A petition by Raj Dsouza to Replace or Fix All Early 2011 MacBook Pros with Graphics Failures has now gathered more than 10,000 signatures, though Apple still shows no sign of standing behind its product.
This contrasts with its action on a similar fault with the 27-inch iMac computers sold between May 2011 and October 2012. In this case, Apple announced that it would "replace the video card free of charge for four years after the first retail sale of the computer". Fixing early-2011 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pros would cost more because the ATI Radeon 67xx GPU is soldered to the logic board. However, the cost would still not make a visible dent in Apple's $165 billion cash hoard.
Dsouza's petition says: "Everyone who bought a MacBook Pro spent a huge premium … and did not expect to have a manufacturing defect. This issue had made a $2,500 investment a piece of junk in two years. We do not buy Apple products with this in mind."
Buyers who took out three years of Apple Care would have got their machines fixed, but this will have run out for many owners, or will soon run out. In either case, this falls short of Apple's decision to repair 27-inch iMacs "for four years after the first retail sale".
Dsouza identifies himself as petitioning from Sydney, Australia, and bought his MacBook Pro in Hong Kong, so he would not be able to start a class action lawsuit against Apple in the USA. However, this could be an option for American users.
The risk was highlighted by iFixit in Step 10 of its MacBook Pro 15" Unibody Early 2011 Teardown, published in February 2010. It says: "Holy thermal paste! Time will tell if the gobs of thermal paste applied to the CPU and GPU will cause overheating issues down the road."
If either the thermal paste or the soldering causes the problem — which remains unknown — the fault was created by the assembly process rather than by a defective component or similar issue. That would make it cheaper to fix than the Apple's usual suggestion: replace the motherboard. And, of course, there's no guarantee that the replacement motherboard won't fail in the same way.
This is clearly a real problem for users. Apart from the (currently) 10,372 signatures on the Change.org petition, one of the Apple Support threads — 2011 MacBook Pro and Discrete Graphics Card — has had 7,828 replies (more than 500 pages) and 1,128,677 views.
It's clearly a problem for Apple, too, as some of comments make clear. For example, In a comment at Tech Republic, Kanimies says: "This does indeed have a big impact on how I see Apple quality, especially should they choose not to repair the flawed units at their cost. It would mean that buying an Apple no longer meant paying extra for quality and dedication to customer satisfaction. It would simply mean you're paying more for the badge just because you're stupid."
Incidentally, if you have an early-2011 MBP that hasn't gone wrong, that doesn't mean it won't go wrong. If the fault is triggered by overheating, it could still appear during heavyweight tasks such as video editing.