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MacBook Pro: Black Screen of Death (or is it just faking?)

5 April 2009

Disclaimer: If you are reading this, chances are there is a hardware problem with your Mac. In my case it was a faulty logic board, which had to be replaced.

Use this guide to get your Mac up and running again and create a full backup of you system as soon as possible. If the problem repeats itself, I recommend you take your Mac back to Apple for a check-up.

Today I was happily working on some Java code, when I decided to relocate to a sunny spot in the backyard. I closed my MacBook Pro, walked outside and opened my MBP again to continue work: a black screen!

The screen of my Mac stayed black, although it did not indicate to be in a sleeping state. WTF? I restarted the Mac, removed the battery, reset PRAM/NVRAM and the PMU, but nothing worked! ARGH! Then, I found a solution that worked. If you find yourself in a similar situation, do the following:

  1. Shutdown your Mac entirely by holding the power button for 5 seconds.
  2. Hook up your Mac to another one with a FireWire cable. (You have one, right?)
  3. Hold the T key on your mac's internal keyboard and press the power button. When your MBP's disk will shows up as an external firewire disk on your HelperMac, release the T button.
  4. Open finder and go to the /private/var/vm folder on your MacBook's hard drive. You may need to use Command-Shift-G in Finder, because this folder is hidden by default. Once in /private/var/vm remove the sleepfile you find there.
  5. Next, go to /System/Library on you MBP's disk and remove Extensions.mkext.
  6. Now, eject your MBP drive and shutdown your MBP by hitting its power button.

After these steps, you should be able to boot your MBP as normal again.

Although I’m not sure of the problem at hand, it appears that the sleepfile gets corrupted in some way.

Oh, didn’t have that FireWire cable ready? Here’s the one I used.

Update: There are some common questions in the comments I’d like to answer here. You cannot use an USB cable to connect your Mac to another one, only Firewire 400 and 800 are supported.

In my case, the MacBook Pro was returned to a Apple Dealer and repaired under warranty, because Apple apparently has acknowledged the problems with the video card on these machines. Your mileage may vary with your local Apple store.