft surface would not typically block the vents.

The temperatures that start to increase failure rates for electronic components are far lower than those that trigger thermal runaway in Li-ion batteries. The least thermally stable Li-ion batteries, those with cobalt-based cathodes, are at risk of thermal runaway over 150C. I've never heard of poor cooling being the root cause of a laptop battery fire.


What then is the (likely) root cause of these laptop battery fires?


It's a lithium ion battery. Normal consumer ones have very low but non-zero catastrophic failure rates.


Didn't Samsung already patent this feature?



Actually the NeXT cube pioneered the prior art of computer hardware exploding into a inextinguishable conflagration of flames. Apple just refined and popularized the technology by making it much easier to ignite, without requiring additional peripherals like a MAP gas torch.

https://simson.net/hacks/cubefire.html


Had a portable bluetooth speaker do the same to me while I was in the same room with it, it was simply charging, wasn't even being used. Also very fortunate to be able to extinguish it right on the spot before it set the apartment and consequently the building on fire. I've grown pretty skeptical of that sort of batteries after the fact, but there's not much you can do about it at this point since there's one in almost every device you can think of. It's like sitting on an explosive device that can go off anytime without any notice.


Having higher power density is very convenient, but not exploding is a great characteristic of NiMH batteries. Charging mishaps can happen with those as well, but I've never heard of a cascade failure overtaking NiMH while just sitting there.

I've had young programmers sneer at me about my continued use of NiMH AA and AAA batteries, but there are some advantages.


I wouldn't give Lithium Ion-based stuff to kids to play with unsupervised. NiMH for the win.


Is there some way to tell if a battery is swelling using CoconutBattery? Like some sudden dropoff in capacity?


Not sure if there is, but if you click the Battery Info... button, it shows a popup with a field called Battery failure in addition to the normal OSX battery status.


I'd like to know this too. I've got the same model as stated in the article. I'm weary now that it may cause a malfunction


> There was a bang as I backed away causing the back to pop and smoke kept pouring out. It kept sizzling for a few minutes and then finally it stopped.

> The house had filled up with smoke everywhere, the acidic stench of melted plastic made my eyes water.

> After I had opened up all the windows in the house and cleared out the smoke, ...

Wrong answer. The correct answer was "leave the building and call the fire department". You really really do not want to breathe the smoke from a battery fire.


Well, one more thing to worry about. Should I leave my MacBooks in the bathroom sink when going out?


If you're going to be worried about everything that has a small chance of failing and injuring you, I'm sorry to say you're currently living in a minefield. But statistically you'd be more likely to break your toe on the coffee table than your laptop exploding and burning down your house.


I broke my toe on the coffee table last year and in my old mbp battery swallowed - so it's not very comforting


My toe will heal, the stakes are low. My house burning down on the other hand can have fatal consequences for my cat if I'm not at home.


Depending on where you live, house destroying disasters like earthquakes, floods, and storms have similarly fatal consequences but are statistically more likely to occur. My point is make reasonable preparations and insure any valuable belongings, but thinking about it too much doesn't make it any less likely its going to happen to you.


Breaking your toe on the coffee table, I'd say has a pretty high statistical chance.


I'm guessing your home is far more likely to burn down from other causes than from your Macbook. A Galaxy Note 7, on the other hand...


There isn't enough information in the article to determine the cause of the fire. He does say he was sitting in bed browsing the Internet, so it's possible he had the laptop resting on some blankets, which blocked the vents and caused the laptop to overheat and shut down.

I haven't heard of MacBooks spontaneously exploding under normal conditions.


There're many temperature sensors inside a laptop. They are designed to shut down on high-temperature conditions, well before exploding. The blankets cannot be the cause of the problem, without positing a second failure of some sort to defeat the safeties?


> it's possible he had the laptop resting on some blankets

IIRC, Macbooks do not have vents on the bottom to be blocked in that way. The only vents on mine are on the hinge between the screen and the body, and the mechanism works so that the could really only be blocked from the top.


In my experience, resting a Macbook on something that's soft (like a blanket) so that the underside is blocked has rather catastrophic effects on its ventilation.

That said, it should not be possible to cause a runaway failure in the battery via the laptop overheating.


In the tub! The flames from burning lithium can reach several feet high.


One thing I'm curious about is if the author noticed a budge before the laptop exploded and brought it to the Apple store. I had a similar problem as I noticed the laptop was uneven as I was typing. Noticed there was a bump on the bottom and brought it to the store to have it repaired. Not saying it's ideal, but there might have been a chance it could have been prevented before it got too far out of hand.


Just curious if there is a manufacturer+model and/or lot number that is still legible on the battery or an old system report output? Have been having some weird overheating and "hard off" power-issues with my 2015 MBP --- and now am pretty concerned about this.

It is a remanufactured from Apple though. So I know the battery was replaced. But still...


This has been a problem since forever. I had one of the first Intel Macbooks and the damned thing blew up 2 batteries. They swelled up to about 4 times their original thickness overnight. Luckily, they didn't explode but after the second incident the Macbook got recycled with extreme prejudice.


Similar thing happened to my retina external display the other week and I had to unplug my monitor and run it out to my balcony while I could see flames in the display (though I assume the root of the problem was different as there is no battery). Luckily it suffocated itself pretty quickly.


One does not a trend make.

How many were manufactured? How many failed in this way? Is it reasonable to expect perfection? (Hint: Oh hell no.)

p.s. I'm not saying it's right. Simply pointing out that "life happens" and random events are in fact woven into the fabric of the universe.


Apple has a page dedicated to batteries

https://www.apple.com/batteries/maximizing-performance/


yikes. I have two very swollen lithium batteries in my shed from two old mbps I've been meaning to ditch. I had no idea they could spontaneously combust. I'll be getting rid of them tomorrow!


If they been there for a while then they are discharged and there is nothing to worry about.


I'd be interested to know how the bathroom tiles look and whether people recommend to do the same in a similar situation.


As a shareholder, curious what Apple said and did as a response. Did they offer a brand new MacBook free of charge?


If you sit a MBP on a pillow, the fan circulation is significantly reduced, causing overheating. It also depends on your CPU usage...running with a few dozen tabs open while editing videos? Yikes, hot.

One other thing: if you smoke, residue can also reduce the effectiveness of cooling systems and affect system performance.

EDIT: Not suggesting this was the OP's fault, just suggesting there are logical ways to reduce this risk.


I'm confused. What does this have to do with the apparent battery failure that OP experienced?


Why are you assuming the battery is the source, not the result, of a failure elsewhere in the system?

No one has done a real root cause analysis and research shows humans are really bad at it when relying on intuition alone.

Cascading failure here is possible. I've never seen one actually light a battery on fire. The last encounter was a gaming level video card plowing a capacitor, starting a fire within the entire desktop.

From the article:

> If you have a MacBook be careful leaving it unattended on the bed, battery fires burn hot and fast with little time to react.

If this person was in a habit of leaving it in a poorly ventilated place, like their squishy bed, the electronics could have become compromised over time.

Also from the article:

> however with the newer unibody laptops there is no way you can see this swelling happening.

This is not true. Users have reported that prior to discovering battery swelling, their trackpad quit working and in some cases began separating from the top chassis.


Pretty lucky he dealt with it so quickly. A mattress fire is not a trivial thing to deal with!


> After reading up on the matter it seems that lithium batteries can swell...

People really need to be educated on battery chemistry when they buy battery operated products. Here's a programmer, so I assume he has some technical abilities/interests, and yet even he doesn't seem to know that some batteries can do this.


How would one educated on battery chemistry do anything different?

The author states "however with the newer unibody laptops there is no way you can see this swelling happening."

You can't see it swelling so there's no actionable item here.


In this case he happened to handle it pretty well. Educating people that this CAN happen will allow them to handle it when it does happen. Most people probably would not handle it this well.

Actually, the touch pad tends to pop up when the batteries start swelling. It may not have in this case, but it's common enough that people get _some_ warning.


>> People really need to be educated on battery chemistry when they buy battery operated products.

Or it should be illegal to sell products that can catch fire/explode. I admit to knowing nothing about battery tech but if there were suddenly massive penalties for exploding batteries I don't think it would be long until we had a workable solution. It should not be up to a consumer buying a phone/laptop to learn about how their battery works and how to identify a potentially dangerous situation.


> Or it should be illegal to sell products that can catch fire/explode.

You own a vehicle?


"during normal use"...


Half the products in your house can potentially explode, even the food. Flour is known to blow up whole factories. Powdered sugar too.


We have been...just right now the prevailing 'wisdom' is based upon a time when NiCad batteries were popular. Battery tech has changed faster than the time it takes for that info to be updated within the public consciousness


Similar thing happened with my IMac. Heard the hissing noise and smoke started rising up from behind the screen. Quickly switched off the power supply, thankfully it didn't explode but couldn't get it fixed after that. They claimed that they weren't supporting that model anymore.


iMacs don't have batteries, right...?


Could be from a capacitor?


hissing noise and smoke sounds like an electrolytic capacitor, yes.


This is definitely frightening but "exploded" sounds a bit hyperbolic to me. Every time I've read about an "exploding" phone or other device it seems like "caught on fire" would be a more accurate description.


"There was a bang as I backed away causing the back to pop"


Indeed, and the clarification is valuable; an explosion while using your laptop in bed might actually be a serious matter.


Given the debacle that was the Note 7 (which came from Samsung's obsession with thinness), I'm surprised we don't see more of these super thin devices catching fire. Luckily nobody was seriously hurt.

Next-gen's MPB will be .5 inches slimmer.


It came from defective batteries not thinness.


The batteries expanded upon use, and due to the slimness of the phone, they had no room. This caused the conductive chemical layers within the batteries to leak through the porous separating layers, and the resulting reaction caused fires.

To me, that has to do with slimness.


I don't believe you are correct. No device manufacturer has room available when it comes to internals. They don't leave gaps that aren't physically required for operation. This isn't like an air-cooled desktop PC, it's a device that has no affordances for excess space.

The big problem with the Note 7 was the battery design and manufacture. Nothing within the device itself was the problem. These batteries would have exploded in any device they were placed in (though they were built specifically for the Note 7, like any phone battery nowadays): https://news.samsung.com/global/infographic-galaxy-note7-wha...


> (though they were built specifically for the Note 7, like any phone battery nowadays)

Samsung requested a battery with the design of the phone in mind. That design was faulty. Under normal operation the electrodes would expand and due to the design of the electrodes and the faulty separators, there was a fire.

The slimness/design of the phone necessitated a battery design which was faulty. I'm not saying that the battery literally had no extra room. There was no extra room without causing a short circuit and fire.


So two independent companies (after testing many phones) came to conclusion that there were two different manufacturing defects in batteries used. But they were wrong and the problem was phones thinness. You should contact Samsung immediately.


Please read problem description number one in the link that you kindly provided.


yeah right, like laptops need to be designed with "extra space for the batteries to grow".

it's not a slimness issue


I thought the batteries didn't have the space they needed to expand?



I don't necessarily disagree with your conclusion (because I don't have the data either way), but I own a late-2015 Macbook Pro Retina and certainly wouldn't classify it as super-thin. It's not particularly thick but it's no lightweight either.


I guess "super thin" is relative to the "normal size" of a product.


Perhaps Apple can attach a capacitor sufficient to drive the new touch bar, or make the touch bar e-ink, then display an overheat warning and prevent the power button from operating?


A capacitor of sufficient size to drive the touch bar (even just a few milliwatts for a minute) would be very large. The application requires a backup chemical battery (which is already something present on the motherboard) not a capacitor.


This was last year's model, though.


I removed the back plate to observe the damage and hopefully see if the hard disk had survived.

Apple has solved this problem in the current models. There's no longer any way for the hard disk to leave you in doubt. It's now fused to the motherboard permanently so that it cannot be recovered even if it does survive some kind of trouble.

Keep your backups up to date.


I think they have added a port to the mainboard which can be used to try and salvage data if the mainboard is fried.

But it's still unbelievable that they soldered the SSD to the mainboard.


You would call it unbelievable if Apple made it tiny bit heavier or thicker by keeping parts more independent but still call it unbelievable trying to keep a minimal structure.


But it's the thinnest, sleekest, most stylish way to limit your data preserving and upgrade options on the market!


> Keep your backups up to date.

Seconded. I've got a Time Machine disk both on my personal office as well as at the client's site.

My new 2016 MacBook Pro failed to charge on a Saturday morning. Brought it in for service, bought another one for the time being, restored from backup and bam -- ready to work on Monday morning.

Making (and restoring) backups is ridiculously easy with macOS.


Just use a AirPort Time Capsule. Great piece of mind and just works.


Idk, but for me, the parent's description would evoke the exact opposite of peace of mind.


heat/ventilation cause it? Using notebook not on a flat surface is the cause of heated unit


> After I had opened up all the windows in the house and cleared out the smoke, I removed the back plate to observe the damage and hopefully see if the hard disk had survived.

> Didn’t look like it:

I agree. This is the first time I've seen a hard drive transform into (what looks like) an SSD under any condition.




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