Bluetooth 4.0LE Upgrade for MacbookPro 17″ – Enable handoff, continuity and instant hotspot

Yosemite introduces a lot of great features. I personally love Handoff where you can start a document or e-mail on one device and seamlessly continue it on a different one. I already had it working between my iPhone 5s and iPad Air but soon found that my Macbook Pro did not comply to the technical requirements.

I got it working now! If you want to know how; then read on!

[update oct 2nd, 2015]

With 10.11 El Capitan I followed the instructions to re-enable Continuity and found that my WiFi stopped working (‘No WiFi Hardware Found’). Turns out, all I needed to do was to disable kext-signing check with

Shell commandsudo nvram boot-args=kext-dev-mode=1

Although my search for all the parts of the puzzle did not go smoothly or in the order you’ll find the instructions below, this is the solution that eventually made it happen;

Let me remind you, this is for the A1297 Late ’11. Apple did something funny with this ‘the last 17″ ever made’ series; it shares it’s model number with it’s predecessors, the A1297 Mid 2010 and the A1297 Early 2011. Now I don’t know if this happend to other series as well, but I do know that the Mid 2010 model is substantially different in hardware design.

iFixit has a great tutorial on replacing the board, but as said; the pics don’t match, the parts are different. You can still learn about DIY hardware replacements on that fantastic website though.

The Bluetooth and WiFi boards on the 2010 model are 2 separate units; One is near the optical drive, the other is inside the display-hinge-assembly (yes, the black bar that’s attached to the base of the display! Weird choice of placement!) and consequently the cables are all different to these components.

The Late 2011 version has a single board for both WiFi and Bluetooth. Here’s a pic;

Image of WiFi-BT-module on A1297 late 2011
Image of WiFi-BT-module on A1297 late 2011

This module is housed in the ‘Airport Card Assembly’ for which I also found a pic on the web. (No, unfortunately I did not snap some pics myself… stupid me.)

Image of A1297 Late 2011 Airport Card Assembly
Image of A1297 Late 2011 Airport Card Assembly

This unit is sealed with a special tape that blocks radio signals – I suppose. My guess is that the signal should go out the wires, and not directly into the machine. Precautionary I think. This is all speculation, but the tape looks and feels special, so be sure to be careful removing it (partly) and resealing it after replacing the module.

Another pic I found on the web shows the location of this unit;

Image of Airport Card Assembly in A1297 Late 2011 body
Image of Airport Card Assembly in A1297 Late 2011 body

And now; how to do it?

(I did it this way. perhaps not the best or fastest way but it works. PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS UNLESS EXPERIENCED IN HANDLING DELICATE EQUIPMENT. I do NOT take any responsibility if you screw it up!)

  1. Remove the bottom plate of the machine (7 small screws, 3 long screws)
  2. Disconnect the three WiFi antenna wires and the bluetooth antenna wire
  3. Remove the two screws that hold the assembly to the body (1 small screw, 1 longer)
  4. Disconnect the PCIe cable (the flat one that runs across the Optical Bay) from the logic board. The other site is taped, leave that in tact.
  5. Very carefully remove the Antenna cables and the USB cable (that’s the small cable with the tiny connector) from the Assembly. (Really, be very very careful with these, they are super thin and therefore very fragile. If you think you’re being careful; be twice as careful!)
  6. You should now be able to remove the assembly by sliding it out – this way you don’t need to disconnect the USB cable.
  7. Flip it over, and very gently remove the tape. Save it, because it needs to go back on! (Best not to remove it entirely, just undo 3 sides and leave the 4th side attached.
  8. Undo the 3 tiny screws that hold the Airport Card to the Assembly.
  9. Remove the card (this is tricky because the PCI-e cable is still attached, but it will come loose if you gently rock the card a bit. Alternatively, undo the tape on the other side as well…
  10. Insert the replacement card. For Handoff in this model you’ll need a BCM94331PCIEBT4CAX. (I got mine here) And yes, the CAX is important. If not CAX, then you won’t get Handoff or Instant Hotspot and this exercise is useless.
  11. Make sure the PCIe cable is attached properly.
  12. Screw the unit in place (3 tiny screws)
  13. Reseal the package
  14. Flip it over and slide it back in place in the body
  15. Reseat all cables in the assembly
  16. Screw the assembly in place
  17. Connect the PCIe cable to the logic board
  18. Connect the antenna cables (damn these connectors are small! Please be careful!
  19. Screw the bottom plate back on (7 small screws, 3 long screws)

Done? Yes!… No!… The hardware is done, the software is not.

In case of 10.11 El Capitan, you need to boot your machine to recovery with cmd+R before the boing. Then start Terminal from the menu and disable the code-signing-protection with

Shell commandcsrutil disable
. Then reboot to normal operation.

After booting up the machine, check if you have WiFi connectivity. I did, so that’s why I did not mention before. WiFi should work, but if not, use a wired connection!

Continue on and download a software tool called Continuity Activation tool. For El Capitan, make sure it’s version 2.0.0 beta or higher.

Download the zip file, unpack it and run it.

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 09.55.44
The main screen after entering your password

Start with DIAGNOSTICS. This wil probably tell you everything is alright except not being in Developer mode. See next pic; where it says; Verifying OS Kext Protection, it will say something like “Not in developer mode, need to reboot”

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 09.56.11
Here’s a pic of my diagnostics after I already ran the tool – just to verify it did the job well.

It will reboot for you. After reboot, let the tool do it’s magic. Takes about 15 minutes but you only have to sit and watch. (the long duration is because it will check disk permissions twice in the process)

Finally the tool gives a few instructions, follow them! I found myself not following them and cursing it still did not work, so just do it :)

And now; I got features that only new Macs have on my Late 2011 17″ Macbook Pro 8,3 and with that prolonging it’s life for at least two more years :P

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 09.25.04
Hardware info reports Bluetooth LE, Handoff/Continuity and Instant Hotspot support! WOOT!

Thank you for reading!

Author: Remon Pel

WebDeveloper though not WebDesigner

22 thoughts on “Bluetooth 4.0LE Upgrade for MacbookPro 17″ – Enable handoff, continuity and instant hotspot”

    1. This is a pure software solution and as it changes a file in the OS itself; whenever an OS update or upgrade replaces the file, this tool needs to be used again. The WiFi and Bluetooth kernel extentions are patched, so when Apple updates the WiFi and/or Bluetooth drivers, that’s when you need to re-run this. (Tip: save the tool in your Applications folder, just in case you need it again.)
      When to run it again? Simple; if stuff does not seem to work over WiFi or Bluetooth with either Handoff, Continuity or basic connectivity; re-run the tool :P

  1.  I’m the “dude” whose picture you used for the Airport Card Assembly location :)  Back then it was on my John Fixes Stuff blog but I’ve changed the site to open it up to others to share by naming it Share Your Repair.  It sure is a small world.  I was just searching for cards to give me cellular data on my A1297 late-2011 17″ MacBook Pro and ran across this article and was curious because I new my Mac wasn’t compatible with handoff.  When I saw that picture I thought it looked EXACTLY like my customized MacBook pro–the OWC Data Doubler, the Samsung SSD, and the Crucial Memory and then I compared pictures and realized it is.I can concur that this model deviates from the other 17″ models.  I replaced the complete display and ran into the difference of the number of coaxial cables (a different number for this model) for the wifi antennas.  About the image–I’ve scooped up pictures for examples off a google search because I have many times forgotten to take a picture I wrote an article for.  Thanks for the article.John

    1. It is indeed a small world :) and yes, every time I close up my MBP I slap myself in the face for not taking enough pictures. And since one of the bottomplate grips in the middle of the machine is a bit broken due to careless handling I try not to open it up unless absolutely necessary. Hence the pic from the web – your web :)

      I have yet to find a new module that handles WiFi ac as well as one that handles LTE/4G. That would be awesome :)

  2. Hello! MacOS Sierra, is that compatible with the card? I have ordered one, but forgot to check the compability. It seems very tricky to replace the old one. I am not sure I can fix it. Must perhaps get help from someone.

  3. Nearly 2 years since the last post, is the ‘patching’ software compatible with High Sierra and Mojave? Thanks…

    1. High Sierra; yes. Mojave; absolutely not. Not because of drivers or anything like that, but because this is a specific hardware replacement in a MacBook Pro that is too old for Mojave.

    1. High Sierra; yes. Mojave; absolutely not. Not because of drivers or anything like that, but because this is a specific hardware replacement in a MacBook Pro that is too old for Mojave.

  4. Hi Remon, I got this problem for a long time and I have been read so many discusions and finaly find this right one! Airdrop cant work betwen MBP and iphone.But I got MBP17 mid 2010 and there is aiport and bluetooth hw separate. Do I need to replace it both? A realy need to solve problem of airdrop working between MBP and my iphone. Please tell me any helpfull informations. Thanx


    1. Sorry it took so long to respond, as I had to do some fact finding. What I can tell is that AirDrop uses Bluetooth for discovery and WiFi for transfer, but I cannot find any requirements on that WiFi other than “both machines must be in the same network” or “WiFi is used for a direct connection between the two devices”. Therefore I must — for now — conclude that you — probably — only need to replace the Bluetooth module.
      Continuity is a different beast altogether, but the Continuity Activation Tool supports the use of USB Bluetooth dongles, so perhaps you could achieve a working AirDrop situation using a BT4.0LE USB module.

  5. Hi Remon.

    I have MBP 17 late 2011. I don’t wanna change to new Mac yet, because make me nerwous of this all adapter for USB C. I upgrated maxymally everything include: SSD drive, ram an BT. Thank You for this tutorial (everything working fine) but I have one question about ExpressCard with MBP 17. Meybeye You help me?

    I have Express Card 34 with two USB 3.0 port and i have problem with driver. Mac OS High Sierra not accept driver from Multibeast app (after reboot, OS is not boot and OS die!) Do You know any solution?

    Sorry if I make offtop, but I cannot find any working drivers for this Express Card (buy on Aliexpress) and cannot find any good tutorial (like Your about BT 4.0 upgrade). I know is possible some way to make work this card with MBP 17. Do You have any tips or solution?

    Thank You.

  6. Sorry for necro’ing such an old post but I’m potentially about to buy a MBP8,3; IE, the Late 2011 17in and was hoping for some clarification that this *is* the model that the article is about. Didn’t want to order the WiFi/BT board if it didn’t work for that system.

    Thanks in advance.


    1. No worries; there are 2 variants of that system; as far as I can tell only the CPU is different, but I have never seen the insides of the earlier model.
      Both are MacBookPro 8,3, both are Late 2011, both are A1297. The latest one (the one I got, and this article is based on) is a 2,5 2860QM i7 and that model also comes in 2,4 GHz 2760QM i7. The older one is either 2,3 GHz 2820QM or 2,2 GHz 2720QM i7.
      I doubt the BT/WiFi board is different between these two, but if you want guarantees; look for the 2,4 or 2,5 GHz ones.

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