DIY Tinkerer Invents MacBook Tool That Breaks Apple’s Repair Locks

“To whoever it is at Apple who decided to not make this available to technicians, ‘Fuck you, we win.’”
DIY Tinkerer Invents MacBook Tool That Breaks Apple’s Repair Locks
Image: Notebook Nerds

An independent repair shop in Germany has invented a tool that can break through anti-repair locks Apple has put on a specific sensor on the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

The Nerd.Tool.1 was invented by Stephan Steins of Dortmund’s Notebook Nerds repair shop. It is specifically designed to allow independent repair shops to replace the display angle sensor on broken MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops. This was formerly a replacement that only Apple could do because the replacement part had to be “calibrated” with the specific device, which only Apple could do, until now. This sensor detects when the laptop lid is closed, and turns the screen and fan off, and puts the laptop to sleep. If it’s broken, the laptop’s screen will remain on even when the lid is closed, which drains the battery, can keep the fans running, and generally shorten the life of the computer.

The Nerd.Tool.1 recalibrates replacement sensors, allowing repair techs to replace them without any fuss.

“We are calibrating new sensors nearly the same way Apple does,” Steins told me. “They can do it via their T2 [security chip] or their M1/M2 chips. We are using the nerd.tool.1 for this task. The sensor holds all the data. It is not serialized or paired to the logic board so we are just calibrating it.”

“We broke Apple’s lock,” independent repair advocate and repair pro Louis Rossmann explained in a YouTube video demoing the Nerd.Tool.1.

“The sleep sensor issue is quite often at liquid damaged devices,” Steins told me. “It is also very easy to break the cable of the sensor by replacing the screen.”

As Rossmann explained, the only option for repair shops prior to the Nerd.Tool.1 was to try to scrape off any corrosion from a broken sensor and hope that fixed the problem. Doing this might also require the repair tech to strip broken wires and resolder it to the board. This is ridiculous, considering that the sensor itself only costs a few dollars and isn’t particularly difficult to unplug and plug back in. If a customer’s sensor was unfixable, repair shops had to tell them to go to the Apple Store, where a repair could cost upwards of $1,000.

Rossmann said that Apple claims its calibration and parts pairing regime—which, as tech rights advocate Cory Doctorow explains, is just Digital Rights Management (DRM) for repair—is for better device security.

“Either this is true or it isn't and either way it's horrible,” Rossmann said of the security claim. “If it is true that there are serious security implications in us being able to get access to the sleep sensor calibration tool, that means that one dude in his bedroom in Germany who's tinkering around managed to defeat the security features of a $2 trillion company's products. That's bad. Or, behind door number, two this really doesn't have much to do with security at all and it's just one of those things where they just don't care if the decisions that they make result in them being less repairable for people like us when we want to fix a very very very common issue on these newer MacBooks that a lot of customers are coming in with. Either way it really looks bad.”

“To whoever it is at Apple who decided to not make this available to technicians, ‘Fuck you, we win,’” he added.

Steins said that he’s currently working on other repair tools that can help independent shops and customers bypass Apple’s repair DRM: “We are selling the nerd.tool.1 to be able to spend time in developing other solutions. We will do our best to get nerd.tool.2 to fix other issues which repair shops are facing. The response has been awesome! The community is very kind, which shows how painful these missing tools are for many independent repair shops.”

He added that, so far, he’s head nothing from Apple, “and of course we do not want to hear anything from Apple :)”