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"Maybe It's a Piece of Dust" ( 529

An anonymous reader shares a report: I was in the Grand Central Station Apple Store for a third time in a year, watching a progress bar slowly creep across my computer's black screen as my Genius multi-tasked helping another customer with her iPad. My computer was getting its third diagnostic test in 45 minutes. The problem was not that its logic board was failing, that its battery was dying, or that its camera didn't respond. There were no mysteriously faulty innerworkings. It was the spacebar. It was broken. And not even physically broken -- it still moved and acted normally. But every time I pressed it once, it spaced twice. "Maybe it's a piece of dust," the Genius had offered. The previous times I'd been to the Apple Store for the same computer with the same problem -- a misbehaving keyboard -- Geniuses had said to me these exact same nonchalant words, and I had been stunned into silence, the first time because it seemed so improbable to blame such a core problem on such a small thing, and the second time because I couldn't believe the first time I was hearing this line that it was not a fluke. But this time, the third time, I was ready. "Hold on," I said. "If a single piece of dust lays the whole computer out, don't you think that's kind of a problem?"
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"Maybe It's a Piece of Dust"

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  • wrong (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:35AM (#55390023)
    You were probably holding it wrong and let the dust in.
    • Courage! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Comboman ( 895500 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:49AM (#55390153)
      Only Apple has the courage to remove the dust filters.
    • Re:wrong (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AvitarX ( 172628 ) <me AT brandywinehundred DOT org> on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @12:37PM (#55390573) Journal

      I actually had a computer that would exhibit odd behavior, somewhat based on positioning.

      I opened it up to change some RAM out of hopes it would be an inexpensive fix.

      Ended up that is was a screw rolling around shorting stuff out (I found the loose screw), bigger than dust, but seems possible based on the symptoms described (your joke is what made me thing of it).

      I'd say more likely a metal shaving that's a little bigger than dust.

      • Re:wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

        by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @01:40PM (#55391131)

        It kind of sounds more like a mechanical problem with the butterfly switch than an electrical problem. At least the fix is the same in either case though. Just $700 or so for a new top case, and the metal shaving or piece of dust or whatever is no longer a problem. Until you get the same problem again, but rest easy, it's just $700 to replace half the case.

  • He meant to say Apple Pixie Dust!

  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:37AM (#55390043) Homepage

    Mac laptops are designed for a very specific operating environment -- sitting in a coffee shop and "working on your screenplay" while desperately hoping the cute hipster girl at the next table over asks you what you're working on, so you can casually mention your screenplay. You probably weren't doing that, thus it's your fault.

  • by mellon ( 7048 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:39AM (#55390055) Homepage

    But holy crap, the touch-bar is a bad bit of UI design. I'm constantly accidentally triggering it. When I'm typing it offers spelling tweaks, so if my finger grazes the touchbar I wind up changing the word I typed unintentionally. I hit the escape (or cancel) button frequently. It's a nightmare. I was curious to try it, but now I wish there was some way I could switch back.

    • It definitely isn't fun when using vi... However, I've used a Lenovo laptop a couple years back that had a similar touchbar, and that was even worse, as they decided to move the caps lock and "\" key somewhere random as well. After that experience, the Apple touchbar isn't that bad.

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      My question is how do you accidentally graze the touchbar that's on top of your keyboard when you're typing. I never touch any of the function keys when I'm typing, my fingers are on the bottom half of the number keys if I even have to reach them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Their editor makes use of the Esc button extensively. It's up there on that smudgeglass zone on the new Applebooks.

    • by torkus ( 1133985 )

      I never hit the touch bar by accident (or on purpose) and have no problems with typing on my new MBP.

      Granted I have it buried on my desk and hooked up to a Dell USB-C dock, monitor, and logitech KB/Mouse. It seems to work just fine for me! It is a bit difficult to use TouchID though until I take the crap off of it.

      • But holy crap, the touch-bar is a bad bit of UI design. I'm constantly accidentally triggering it.

        I never hit the touch bar by accident (or on purpose) and have no problems with typing on my new MBP.

        Man, I love the balanced viewpoints on this site. Do we have anyone who does accidentally trigger it, but only sometimes? So far we have constantly and never, is there anyone else?

    • I'm pretty sure they're just trying to put VI and EMacs to rest by making the ESC key too much of a pain in the ass to activate reliably. I've been using one for a few months now and I'm still certain it's a giant step back.

  • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:40AM (#55390077)

    I purchased the second Macintosh model (Fat Mac) in college and had Macs up until about 10 years ago.

    So it is with some sadness that I say Apple is no longer special. Whatever Karma Jobs left behind has worn off and now Apple is merely another Tech Company.

    Their idea Vault is empty, their commitment to be "insanely great" has waned, and investors are on the verge of turning management into just another, "beat the quarterly earnings forecast" collection of MBAs and bean counters.

    I feel privileged to have lived in the time of it's creation, ascension, and total domination. I fear that I will also live to see its demise in the manner of so many alternative computer companies before it.

    • by ctilsie242 ( 4841247 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:52AM (#55390187)

      Oddly enough, I'm seeing Dell start to be what Apple was, especially with their new Latitude models. Some of Dell's items are better MacBook Pros than Apple's offerings, especially because they include much-needed ports.

      Of course, there is the customer service difference, but with Dell, the trick is to buy the business class, and their pro level of support, and it is decent.

      • I agree with you. I bought a new laptop in January to replace my old 2012 Macbook. It came down to a new Macbook Pro or the Dell XPS. The Dell has a 4k screen and cost around a thousand less than the Macbook. Both are stylish and well made. I didn't see a point in considering the Apple device after playing with the Dell.
      • The Precision line always has been. (And it's been priced accordingly.)

        My current laptop is a machine from 2012. You can find full teardown manuals online. (They were designed to be fixed by in-house IT). Parts are easy to find. I was even able to swap the processor to a faster version.

        USB, Displayport, HDMI, VGA, eSATA, Gigabit and Firewire.

      • Of course, there is the customer service difference

        Yes, Dell will send a tech out to fix your problem while Apple makes you make an appointment with a "genius" who will sit there and pick his nose while declaring everything a "logic board problem".

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Everything *is* a logic board problem on the newer Applebooks, because it's all soldered together.

          Your hard drive is corrupt? It's part of the logic board.

          An area of the memory seems corrupt? It's soldered onto the logic board.

    • ...investors are on the verge of turning management into just another, "beat the quarterly earnings forecast" collection of MBAs and bean counters.

      Sadly, this tends to highlight the value of private companies.

      Greed tends to shit all over every other company mission, and doesn't care.

  • So, what happened? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Albanach ( 527650 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:41AM (#55390079) Homepage

    Did they find the fault, or have you made three visits and each time been left with a faulty computer? Were you abandoned with a still broken computer? The summary seems incomplete.

    Is this a warning that we need lemon laws for computers as well as cars? At what point does Apple recognize that a repeatable and verifiable problem, even if intermittent, requires a product replacement?

    • I don't even get WTF the point of the comment is.

      Can we solicit comments of all the shit Dell, HP and Microsoft has told me throughout the years while pointing the finger at each other?

    • by prunus.avium ( 4301083 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @12:09PM (#55390345)

      From reading TFA.

      They keyboard is so integrated - and the spacebar so fragile - that they have to replace the entire top of the MacBook. After the warranty expires, that's a $700.00 repair.

      So a piece of dust under the spacebar can lead to a $700.00 repair bill. Nice.

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      I think it's just bitching that the minimum wage computer techs at the Apple Store don't know how to fix a computer.

      Double spacing, I think perhaps you have the key repeat/delay screwed a bit too high and/or you don't know how to type.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:42AM (#55390093) Journal

    The audacity of Apple giving some minimum-wage tech schlub the title of "Genius" says *everything* about Apple, its branding, and the customers it serves.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Slashdot is a tabloid.

    • by RightwingNutjob ( 1302813 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:54AM (#55390201)
      Has been since new ownership. All click-bait headlines and not an ounce of adult vocabulary or even basic copy-editing to catch grammar or spelling errors.

      Sometimes just copy-and-pasted headlines from other click-bait factories. Shame really. Comments section still has good people and you occasionally learn something. But the whining kids have increased in number. Probably baited by the clickbait headlines. C'est la vie.
      • And yet this is one of the most commented on articles in the front page. I guess that means the clickbait is working.

        • Having noticed the trend in comment #'s over time, I guessed that it meant that the old audience has mostly moved on.

    • I heard people saying that since 2002

  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:44AM (#55390117)

    If a single glass of water dumped on it keeps lays the whole computer out, don’t you think that’s some sort of problem?

    Um, no. Most failures of most systems are caused by a "single" thing.

  • by painandgreed ( 692585 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:47AM (#55390137)

    Man who apparently breaks the keyboards on all the Mac Book Pros that he has ever owned is upset that all three times he has taken his new Mac Book pro into the Apple Store, the people there have offered him the same solution.


    Finally, on the third trip, he allows them to fix the issue and bitches that it is a more involved process now than when he broke the keyboards on his previous versions.


  • It sounds like they need training on cleaning out the dust. There's a special training program at Fort Bliss [] for that!
  • Genius (Score:5, Funny)

    by sdinfoserv ( 1793266 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:49AM (#55390151) Homepage
    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
  • RIP Thinkpad (Score:5, Informative)

    by monkeyxpress ( 4016725 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:54AM (#55390199)

    Sometime around 2005, I bought my first Thinkpad - second hand because they were pretty expensive machines - from a guy who had bought it overseas. I used it everyday as my work/home machine for about three years including travelling all over the world and taking it out on various work sites.

    One day, the left shift key on the worn-smooth keyboard fell off. The clip had worked its way lose and the key no longer had a proper detent. I thought I had had a pretty good run with the thing, but figured I'd see what a spare part would cost. To my amazement, the machine was still under IBM's global warranty. I rang them up on the toll free number, gave them the serial number, and asked if the keyboard was still covered. They said the parts were, but not labour, and asked if I would be able to change the keyboard myself. About 3 days later a new keyboard was couriered to me. I screwed it into place and got another year of use out of it before it just became too slow.

    I guess you payed for it in the price back then, but that is how you do customer service.

  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:56AM (#55390215) Journal

    Honestly, it's kind of amazing how quickly it was picked up by all different web sites and blogs! I've probably read 5 different discussions on the original article already this morning.

    The thing is? The "Genius" used the wrong terminology, in my opinion, which made things sound worse than they really are. A speck of dust is most assuredly NOT enough to jam up one of the new Apple keyboards. CRUMBS, however, from people eating by the machine? Absolutely possible.

    I had one of these "New Macbooks" when it first came out. Ordered the "high spec" configuration to test it out at work, using it as my own personal work computer, to get a feel for what it was and wasn't really capable of doing for us. (We have a lot of highly mobile employees who care more about a computer being lightweight and easy to carry around, plus long battery life, than raw CPU power. So it was potentially a good fit, vs. the Macbook Air 13" machines we've issued to most of them for years.)

    I really despised the keyboard design on it. Practically no key travel and just too easy to mistype things when I wasn't purposely typing extra slow. The 2017 edition has a slightly revised variation of the original keyboard and I tried that out at an Apple Store. IMO, still pretty awful, though MARGINALLY better tactile feel.

    I finally resold the thing after concluding it just wasn't enough of a full-fledged notebook computer for our needs. (I'd really just classify it as Apple's high-fashion/style idea of a netbook.) But I never had sticking keys on it. With that little bit of key travel though, it's clear to me you're going to have to take extra care to keep this machine clean. (Wash your hands before typing on it if you were just eating some toast or bread, for example.) It won't take much to get some crumbs or grains of sand or salt or what-not in there, messing up one of the small scissor type key-switches under the key-caps.

    I'll also say though, in Apple's defense? I've been using one of the latest models of external keyboards that's wireless, with the built-in rechargeable batteries that charge when you connect it via USB. After typing on that one quite a bit at home, still no real key issues. I try to keep it as clean as I can, but don't go to extrodinary lengths to do so either. Maybe the external ones just hold up a little bit better, or it's the fact they're not getting taken around so many different places where the environments aren't always as clean? Whatever the case, it's worked as well as can be expected. Still dislike the limited key travel on the new designs though, vs. what they had previously.

    • The thing is? The "Genius" used the wrong terminology, in my opinion, which made things sound worse than they really are.

      You have overlooked the fact that "speck of dust" was used by multiple Apple employees. That makes it an institutional problem either way.

    • CRUMBS, however, from people eating by the machine? Absolutely possible

      This observation may be true but expecting a front line employee to say it to a customer of the general public is out of touch in a special way.

    • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @01:36PM (#55391103) Homepage Journal

      > The thing is? The "Genius" used the wrong terminology, in my opinion, which made things sound
      > worse than they really are. A speck of dust is most assuredly NOT enough to jam up one of the
      > new Apple keyboards. CRUMBS, however, from people eating by the machine? Absolutely possible.

      Dust, crumbs, pollen, dandruff, boogers... whatever. I've been using computers in the same environments for 20+ years and laptops for 15+. If Apple's newly-designed keyboard cannot deal with the same things that EVERY SINGLE OTHER KEYBOARD has successfully handled in that time, APPLE FUCKED UP. Period, full stop, <local terminology of your choice>.

      I've been using Macs for 20+ years. I'm using one right now. This is what my ~ten- or fifteen-year-old keyboard looks right now. [] (Apple fans will know that they shipped these clear & graphite ones with early G4s. Later G4s came with white-and-clear keyboards, or maybe that started with G5s or white iMacs. Whatever. It's still pretty damn old. PowerMac G4s were discontinued in 2004.) You can see all the crumbs and stuff that have worked their way all the way underneath it. You can only imagine what's actually among all the keys right now.

      That picture is from today. You can see this post in the background. And I shot that pic with my iPhone. I like Apple stuff just fine. Like I said, I'm using a Mac right now, and I've used this keyboard since it was new. I've never had this or any other keyboard fail for such a trivial reason as DUST. Or even (God forbid) CRUMBS. Jony Ive needs to step out of his glorious white room and spend some time in the real world.

      Who knows, maybe he'll have a epiphany and make phones 2mm thicker and fill that space with battery. Hey, a boy can dream...

  • by Eric Stratton ( 1627603 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @11:58AM (#55390233)

    "Key bounce error".

    When you depress a key, any key, the contacts do not perfectly connect; they bounce. Electrical engineers fight key bounce error — basically by trial and error — with debounce by adjusting the computer to read the key input then wait. If there are other bounces within a few milliseconds, they are ignored. Then the computer starts looking for keyboard inputs, again.

    When keys go bad— one way that keys go bad is the contacts don't contact-and-release as quickly as expected, and, the computer reads a second key input.

    That's why, on some keyboards, the "space bar" goes bad, or the 'E' or the "T" or "A" or "O" or "N"...

    "Bouncing is the tendency of any two metal contacts in an electronic device to generate multiple signals as the contacts close or open; debouncing is any kind of hardware device or software that ensures that only a single signal will be acted upon for a single opening or closing of a contact."

    • by jafiwam ( 310805 )

      It seems like dust could cause a "bounce error" too.

      Put something with some vertical size in the right place and the circuit could be closed twice, with the particle acting like the fulcrum on a seesaw.

      Unless Apple completely redesigned how those keys work, there is a plastic/rubber key over a spring of some kind (sometimes a rubber nipple) which presses a membrane with conductive material on one axis "across" through a second membrane with holes, that line up with a third membrane with "down" axis conduc

      • They did redesign the keyboards so they could have an ultra-low profile. It uses a "butterfly" mechanism. I don't know much more than that.
  • by hawkeyeMI ( 412577 ) <> on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @12:07PM (#55390327) Homepage
    The touch bar is just the opening volley. Meanwhile Apple is doing the boiled frog thing with key travel, slowly getting users used to less and less key travel.

    Eventually, they will probably replace the entire keyboard with a touch-board of some kind and expect that users will simply adjust. I think they've lost the plot somewhere.

    Note this is not my original idea -- Merlin Mann mentioned it on the Back to Work podcast and I think he's spot on. And he's a huge Apple fan.
  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @12:09PM (#55390341)
    What kind of dust was it? Cheeto, brake, nose candy? Maybe you were simply traveling too fast? Left somewhere in a hurry? My bet is just that the guy had no clue and just wanted to dust you off.
  • Maybe it's the water you spilled on it that you don't want to admit? Or maybe Geniuses aren't actually thoroughly trained in all computer hardware diagnostics as you seem to think they are? These aren't typically electrical engineers. They aren't dumb, but they aren't likely able to tear down a computer, find and fix a broken connection, and put it back together again. You're just as likely to run into the Genius crew moonlighting as a McD cashier.
  • Every problem is caused by a piece of dust. This is like when we go into Costco and a food item that's usually available can't be found and when an employee is asked about it the answer is, "That's a seasonal item." I'm sure that's what the managers tell employees to say in answer to such a question. We get that answer when asking about canned mushrooms. Sams Club has them, why not Costco? After all, mushrooms are grown in the dark year round and are available pretty much year round in all grocery stores. M
  • by freeze128 ( 544774 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @12:23PM (#55390463)
    The "Genius" (heh, yeah, right) shows his complete lack of understanding on how something as simple as a switch works. Hell, there aren't even any active components in it. It's just 2 conductive surfaces coming into contact. A crumb might prevent that altogether, or make it so that you would have to press harder in order to get your character. Getting *TWO* characters sounds to me like a cracked trace. This used to happen on heavily used mouse buttons. When you press down on the button lightly, it closes the switch. If you keep pressing and increase the force slightly, it flexes the PCB which expands the crack enough to break the current flow. Then, as you release the pressure, it reconnects again until you completely disengage the switch.

    Either way, the solution is simple: REPLACE THE KEYBOARD!

    Also, what they hell kind of "diagnostic" are they running that displays a progress bar in a non-interactive way? If there is a problem with the keyboard, you need to interact with it to test it!
    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      Getting *TWO* characters sounds to me like a cracked trace.

      Right now I have an early 2011 Mac Book pro that is my main machine. The H, J, K and L keys started working intermittently a while back (which is a bit of a problem as to unlock the computer I need to use the J key). Obviously a cracked trace.

      I called Apple to ask about a replacement keyboard and the person on the phone couldn't/wouldn't tell me how much it would cost.

      I called a local non-Apple Apple store and they told me it would be about $400 and take about 1 to 2 days to actually replace it. I didn't

  • I can't comment on recent ones, but I have a 2011 17" MBP in the kitchen doing light duty. I picked it up cheap because it wouldn't boot. The problem was a bad keyboard, which I replaced.

    The keyboard, at least on the old MBPs, feels very solid, but when you get the replacement it's incredibly thin and flimsy; the metal body is little more than foil. You could easily fold it in half like a piece of paper. It's basically a flimsy dome switch keyoboard with a mechanical gizmos added to the key to give it a

  • S-Drive (Score:5, Funny)

    by cstacy ( 534252 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @01:01PM (#55390819)
    It's not dust; it's spores that have "contaminated" the keyboard enclosure.

    You see, spores (such as from Psilocybe cubensis) are the basis of the universe.
    They are everywhere, sometimes manifested in our physical plane, but always existing
    everywhere on the mycoplane of Space. At the lowest level, biology is physics, and
    physics recapitulates biology -- they are the same thing. It's all quantum, you see.

    Your problem is that you've got a stuck spore. You need to energize it properly,
    and it will instantly transmit (quantum spore teleport) the key's signal to any part
    of the UNICODE. Your brain will function as the quantum sentience that directs
    the action, so that instead of a SPACE, you'll get the correct symbol pressed.

    (This is related to why sometimes electronics gear that has not been stored
    properly for a while will spew out "dust" when you fire it up, or why sometimes
    it seems like there are dead cockroaches or mouse turds inside the box.)


    The Genius Bar is actually stocked with dehydrated tardigrades.
    If the moisture (liquid spill incursion) sensor in your Mac has not been triggered,
    an Apple representative can insert a tardigrade into your machine along with an
    eyedropper of water. Using horizontal DNS zone transfer (I think that's what it's
    called; something to do with binding, anyway) the tardigrade will interact with
    and energize the spore, curing your SPACE key bounce problem. This is known as
    a "key de-bounce" procedure. If your tech doesn't seem to know all this just
    have him look it up in the knowledge base; it's standard.

    Just make sure he doesn't hold the tardigrade wrong, or your laptop will
    start spinning and twisting, ad the end result will not be pretty.

    I paid $6 to learn all this, by the way.
  • Remember when MacBook keyboards were actually repairable? A few seconds without tools and anyone could swap it out.

    Now they're fused into the "top case" which is effectively half of the computer chassis... also with the battery epoxied in. So you're faced with a lengthy full-disassembly repair plus a very expensive part for any exhausted battery or bad keyboard. You know, TWO OF THE MOST COMMON PARTS YOU NEED TO REPLACE ON A LAPTOP.

    Not to mention that the new keyboards are shit... no key travel whatsoever,

    • And apparently it's your fault if you have a home where contaminants such as toast crumbs and pet dander are not removed automatically by a microfiltering air cleaning system.
  • Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake
    Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break
    In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
    In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand
    Bob Dylan
  • Only rich people can afford to buy junk.

    Goods that are valuable last a long time and that usually means repairable. Disposable is typically synonymous with irreparable. Apple hardware (I'm looking at you, Mac Pro full size tower) used to be repairable, using very high quality stock parts. Their last great laptop, the 17 inch, similarly was similarly repairable.

    However repairable also means you can modify it, upgrade it and extend its value. Apple has stopped being that company. Their repair program is 'thr

  • by Lodragandraoidh ( 639696 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @01:38PM (#55391113) Journal

    What they are really trying to say is, "stop eating over your keyboard. You've got so much cruft in there, I'm surprised any of your keys work. Dried Pepsi, cat hair, and Cornflakes are not good for your keyboard."

  • a few things (Score:5, Informative)

    by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2017 @01:55PM (#55391255) Journal


    From TFA: "The tradeoff for enhanced hygiene and the slimmer profile is that scissor-switch keys are more difficult to separate from their base than rubber-domed ones, but it's not impossible."

    Side note, a cat can do this very quickly. Like, five or six keys in less than a second. I've witnessed this personally. I even managed to get most of the keys back on.

    Secondly, although he doesn't specifically say, I strongly suspect the root cause wasn't "a piece of dust". He describes the problem as one (1) press of the space bar (where do astronauts go for drinks? never mind) consistently causes two (2) spaces. I'm sorry, that's not mechanical, it's electrical. There's something wrong with the circuitry. Were it a mechanical problem, the symptoms would not be so precisely reproduceable.

    As someone else mentioned, "it's dust" is just something the "geniuses" say to appease the unwashed masses. It should be taken with a ... well it shouldn't be believed at all. These are Mac "geniuses" we're talking here.

    And finally, if you buy an electronic device that's not meant to be repaired, don't be surprised when repairs are costly, or impossible. There's a lot to be said for (a) staying one or two generations behind the bleeding edge, and (b) buying your products with reliability and maintainability in mind. That is, if your objective is to get work done. If your objective is to own the thinnest laptop on earth, your mileage may vary.

Loose bits sink chips.