A teardown last week of the new 2018 MacBook Pro models by iFixit uncovered the presence of a new silicone membrane underneath the laptop’s butterfly keyboard keys. It has been confirmed by Apple that the new membrane was added to prevent dust and other miniature debris from causing key failures.
Now iFixit has gone deeper, exposing the new keyboard to debris to test whether Apple’s addition of the membrane results in better protection.
Okay, now to the nitty-gritty testing. We pumped this keyboard full of particulates to test our ingress-proofing theory. We started with a fine, powdered paint additive to add a bit of color and enable finer tracking (thanks for the tip, Dan!).
Lo and behold, the dust is safely sequestered at the edges of the membrane, leaving the mechanism fairly sheltered. The holes in the membrane allow the keycap clips to pass through, but are covered by the cap itself, blocking dust ingress. The previous-gen butterfly keys are far less protected, and are almost immediately flooded with our glowing granules.
On the 2018 keyboard, with the addition of more particulate and some aggressive typing, the dust eventually penetrates under the sheltered clips, and gets on top of the switch—so the ingress-proofing isn’t foolproof just yet. Time will tell how long the barrier will hold up.
Following the Mythbusters method of testing, we pushed the keyboard to failure with the higher-grit particulate we used last time: sand. And just like last time, a few poorly placed particles bring the mighty butterfly down to earth, never to click again.
While the new silicone barrier isn’t invulnerable to dust and debris, it does appear to offer better protection than the previous design did against schmutz getting into the keys and preventing them from working.
The testing also revealed some interesting info about how the keyboard and its new silicone barrier is put together. iFixit found that the new silicon barrier is a single, die-cut and molded sheet of material.
The keycaps have also had their design slightly modified form the previous version, coming in at 1.25mm thickness compared to 1.5mm thickness in the 2017 MacBook Pro. iFixit theorizes the change is intended to give the keys more travel to compensate for the membrane.