macbook pink screen

What causes ‘pink screens’ on Macs?

Some MacBook users have reported their screens turning pink and becoming unresponsive.

Is your expensive investment in an Apple MacBook affected by reports of ‘pink-screening’? Have recent claims of M1 MacBook displays cracking got you worried?

In this article I look at some historical events and recent data to uncover what’s actually happening, and if you should be worried or not.

I’ll also discuss the 2 major forms of pink-screening (the 6-bars permanent issue, and the pink-screen crash issue), and discuss solutions for both.

Background information and Apple’s past

With almost every release or refresh of a new Apple product, there’s always some kind of scandal that makes it onto our news feed.

This can be seen all the way from 2006 (with Apple only supporting the 32 bit Core 2 Duo for 2 years), going to 2010-2012 (with crippling graphics failure on the AMD and Nvidia cards respectively), 2013-2017 (display connectors failing, and causing odd display artifacting, or failure), 2015 (the 12 inch Retina MacBook being rife with faults, with every single component being susceptible to failure, and also bringing the butterfly keyboard, which in itself caused issues for the next 4 years).

Apple has also had issues in the past with drivers and GPU (graphics processing unit) initialization – I will discuss this later on.

Cracked MacBook Air screen
Apple’s 12 inch Retina MacBook, a laptop that although revolutionized computing, was rife with faults. (source: http://apple.com)

It’s clear that Apple has made more than just a few mistakes over the years, although it would be a mistake to not also mention all the innovations that they have made in the same time frame. Such as including the home-button, the first functional use of USB-C, popularizing a thin-and-light chassis, and bringing in the iconic industrial design language that has been seen in MacBooks ever since 2009 with the first Unibody MacBook.

One scandal in particular was very notorious – the 2013-2017 display connector issues, often referred to as ‘flexgate’.

Flexgate explored

Apple’s aggressive pursuit for thinner, lighter and more powerful laptops has caused them to try every trick in the book. As Apple’s MacBook design team demanded increasingly razor thin displays, sacrifices had to be made.

“Flexgate” appeared when Apple shipped MacBooks with certain display connectors that were designed to be as thin and effective as possible, while also remaining as cheap to produce as possible.

This cable was actually part of the hinge – moving and flexing when the screen was opened and closed. Apple somehow underestimated the large amount of stress that this one cable goes through, and as a result it often started tearing – preventing the display from outputting the video signal from the GPU. This can be seen in this video:

In some cases, the cable functions and outputs a signal until a certain angle, like in the above video.

You’ve probably dealt with something like this before. When a cable wears, it tends to still have a specific angle/range where there is enough copper left intact that it can still function (such as that one angle where your fraying Lightning cable works, or where your failing headphone cable works).

This highlights that these issues are from a display cable fault (and not, for example a driver/GPU fault, both of which have been prevalent in Apple’s past).

Flexgate often materializes in MacBooks as multiple vertical bars (one of which is usually black, grey or a different color all-together, and the remaining bars having a bright pink color). This is usually complemented with the display’s power source also being put in jeopardy, and is also the main cause for displays shorting in MacBooks (with liquid damage being the other main perpetrator).

“Flexgate” resulted in a large multi-nation (every country Apple sold this MacBook in) class action lawsuit, which resulted in Apple being forced to offer a recall and free replacement program, in addition to a hefty fine.

How to avoid display connector failure

To avoid having your display connector fail and render the screen of your MacBook useless (which your wallet will not appreciate), there are some simple things you can do.

Firstly, be sure to treat your MacBook with respect, and avoid slamming the display. Also, try to ensure there is no debris in-between the laptop’s display and chassis – like crumbs or tiny rocks. These tiny objects have the potential to cause contact cracks and potentially shatter the glass on the display, as seen in some M1 MacBooks with cracked screens.

Avoid any twisting motions with the hinge, as it often puts excessive strain on the connectors. This also includes holding the laptop by the display (instead, be sure to hold it from the base, and using 2 hands to avoid potentially dropping it as well).

Another measure that you should take is to keep your MacBook in a safe place (whether that be in a case/sleeve when you travel, in a secure location away from pets and small children when you are at home, or keeping debris away from it by eating away from it, etc.).

The other reason for ‘pink-screening’ – software issues

Apple is constantly updating macOS with new features and improvements. However, no software is completely immune from issues.

Sometimes a software update (or even outdated software), or installing a certain app for example can interfere with the image being output to the screen.

MacBook pink screen

The pink-screen crashing issue can be described as a software issue that is most likely related to the GPU being unable to display a picture. It has a solid color (usually pink, green, white or grey) to signal that there is such an issue. This is very often followed up with a forced reboot, and usually flushing and re-initialization of the GPU drivers.

The ‘pink-screen’ issue, with M1 MacBooks in particular is most common on macOS Big Sur (11.2 to 11.4). It’s always advisable to be on the latest version of macOS and with the latest version (of which, at the time of writing is 11.5), seems to have fixed this driver-level issue.

As Unix based systems have their drivers baked straight into the kernel (if you work with Linux a lot, you will understand the pain of trying to recompile the entire kernel to add some specific drivers).

As 11.5 is the latest ‘dot’ release, it seems like they have done some work with the kernel, and also worked with general stability with other components (with things such as the wifi interface being common in causing issues).

How to fix MacBook pink-screen

The solution to a software-based pink-screen is to follow a few simple troubleshooting steps that should hopefully correct the issue.

  1. Restart your MacBook (Apple Logo>Restart). If the screen is unresponsive, hold down the power button until the screen turns off. Wait 5-10 seconds, and then turn it back on.
  2. If the issue persists, reset the SMC (system management controller) of your MacBook. Apple has a helpful guide on this.
  3. Reset the NVRAM.
  4. If you’re still having issues, try to connect your MacBook to an external monitor. This should allow you to bypass the malfunctioning built-in MacBook screen and access your desktop and system settings.
  5. If possible, back-up your MacBook to ensure your most important files and data are backed up.
  6. Perform a software update to attempt to fix whatever error occurred.
  7. You may also try reinstalling macOS if none of the previous steps work.
  8. If none of these steps have worked, you should erase and reinstall macOS.
  9. If the issue still persists, take your MacBook to an Apple store or Authorized Apple Service Provider for service.

I also wrote a full guide on how to fix MacBook pink screen issues if you would like a more detailed breakdown of the above.

Summary

There are 2 main issues that could cause a pink-screen on your MacBook. To summarize – if your MacBook has a permanent pink screen, with vertical bars, and none of the troubleshooting steps I have outlined in this article resolve the issue, you have to get your display connector replaced.

If the troubleshooting worked – it is likely a software issue or bug that caused the pink-screen. This is usually nothing to worry about. However, if it continues it may be indicative of a deeper issue, and you should take your MacBook to an Apple store or Authorized Apple Service Provider for service.

MacBook Pink Screen Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my MacBook screen pink?

There are several reasons why a MacBook screen can turn pink. It may be that the display cable that connects the display to the logic board has become worn and no longer outputs a reliable video signal. It may also be due to a software issue preventing video signal from the GPU. Or, a process called automatic graphics switching has failed.

How to fix MacBook pink screen?

There are several troubleshooting steps that can be performed to fix bright pink Mac screen. These include updating the operating system, performing an SMC and NVRAM reset, or even erasing and reinstalling macOS.

What is “flexgate”?

Some MacBook Pro models from 2016 and later may develop screen issues and uneven backlighting. The most common cause is a delicate and easy-to-break flex cable that provides video output to the MacBook screen. Over time, this may wear and cause the cable to tear.u003cbru003e

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