Some MacBook Pro models reportedly hit by ‘dustgate’ problem that corrupts screen – and may be a pricey repair

MacBook Pro 2019
(Image credit: Apple)

Some MacBook Pro models are suffering from ‘dustgate’ which causes problems with the laptop screen, going by feedback from repair outfits.

As Forbes reports, repair specialists NotebookNerds and iCorrect have observed a problem whereby dust and debris is managing to (indirectly) corrupt the display, resulting in a mess of vertical purple lines running down the screen.

What’s happening here, we’re told, is that said debris accumulates in the hinge between the screen and laptop body, and when the MacBook Pro lid is opened and closed, over time this debris can be repeatedly pressed into the screen flex cable.

The damage done to that cable then purportedly causes the corruption of the image being piped through to the screen and the purple lines (which are visible when the laptop lid is open at certain angles).

Stephan Steins of NotebookNerds told Forbes: “It’s a common problem, we get several of them a week.”

Ricky Panesar, founder of repair outfit iCorrect, observes he’s repairing about four of these faults per week.

As mentioned, it’s only certain models of MacBook Pro, and as Panesar asserts, those are A1989, A2251, A2289, A2338 and A2141 units (the final one seeing the largest number of incidents).

Those are MacBook Pro versions that came out from 2018 to 2020, but models sold for the previous two years (back to 2016) could potentially be hit by ‘dustgate’ as they have a similar design with the hinge and flex cable.

Note that more recent MacBook Pros, from 2021 onwards, are not susceptible to the purple screen blues. Apparently Apple introduced a way to better protect the flex cable with these later MacBooks.

Analysis: A tricky and potentially costly fix

This is an odd one for sure, as the corruption is nasty. You can see the resulting damage in the YouTube short from iCorrect above, and it also demonstrates that the purple lines are only visible when the laptop lid is open at certain angles. Admittedly, that’s most angles for the notebook used in the video, but if you get a sweet spot angle in places, the corruption disappears and the screen is displayed normally. (Showing that it’s likely a problem with the cable and hinge as described, rather than an issue with the panel itself).

The other problem here, as the repair experts observe, is that this is far from a trivial fix.

Panesar explained: “The difficulty is that the damaged cables connect on the back of the screen itself. To repair, we have to remove the screen from the outer shell without breaking it and solder in new flex cables. There’s a high risk of breakage.”

Given that, you could be looking at a replacement screen, not just a cable.

Indeed, in terms of the complexity of the task, it’s easier just to replace the display from the off with this fault, and Panesar tells us this is typically how Apple might deal with the problem. A new display is, of course, one of the pricier repairs on a MacBook.

There are a number of posts on Reddit from users suffering from this issue – or indeed displays failing entirely – not to mention Apple’s support forums.

If you’re hit by the problem yourself, you could try contacting Apple and complaining. But unless you have AppleCare (which won’t still be applicable for the vast majority of these older MacBook Pro models anyway), you’re looking at arranging a repair either via Apple or a third-party, and as mentioned, it could turn out pricey.

Note that ‘dustgate’ isn’t to be confused with ‘flexgate’ (Apple has more gates than Bill) which is another problem also pertaining to the flex cable that caused display-related gremlins in the works (backlight bleeding in this case). Apple has acknowledged the latter issue, but not the former (yet). Hopefully some investigation will be underway into these dustgate reports…

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Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).