MacBook Pro Trackpad Goes Berserk, Fixed By SMC & PRAM Reset

The trackpad sensor on my 2011 MacBook Pro recently went berserk making my laptop virtually unusable. I had read about the device’s sensitivity to moister and was concerned that I had damaged the sensor recently by getting a few rain drops on it.

Problem symptoms: random cursor movement, random clicks, failure to recognize or correctly identify mutli-touch gestures…

First thing I tried was to shut the laptop down, covering the keyboard with a phone book, and letting the unit sit with rice poured over the trackpad for 30-hours in an attempt to dry out any moister that could have worked its way into the trackpad sensor (water droplets can easily get through the seam around the trackpad). But this didn’t work.

I then tracked down directions to reset the unit’s system management controller (SMC) and reflash its internal PRAM. This worked like a charm for me. I’m not exactly sure what went wrong but this latest procedure solved my problem.

Here’s what I did to reset the SMC and PRAM:

Note: These directions are specific to unibody MacBook’s that do not have a removable battery. If you have a different model MacBook, you’ll need to track down the model-specific “secret handshakes” required to affect SMC/PRAM reset. Also, make sure your data and hard work is backed up! I had no problem that does not mean you won’t.

SMC Reset

  1. Plug the unit in and ensure it’s powered OFF
  2. Press and release LEFT-SHIFT + CTRL + LEFT-OPTION + POWER and then release

PRAM Reset

  1. Ensure the unit is powered OFF
  2. Press and hold LEFT-COMMAND + LEFT-OPTION + ‘P’ + ‘R’ + POWER (continue to hold this key combination through the power-up boot cycle)

If you have a similar issue, hopefully the above procedure works for you as well as it did for me.

Proactive Tip

Note that in OSX Mavericks, in System | Accessibility you can select an option that disables the trackpad if an external mouse is connected (e.g. Bluetooth). I’ve selected this option proactively so that if this ever happens again, simply connecting my Bluetooth mouse will disable the trackpad and allow me to use the laptop.

Good Luck!

If this doesn’t help you, your trackpad might actually be fried. Nobody would give me an exact quote but ballpark you’re looking at $150+ repair and a week w/out your MacBook. Or, $50-75 in parts and an afternoon watching YouTube repair videos and tinkering with small screws to affect the fix yourself.

About Chris Russell
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4 Responses to MacBook Pro Trackpad Goes Berserk, Fixed By SMC & PRAM Reset

  1. trackpad killer says:

    This happened to me a week ago. First I let it dry for a couple of days, but nothing changed. And it was only two drops of water, just two. When I realized they were already gone. Anyways, I tried the SMC reset but nothing happened. Without choice, I took it to the Apple service. They were too lazy to check it, so when I called them back like three days later I was told that they hadn’t checked it yet but if there’s a problem with the trackpad it could not be fixed and the price would be around $130. I told them to check it as it just sat there that long, and they told me it worked fine. When I got back home the same problems continued (the exact same symptoms written in the post). Again, I let it wait for a couple of days and realized the problems continued after a few minutes I started my macbook. Looked up online, and came across your article. Don’t know about the SMC reset, as I had tried that already, but the PRAM reset worked like a charm. Thanks for the tip!!!

  2. Stephen Bruington says:

    Thank you! This helped. I did both the SMC and PRAM reset. My issue was with scrolling, it was no longer fluid. I had to flick my fingers to get the page to move. It would move fluidly after flicking, but wouldn’t follow my fingers as it used to.

    Again, this did it. Thank you.

  3. AlecGlass says:

    And to play devil’s advocate, or rather to show the unpredictability of technology, I first reset my SRC, seemed to improve but not fix it completely, and then reset the PRAM. As the computer turned back on, I was hopeful. Once I touched the trackpad I found it to still be going berserk. Thought maybe it was just a matter of time, but 10 minutes pass and its still not any better, almost worse than before. In anger I slammed my fist into the trackpad four times. Now it works better than ever. That being said, I don’t recommend this as a strategy to actually incorporate should your trackpad suffer these symptoms. I think the above will prove more helpful for most cases. But you never know.

  4. Linda says:

    Chris, thank you! I think perhaps I had something very similar happen to my MacBook Pro last night. Having the touchpad go “berserk” is as good a description as any. I lost control of the cursor, and my screen would flip to the other screen without my doing so (the three finger swipe thing…forgive my lack of proper terminology, I rarely use that other screen!) It would also zoom without my assistance, and then get stuck there. Restarting helped, but that never worked for more than 10 minutes. I tried all of the resets listed above, but they too only helped for short durations. However, I DID have a glass of champagne near the computer (oops), and a DROP of condensation fell NEAR the touch pad. I wiped it off quickly, but in hindsight…perhaps wiped it toward the crack, and at the moment…that seemed to be the start of my problems? Not sure. This morning I did one final NVRAM reset on startup, and it’s been working for several hours. I’m typing this both to thank you for sharing your experience, and to possibly help the next guy? So far, mine is working well, but we’ll see what happens when I cancel my genius bar appointment here in a minute.

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