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 reports of M1 MacBook display cracking got you worried?

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

We will 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.

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 newsfeeds.

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

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 timeframe, including the home-button, the first functional use of USB-C, popularising 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.

Apple’s aggressive pursuit for thinner, lighter and more powerful laptop has caused them to try every trick in the book.

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

Apple has also had issues in the past with drivers and GPU initialisation, and we will also discuss the possibility of this happening as well.

Flexgate explored

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

As the notebooks that Apple sells demands razor thin displays, this cable then became part of the hinge, moving and flexing with the hinge. Apple didn’t predict the large amount of stress that this one cable goes through, and as a result it started tearing (by repetitive strain), and therefore preventing the display from outputting what the GPU is sending. This can be seen in:

In some cases, the cable functions until a certain angle, like this case

This highlights an issue that I’m sure you’ve dealt with 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 again further 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).

Cases often feature 6 vertical bars (one of which is usually black, grey or a different colour all-together, and the remaining 5 having a bright pink colour). This 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 sells MacBook in) class action lawsuit, which resulted in Apple being forced to run a recall and free replacement program, and also having to pay a hefty fine. After early 2018, these issues, although rare are often seen in newer MacBooks (especially with a lot of heavy daily use).

How to avoid display connector failure

To avoid having your display connector fail, and in the end possibly fry your display (which your wallet will not appreciate), be sure to treat your laptop with respect, and avoid slamming the display.

Also try and avoid having debris in-between the laptop’s display and chassis, which seen in Are M1 MacBook Screens Randomly CRACKING, is something that also leads to the potential for contact cracks forming and potentially shattering the glass on the display.

Also, make sure to 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 spot (whether that be in a case/sleeve when you travel, on 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

With the introduction of Apple’s latest OS, MacOS Big Sur and MacOS Monterrey being only just over the horizon, Big Sur still isn’t immune from major software issues every now and again.

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 (as often in other Unix based operating systems, such as Linux), it has a solid colour (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-initialisation of the GPU drivers.

The ‘pink-screen’ issue, with M1 Macs in particular is most common with MacOS Big Sur (11.2 to 11.4) 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).

Solution

The solution to a software-based pink-screen is to simply update to the latest version of MacOS, while also avoiding extremely GPU intensive applications until you are on a known stable version of MacOS. This will allow for you to have the overall best experience, while also avoiding pink-screening all together.

Summary

There are 2 main issues that a pink screen might entail, and your options look like the following: if your MacBook has a permanent pink screen, with vertical bars, you have to get your display connector replaced.

However, if your system crashes with a pink-screen, try updating to the latest version of MacOS, and that seems to have resolved the majority of pink-screen issues. Otherwise, try and avoid heavy GPU workloads for the time-being until you are able to update to at least MacOS 11.5.