May 26, 2015

Battling the bulge

The story started when I needed to replace the battery on my 17″ Early 2009 unibody Macbook Pro1For those interested, Apple lists the part as 661-5037 but it's more commonly known as the A1309.. The battery had started to swell, causing the bottom case to not stay in place. The battery life was about 1.5 hours (~6000mAh remaining versus the 12-13k on brand new Macs).

The hunt begins

My first stop was A. Lab at Changi City Point where I had good experience replacing a busted MagSafe 2 charger under AppleCare. It turns out that Apple had stopped producing the parts for my MBP, and that it would cost $386.75 + $130 labour. So, expensive and unavailable. Moving on.

I then looked at the Newertech Nupower battery from SimplyMac and contacted Patrick, who I know to be a nice guy even though I’ve only enquired and not bought from him so far. His reply was that the permit to bring in this particular battery wasn’t ready, which was disappointing. It would have cost $168 + $150 labour anyway, which is still a bit expensive for a 6-year-old Mac. Again, not even throwing money can fix this.

It was then that I found The Repair Hospital, seems rather reputable with multiple outlets, including their flagship at Suntec.

Affordable yet dubious

Based on the previous two quotes, I found the web store price of $235 quite attractive. I called to find out availability and it was in stock, great! Was quoted $215 for 6 month warranty, $253 for 1 year warranty, includes labour. Even cheaper —awesome, right? Also asked about replacement screws and rubber feet, was told no screws and $2 per foot.

When I went there, the price quoted was $205 for 6 months and $243 for 1 year. WHAT!!! I went along with it.

The person on the phone earlier said that repair could be done on the spot, but one of the staff attending tried to give me a form and tell me to collect another day, to which I insisted on immediate collection. Another colleague came to correct her about the repair time and printed another set of forms.

The form itself was highly dubious. It had a PDPA-related clause that says they are allowed to contact you for both performance of service and marketing research. Of course, based on Mark Cenite’s Media Law & Ethics class I knew this wouldn’t be valid. I also made them strike out the clause, although I don’t know how effective it would be because my info’s in their database already by that point.

Finally the repair was done, everything seemed to be in order. The original battery was returned to me. So at least that part was good. Battery was about 13000 mAh.

Seeing me inspect my bottom case which was hanging open due to only 3 screws left, the second staff indicated that they had screws available for $2 ea and rubber feet for $4 ea. I opted for the screws because they actually had functional value, was cheaper than the $5/screw from Apple and costs about the same as Amazon with shipping. The rubber foot was overpriced vs about $1 on Amazon and their original quote of $2 and didn’t do much anyway, so I didn’t get it (although $4 in context really isn’t that much).

I would say that the technician Esmond was really professional though, he helped me to glue the rubber foot attachment in place when I said it was out of alignment.

So is it worth going there for repairs?

Honestly I have very mixed feelings about The Repair Hospital.

On one hand, it is relatively cheap and available versus Apple. I don’t quite trust the SLS guys and DIY will be an issue regarding parts availability and shipping concerns. The technician does a decent job. The part they don’t keep in stock, but were able to bring in from the moment of the call (about 10am) and reached by 6pm. The repair if minor/fast can be done within the day or even on the spot.

On the other hand, I have a sea of red flags raised with the admin staff and communication. It seems that prices are not fixed AT ALL and the knowledge of the admin staff re: goods is really hit or miss.

I really recommend only going armed with research or if you’re generally tech-savvy. For non-geeks, I’d say if the price seems okay to you just go for it, even if there’s a possibility of it being even cheaper. I get the sense that this is a communication and training issue rather than an elaborate rip-off setup.


Third-party batteries have been known to cause issues with throttling the CPU speed so when my clean install of Yosemite started freezing up I started to worry. But after investigation it was the Dropbox client which chokes up on my 100+ GB of data, causing beachballs everywhere.

When I called The Repair Hospital, the desk staff again gave me some lame excuses blah blah blah so I asked to speak with the technician, who was happy to help with diagnosis and also selling me a new SSD in case it was my Plextor. It saddens me whenever terrible service staff mar an otherwise good technical service.

I opened the bottom case and checked the battery, it looks like the original Apple one, printing and all. Perhaps it is a battery refill and not really a new OEM-type battery? Well it works, so who cares.

There are cheaper batteries available on Carousell and SLS, but in my case the 17″ 09 MBP battery is relatively rare. If you have a more common 13″ or 15″ you can consider those instead.

  1. For those interested, Apple lists the part as 661-5037 but it's more commonly known as the A1309.