Installing a high resolution display on a Macbook Pro

(aka "How to install a 1920x1200 display into a 15.4" Macbook Pro")

The display panels used in the 15.4 inch Macbook Pro are a standard size, and it's possible to switch the standard WSXGA (1440x900) resolution panel for a higher resolution one, for example from a Dell laptop. This page is my attempt to pull together the 46+ pages of chat posted on the Macrumours forum after member Baxterbrittle managed to fit the display from a Macbook Pro on to his Powerbook.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or if I've made a mistake, please drop me an e-mail.

     Images (c) baxterbrittle

Having seen this, several people reported back saying that a number of higher resolution panels fit the MBP, but success was limited. The long and short of it is that the best panel to use is the WUXGA (1920x1200) panel by LG (under Leopard) or Toshiba (under Tiger). LED-backlit panels have only recently become available, so there aren't any success reports yet (that I know about), but it should be possible to do the same transplant by following the guide below.

   Images (c) baxterbrittle

This page should provide a fairly comprehensive outline of which panels do and don't work on which flavours of Macbook Pro. This guide owes a helluvalot to this excellent "how to" post by noetus on macrumors.com - it's one of the most comprehensive and accurate guides, and is well worth a read.

You can find a complete summary of all the points from the macrumors forum discussion on the WUXGA conversion research page, which provides hundreds of links to useful information on the conversions and people's experience.

Contents

Machines you can upgrade

  1. Core Duo and Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro 15.4" models with CRT backlighting
  2. Core2 Duo Santa Rosa and Unibody models MAY be upgradeable: LED-backlit panels are now available (see "choosing and buying a panel", below, for suggested panels)

In a nutshell

  1. It's possible to fit a WUXGA (1920x1200) screen to a 15" Macbook Pro. Using SwitchResX and a Toshiba panel, the modification has been proven to work. Connectors in many newer screens are largely similar, although YMMV so please read on...
  2. Almost all screens tried seem to work fine under Leopard, but Tiger has been a PITA for most users
  3. No conversions can be done on LED-backlit MBPs as there are no WUXGA LED panels freely available, and converting from one light source to another is difficult or impossible
  4. Nb: this modification is MUCH easier and more reliable under OS X 10.5 Leopard than 10.4 Tiger!
  5. Important: if you successfully complete this modification, avoid PRAM resets at all costs, as they are known to render the screen unusable, requiring the use of the "sleep method" of reinitialising the screen, detailed below, or, very rarely, you may not be able to get the screen working again at all.

What this modification does

Replaces your standard 15.4" Macbook Pro screen with a WUXGA (1920x1200) or WSXGA (1650x1080) screen.

What machines does it work on?

This modification has only been proven to work on CCFL Macbook Pros - i.e. Core Duo 1.83, 2.0, and 2.16GHz models, and Core2 Duo 2.16 and 2.33Ghz models.

LED-backlit panels which may be compatible with Santa Rosa and Unibody MBPs are becoming available now; see the "choosing and buying a panel" section for more information.

What's involved?

You will need to disassemble your Mac's bottom and top casings to remove the display. While it's technically possible to cheat by only undoing the two screws which hold the top-case bezel in place, this is fiddly and risks damaging your case.

What tools and parts will I need?

  • A good set of cross-head screwdrivers which fit the Macbook's screws (cheap screwdrivers run the risk of damaging screws). Magnetic screwdrivers are especially useful as they hold on to the screws when trying to get them into and out of fiddly places,
  • A special T6 Torx screwdriver,
  • A piece of flat plastic or small flat-blade screwdriver to help disconnect cables,
  • Plastic sticky tape and scissors will help to keep things out of your way, but be careful to avoid tape which leaves lots of glue residue,
  • See the disassembly guides (at iFixit.com or the more detailed screentekinc.com) for more information.
  • A set of bamboo chopsticks (no, seriously) will let you prise apart delicate casings without damaging them.

How long will it take?

Depending on your level of confidence, the conversion can take as little as an hour, right up to a couple of days. It's best to be prepared for your Mac to be out of service for a couple of days, just in case.

What are the chances of doing serious damage?

As long as you're careful (i.e. don't drop expensive parts on the floor), and you follow instructions provided, you shouldn't do any damage. If the worst happens, you should still be able to put your Mac back together as it was - with the original screen - and use it with no ill-effects. As always though, if you do this, any damage done is your responsibility and not mine or anyone else's. If you have any doubts about this, don't do the conversion!

Choosing and buying a panel

The following notes should help you when looking for a panel, and the table below will give you an idea of what does and doesn't work with your Mac.

Information for CCFL models (Core Duo, Core2 Duo 2.16 and 2.33MHz)

  1. Which panel is best? The LGs seem to be available with the highest specifications. The next-best panels in terms of specifications seem to be the Samsung ones. Compatible Toshiba panels (e.g. the LTD154EZ0D) seem to be inferior and harder to source, so are probably worth avoiding, but seem to be the easiest and most reliable to get working
  2. Which panel is easiest and most reliable to fit? The Toshiba panel seems to be the most reliable to fit (ironically, as it's a slightly lower spec than the others), particularly under 10.4 Tiger, where almost every other panel caused a lot of headaches. Under Leopard 10.5, it seems that a large majority of panels will work straight away, or with just a little bit of display timing tweaking using SwitchResX (this is why the instructions, below, advise you to have a second monitor connected, so you can work with OS X without a working internal display).

Information for LED-backlit models (Santa Rosa Core2 Duo - 2.2 and 2.4GHz, and unibody models)

  1. It is now becoming possible to buy LED-backlit panels which are compatible with these models of Macbook Pro (thanks to Wbyung for pointing this out on Macrumors!)
  2. eBay seller blue32701 is selling an LED replacement panel, and this eBay US search may turn up some more results (or try this eBay UK search if you're in the UK).
  3. Models seem to be Samsung

Information for all models

  1. Mounting tabs: panels without mounting tabs are available - if in doubt, ask the seller. Panels with Lenovo part numbers seem not to have mounting tabs. Panels from Dell computers seem to almost always have mounting tabs. The Apple displays don't seem to use mounting tabs at all. See the section below for tips on removing mounting brackets.
  2. Buying a panel: the best place to buy spare panels seems to be eBay or, failing that, try a Google search. Search for your panel's part number.
  3. Beware: a lot of panels, especially cheaper ones, will be listed as "Toshiba compatible", "Samsung compatible", etc - this may indicate that the actual panel is not the right part number. Again, ask the seller if in any doubt.
  4. Panel prices tend to range from around £70 to £300 in the UK (or $80 to $400 in the USA). You'll probably be buying a second-hand or refurbished panel if you shop at the lower end of this price range so, again, ask the seller lots of questions - is it the actual panel or a compatible one, is there any damage, is it new, second-hand or refurbished, etc.
  5. Note that some panels have extra letters after their part numbers, e.g. LP154WU1 (A1), LP154WU1-A1K2, etc. This seems to refer to the panel's mounting tab fitments, and shouldn't indicate the panel is noticeably different to another with the same basic part number. As always, ask the seller if in any doubt.
  6. Anti-glare (matte) or glossy: don't forget that these panels are available both in matte and glossy flavours. While glossy tends to give better colour saturation, more vivid highlights, and deeper blacks, some glossy panels will be a lot more shiny than the Mac glossy panels. Similarly, a lot of matte panels are more glossy than the Mac matte panels, and some are about the same. Your mileage may vary, and again feel free to ask the seller or Google it ;o)

Removing mounting brackets from donor display panels

Some displays will come fitted with mounting brackets, which the Macbook Pro doesn't use (it is fixed in place with screws down either side of the display panel). The following tips should help you to remove any such tabs. Be extremely careful when removing tabs - several people reported damaging (sometimes irreparably) their panels when trying to remove mounting tabs.

Compatibility chart

To use this chart, simply choose your model of Mac from the top row, then go down the list to see which panels work. Each panel has a difficulty rating, from easy to hard, and the entries in bold are the recommended ones (although ultimately it's up to you which panel you buy, of course!).

Panel Earlier Powerbook (15.2") Last-gen Powerbook with LVDS connector (15.2") Macbook Pro Core Duo (1.83/2.0/2.16GHz) and Core2 Duo (2.16/2.33GHz) on 10.4 Tiger (15.4") Macbook Pro Core Duo (1.83/2.0/2.16GHz) and Core2 Duo (2.16/2.33GHz) on 10.5 Leopard (15.4") Core2 Duo Santa Rosa LED-backlit Macbook Pro (2.2/2.4GHz) on 10.4 Tiger (15.4") Core2 Duo Santa Rosa LED-backlit Macbook Pro (2.2/2.4GHz) on 10.5 Leopard (15.4") Unibody Macbook Pro (15.4")
LG Philips (LP154WU1) No *1  ? *3 No Unreliable? No *2 No *2 No *2
Samsung (LTN154U2-L04, LTN154U2-L05, LTN154U2-L06) No *1  ? *3 Medium Easy No *2 No *2 No *2
Samsung (LED backlit WUXGA panel, e.g. for Dell Precision M4400) No No No No  ? *4  ? *4  ? *4
Sharp (LQ154M1LW-02) No *1 Medium-hard*3   Medium-hard No *2 No *2 No *2
Toshiba (LTD154EZ0D) No *1  ? *3 Medium Easy No *2 No *2 No *2
  • *1 - Sorry - since these panels don't seem to use an LVDS cable, you will need to do your own research to find a compatible panel, if any exist, as I haven't found any definite information on this type of upgrade.
  • *2 - LED- and CCFL-backlit displays are not interchangeable - see note *4 below.
  • *3 - you will need to fit the display housing from a 15.4" Macbook Pro to do this modification, which means the lid will be slightly wider than the base, and won't latch closed.
  • *4 - a small number of LED-backlit WUXGA panels are becoming available on places like eBay. See the information in the "choosing and buying a panel", above.

Step-by-step instructions

Core Duo Macbook Pro (1.83/2.0/2.16GHz) and Core2 Duo Macbook Pro (2.16/2.33GHz) on 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard (15.4")

Read these instructions carefully before starting. If you are in any doubt, don't do the work - better to have a standard Mac than a broken one.

  1. Start by making sure you're working in a clean, uncrowded area which isn't going to need to be cleared (e.g. a kitchen table!) for the next six-or-so hours (it's better to be cautious here).
  2. If you have an external monitor, get it ready in case you later need to plug it in to start the Mac up.
  3. While we're on this subject, now is a very good time to start your Mac up, plug in your second monitor, and set the displays to "mirrored" (not extended onto the external monitor).
  4. Remove the laptop screen by following the iFixIt guide, but miss out the following steps:
    1. 11 (disconnecting the Airport antenna)
    2. 12 (removing the Airport antenna)
    3. 13 (iSight, inverter and left fan cables)
    4. 14 (display data cable)
    5. 17 (lifting the display off the computer)
  5. You should still have the superdrive and hard drive connected. If you disconnected them, replace them - there should be no need to remove them.
  6. Important: the cables which are still connected are extremely delicate. Be extremely careful to prevent them being damaged when you are moving the screen around
  7. You should now have a screen which is no longer fixed to the base of your Macbook Pro. A stack of books behind the screen may be useful here to stop it falling over.
  8. Remove the top half of the lid by following steps 1 and 2 only from the screentekinc instructions
  9. If it helps you, you can lightly screw the display housing hinges back on to the base unit (i.e. replace the screws you removed in step 16 of the iFixIt guide). This will help the display support itself later when you need to tilt it forward
  10. Don't dismantle anything else just yet! At this point you should have access to the display data and inverter cables at the back of the display panel.
  11. You're about to start your laptop up in its dismantled state, so you need to check the following parts are correctly refitted:
    1. The keyboard should be loose but the keyboard connector cable to the logic board should be fully reconnected
    2. Reinsert the laptop battery
  12. The following steps are called the "sleep method", and you will be starting your Macbook with the original display connected, putting it to sleep, and then switching the display data and inverter connectors over to the new panel which you will just place behind your old panel while you test to see if you can get it working.
  13. Working at the back of the display panel, remove any tape holding the display data connector cable to the back of the display panel (but leave the display data connector attached)
  14. Also at the back of the display panel, ensure you can disconnect the inverter's supply cable (but don't disconnect it yet)
  15. Last check: with the laptop partially reassembled, quickly check nothing is resting on the logic board or other electronic components which shouldn't be, for example screws, tools, etc
  16. You are now going to start the laptop, let it boot up, and then put it to sleep.
  17. IMPORTANT: do not touch the back of the display while it is turned on.
  18. Press the power button on the laptop; it should start up normally.
    1. If it does not turn on, check the connection between the keyboard and the logic board.
    2. If it does not start up normally, turn it off (hold the power button down until it turns off) and re-check all your connections. You haven't changed anything at this point, so everything should be working fine.
  19. Once OS X has booted up, put the computer to sleep (Apple menu > "sleep"). Don't close the lid to make it sleep, and avoid letting the lid close fully.
  20. Ensure your Mac is completely asleep - there should be no disk or fan activity at all. Do not proceed until the Mac has completely gone to sleep
  21. If you screwed the display back on to the base, you can now Close the lid approximately half-way (so the display is at an angle to the keyboard of around 45-60 degrees). If the display is still loose, move the display forward and find a way of propping it half-way closed (or replace the screws for now).
  22. Disconnect the display data and inverter cables from the display, and lay them on the table behind the Mac
  23. You may need an extra pair of hands for the next bit.
  24. Holding your new WUXGA display panel in front of you with the screen facing you, place the panel directly behind the Mac's display, on top of the display data and inverter cables.
  25. Connect the display data and inverter cables to the new panel.
    1. If a cable does not reach, work slowly and methodically to try and free enough cable to connect the panel up.
    2. You may be able to make it connect by leaning the new panel backwards.
    3. If you simply cannot get the panel connected, you will need to either:
      1. Completely remove the original Mac panel and hope (and pray, if that's your thing) that the new panel works so you haven't wasted a load of time, or
      2. Give up (I know, I know, it's unlikely, but some people might...)
  26. With the new panel connected, lean it back so you can see it.
  27. You are about to wake your Mac from sleep. One of three things will probably happen, and depending on what happens, you may need to quickly shut your Mac down by holding the power button down until it shuts down:
    1. The display works perfectly, either at the right resolution or a lower resolution, and either in full colour, or with messed-up colours - this is good. In fact, this is a "woohoo!" moment. Bear in mind the display might initially look messed up - vertical lines, shakiness, etc - before settling down and displaying something recognisable. This is ok.
    2. The display stays completely black. This is rare, but it's a bit of an "oh, cock it" moment, as it may indicate the display can't (or won't) turn on. You can still try the troubleshooting steps below, of course, but you should be warned that it will probably be bad news.
    3. The display comes on and either has no picture or is very washed out, and then gets steadily brighter and brighter. This is a bit of an "oh shit" moment, although some people have reported success despite this problem by following the troubleshooting information, below.
  28. Now you know what you're looking for, tap the power button and wake your Mac up.
  29. If the screen is readable, well done - you can skip straight to part 32, where you will swap the old screen for the new one and reassemble your Mac
  30. If the screen was black (very unusual), you can try some of the following troubleshooting tips, but note that this is very uncommon and may indicate a display fault. Accordingly, there is still a chance you will have to find an alternative screen or cancel the project.
  31. If the screen got brighter and brighter, there are a couple of suggested solutions, including the ATIinject fix, SwitchResX, and PRAM resets, by following the steps below:
    1. Note that while these fixes will be easier with the laptop reassembled (either with the new screen or with the old one), if it later turns out the screen is unusable, you have to completely reverse the process to remove the non-working screen. It's entirely up to you whether you reassemble, of course, but if you can do these fixes without reassembling, you will probably find the troubleshooting process takes a lot less time.
    2. If you still can't get the display to come on, or it comes on but is very messed up - lines appearing, random garbled shapes, etc - there are a number of fixes which may work for you depending on your panel. Please take a look through the WUXGA conversion research page to see if anything helps you out (because of the high success rate with Leopard, and because there are a number of very long solutions which people have posted for various problems, I'm not going to try replicating them all on this page).
  32. Now that your display is functional, you need to switch the old display with the new one and reassemble your Mac.
  33. Remove the battery and keyboard assembly from your laptop.
  34. As the display is very firmly fixed to the bezel, and the bezel is thin and easily damaged, you may want to completely remove the display from the laptop at this point - by following steps 11 to 17 in the iFixIt guide - before proceeding.
  35. Follow steps 3 to 7 from the screentekinc instructions to remove the old display from the display bezel. Be extremely careful on step 7 - a plastic butter knife, plastic spudger, and/or a scalpel may all be handy here.
    1. Tip: try using a book to press the display panel away from the bezel - don't press with your fingers.
    2. Remember: always enlist the help of a responsible child when handling sharp objects... ;o)
  36. Affix the new display into place by reversing the steps in the screentekinc guide and then the iFixIt guide.
  37. Quick tip: when snapping the keyboard back on to the lower case (step 9 in the iFixIt guide, you can avoid damaging the delicate metal strip which runs along the top of the Superdrive by placing an old CD half-way into the slot and using it to push upwards as you push the keyboard down to engage the "snap" connectors.
  38. You should now have a fully reassembled Macbook Pro with a WUXGA hi-res screen. Start the machine up to make sure everything is working - if it isn't, it's most likely you didn't reconnect something properly. Don't be afraid to go back and re-check everything - I'm often in such a hurry to get everything back together that I miss something or don't snap something into place properly.
  39. If your display is working perfectly, then you don't need to do anything more, but you might want to skip to step 41 to set your color profile.
  40. If your display isn't working properly, the following guides might help:
    1. If your resolution is wrong:
      1. First try setting it in System Preferences > Displays
      2. If that doesn't work, you might need to create a display override file - try this post for more info
      3. Failing that, you might want to search through the WUXGA conversion research page (my summary of the 1000+ posts in [http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=207751 this macrumors.com forum thread which started it all!).
    2. If your colours are messed up:
      1. This is often down to having an incorrectly set overrides file (I think because the overrides file tells the computer where the red, green and blue points are on the panel, so without these the computer's idea of red might be the screen's idea of cyan, etc). Search the WUXGA conversion research page for "<key>DisplayProductID</key>".
    3. If you still can't get the display to come on, or it comes on but is very messed up - lines appearing, random garbled shapes, etc - there are a number of fixes which may work for you depending on your panel. Please take a look through the WUXGA conversion research page to see if anything helps you out (because of the high success rate with Leopard, and because there are a number of very long solutions which people have posted for various problems, I'm not going to try replicating them all on this page).
  41. Finally, you may wish to go into System Preferences > Displays > Color and install the right colour profile for your display (you'll probably need to Google it).

Core2 Duo Santa Rosa and Unibody Macbook Pros (LED backlit, on 10.5 Leopard)

I don't currently have any information on upgrading these models, but the principle of any conversion should be the same as for the CCFL models given above - take off the panel's back cover, start up with the old panel connected, put the Mac to sleep, swap connectors to the new panel, and wake it back up to see if things work. If you manage to carry out this conversion successfully, please e-mail me and let me know.

Last-gen Powerbook with LVDS connector

There isn't really a guide for this. An outline of the process has been posted in the macrumors discussion thread, and a summary from that thread goes along these lines:

  1. Baxterbrittle posts asking if anyone's interested in a hi-def conversion. They are. Photos are posted. Turns out he's modified a 15 inch Powerbook to fit the (slightly wider) Macbook Pro screen. Everything looks fine apart from the lid being slightly wider and not closing as the catches are different:
  2.     
  3. Loads more photos and info can be found on baxterbrittle's macmod.com website.
  4. This conversion was using a Sharp (154xxx?) [1] panel via eBay. Connector for LVDS cable didn't match and display was 15.4" not the more common 15.2" of the MBP, hence the MBP lid. LVDS cable has to be swapped with one from the last-gen Powerbook (loads of photos). On the Powerbook it seems the display can literally be plugged in and it works straight away. Unfortunately this isn't the case with the Macbook Pro, possibly because of the EFI interface (linklater link).
  5. Loads more photos of the panel and laptop disassembled
  6. Some questions over which inverter to use - seems the MBP one is probably fine.

(More information is available in the WUXGA conversion research page)