Apple Admits MacBook Hard Drives Defective, Offers Free Repair Program

In a move reminiscent of the warranty extension Apple (s aapl) offered to MacBook Pro owners affected by NVIDIA-gate, the Mac maker announced this week that it would offer a similar consideration to some MacBook owners whose hard drives are crashing. Eligible models (black and white MacBooks sold between May 2006 and December 2007) affected by the problem will be repaired at no cost.

On the support page created to describe the problem and the resulting warranty extension, Apple doesn’t mention which brand of hard drives are affected by name, which could mean that the problem doesn’t lie with the hard drives themselves, but with some other system components. Another indication that this is indeed the case is that all capacities of hard drive are also affected.

If you’re wondering whether or not you have an affected unit (Apple says only a “small percentage” of users will experience problems), it’s very easy to identify. Your MacBook will just stop working altogether, and any attempts to boot it will result in a screen that displays a folder icon with a question mark over top of it, as in the image below. As someone who’s seen this screen many times while fixing up old PowerBooks, I can tell you it isn’t a heartening experience.

Apple describes what you should do if you’re greeted with such a screen:

Please take your MacBook to the Apple representative most convenient for you:

  • Apple Authorized Service Provider – Find one here.
  • Apple Retail Store – Set up an appointment with a Genius.

If Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider confirms that your hard drive is affected, Apple will replace it with a new hard drive. You will need to have the original OS installation discs that were shipped with your product in order to re-install your operating system, other applications, and any backed up data.

If you need assistance finding the best service option in your area, you may contact Apple Technical Support for more information.

It sounds like any data you may have stored on the drive will be irrevocably lost if this does happen to you, so if you have one of the affected models and you haven’t yet implemented any kind of backup system, you should probably consider doing so.

If your machine has already had this problem, and you’ve already paid out of pocket to get it fixed or replace your drive, you can contact Apple Technical Support and inquire about a reimbursement process. No word on whether that extends to at home HD replacements, which is how I would’ve tried to solve the problem, but if you haven’t kept your old faulty drive, I highly doubt it would. Mostly I expect this will apply when people have taken their machines through official Apple repair channels to correct the problem.

The extension period covers affected Macs three years from the date of purchase, for this specific problem alone, or until August 15, 2010, whichever comes last, so you still have about six months in which your HD can fail and you’ll still be covered. It may seem like an arbitrary window, but Apple does include a caveat that it will be evaluating the repair need on an ongoing basis and extend that deadline if circumstances require.

Anyone experienced the symptoms Apple is describing with this model MacBook?