My son spilled “a small amount” of water into his 2-year old MacBook Pro’s keyboard causing the LCD display to turn black and the keyboard’s ‘A’ key to stop working.

Although the computer was within its AppleCare warranty, liquid spill damage is not covered. The service tech called it beyond economic repair, which means it would cost more to repair the computer than it’s worth. Ugh.

Instead of taking the computer totally out of service, I decided to re-purpose it. But I didn’t want to spend too much money in the process.

Since the MacBook Pro’s built-in display and keyboard didn’t function, it was time for an external approach. I had an old LCD display, keyboard and wireless mouse in-stock. All I needed to purchase was the correct video cable: a Mini DisplayPort-to-VGA cable which I ordered from for $16.

I hooked up the peripherals to the computer and turned everything on. Then I hit a small snag:

The external LCD display was showing the desktop background image, but no icons, dock, or menu bar; they were all (presumably) being displayed on the built-in dead LCD display. What to do?

The Solution

To make the computer automatically recognize the external display as the “main” display:

  1. Open the MacBook Pro and turn it on.
  2. In a few seconds you should see the desktop background on the external display.
  3. CLOSE the computer lid.  The MacBook Pro will go to sleep.
  4. Now press a key on the external keyboard.  The computer will wake up with the EXTERNAL display as the main display.
  5. The MacBook Pro is running in “closed clamshell” or “closed display” mode, with the internal display “switched off” — not that it mattered in my case.
  6. Log in and proceed as usual!

Of course, the computer is not portable in this configuration — but it’s not a totally beyond economic repair, either.