It Might Be Impossible to Recover Data From a 2018 MacBook If the Logic Board Fails

It Might Be Impossible to Recover Data From a 2018 MacBook If the Logic Board Fails

Getting Apple devices repaired can be frustrating even if you’ve got an Apple Store nearby. The company does everything it can to make hardware that’s sleek and powerful, but it pays little or no attention to repairability. For example, if you need to get that flawed butterfly keyboard replaced, Apple needs to swap the entire top casing. The butterfly mechanism was improved in the latest MacBook Pro, but Apple appears to have taken a big step backward when it comes to recovering data from a broken MacBook. According to a new report, there’s no way to retrieve data from a 2018 MacBook Pro if the logic board dies.

The data recovery conundrum is a direct result of Apple’s pursuit of a slimmer laptop. Beginning in 2016, Apple made the storage module a completely integrated component — an SSD soldered to the board. If you want a larger system drive or if something breaks, you need to replace the entire logic board (PC folks would call this a motherboard).

It seemed like a defective logic board would take all your data to that big recycling bin in the sky, but the 2016 and 2017 MacBooks have a backup solution. There’s a data recovery port on the board that Apple techs can use to copy data from the embedded storage to a new MacBook using the Migration Assistant. Apple made a special interface box specifically for this process.

According to the now-complete 2018 MacBook Pro teardown from iFixit, that port is missing on the new model. Thus, a defective logic board means your data is lost even if there’s nothing wrong with the SSD. Your only hope is that the machine works well enough to boot into Target Disk Mode, which allows access via the Migration Assistant on another laptop.

The now-missing recovery port via iFixit.
The now-missing recovery port via iFixit.

Internal service documents obtained by MacRumors tells technicians to stress to customers the importance of backing up data in Time Machine. That seems like sound advice considering the alternative.

It’s unclear why Apple would remove the data recovery port from the latest MacBook, but it might have something to do with the addition of the custom T2 chip. This bit of silicon debuted in the iMac Pro, providing hardware data encryption, the storage controller, and other key system features. That apparently prevents simply migrating data from one SSD to another. Apple suggests customers contact data recovery firms like DriveSavers and Knoll in the event irreplaceable data is stuck on a broken MacBook, but it’s unclear how they would be able to help when Apple itself cannot.