This week the keys hjkl on my (Early 2011) Macbook Pro sort of all stopped working at the same time (and only those keys are affected). I say "sort of" because they can all start working perfectly again for an extended period of time and then suddenly for no reason they all stop working.

And then in gets weirder. If the keys are all dead I can repeatably press just one of the keys and (after varying length of time) it comes good. At which point the remaining bad keys also start working again.

My initial thought was that it is time to replace the keyboard, but the action of the keys all coming good at the same time confuses me.

So is there an explanation to what is going on? Or is it time to replace the keyboard?

  • Try an external keyboard. If it works right, probably time to repair or replace the keyboard. Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 13:03
  • @TomGewecke Already typing from an external MS keyboard (and swapping back when things start working again), and a replacement is around $300 mainly for the labor. I have watched videos and there is too much gutting to to get to the keyboard for my liking.
    – Peter M
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 13:17

2 Answers 2


Your keyboard is failing.

The reason you are seeing keys in a row fail in that manner is because the keyboard circuit pattern is laid out in a grid. Below is a photo of an external keyboard trace (same concept in the Mac keyboards). Somewhere along the middle trace, something is failing.

Generic Keyboard Circuit Trace

hjkl are all on the same "horizontal" circuit trace, but different vertical ones. Somewhere on this circuit, something has failed. It could be an external contaminate or the contacts could just be worn (it is a mechanical device, after all).

Update: I wrote a canonical Q/A on this topic that shows much better breakdown of the keyboard assembly and goes in depth as to what the issues could be.

There are a couple of things you could try:

  • Attempt to clean out any contaminate with compressed air (lightly) or with 99% isopropyl alcohol (don't use the regular "medicine cabinet" rubbing alcohol as it contains additives). Use a small amount on the affected key, allow to sit, then follow up with compressed air to completely dry it out.

  • Replace the keyboard. It's not an expensive part to replace, but it is time consuming. I have used this exact replacement keyboard on several MacBook Pros with great success. ifixit.com has a tutorial on how to do this

My preference is to replace the keyboard as problems of this nature seldom get better; they usually get worse. Just a note of caution, the keyboard is part of the top case assembly which means to replace it, you will have to disassemble everything to get access to it. If you are not comfortable doing this, have a professional tackle this job for.

  • I realize that the the keys are own a grid and that something is failing that is common to all 4 keys. But if it was something like a cracked trace on the keyboard in one spot I can't see how flexing the keyboard in a different spot fixes it. That plus I know how much $$$ it will take to replace it and I am not sure I want to drop that on a 6 year old machine, but I am not impressed in the way the Macbook Pro designs have progressed (Give up my matt screen? Never!)
    – Peter M
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 13:14
  • It doesn't have to be a cracked trace - just excessive wear or some sort of contaminate (I updated my answer). Pressing in another location might be all that it needs to start working again. If you have the tech skills to disassemble your MBP (or have a friend who is that works for beer and food), you can have this fixed quite inexpensively.
    – Allan
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 13:21
  • The comments on the Amazon link describing DOA keys worry me as well as the iFixit Difficulty rating.
    – Peter M
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 13:44
  • I've never had an issue with that particular brand, but you can test prior to installing. Just connect to the logic board and test all the keys. Use a piece of cardboard or plastic over the logic board to prevent shorts. Any issues, send it back.
    – Allan
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 14:22

Try removing the keys and cleaning under with cotton buds, there are some tutorials on how to do this safely - check your keyboard layout and settings in system preferences too.

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