MBP: Noise Update

March 24th, 2006

This post is part of the MacBook Pro Complaints series. Instead of (or in addition to) linking directly to this post, consider linking to the series link, which includes a summary of all findings to date and direct links to the pertinent downloads that users may find useful. Thanks for reading!

Since I first wrote about the MacBook Pro CPU noise problem, some things have come into sharper focus. Unfortunately, there is still no official fix (or even acknowledgment of a problem) from Apple for the CPU noise, but there are some interesting tidbits I’ve noticed on the Apple discussion forums and elsewhere:

  • The “brightness-related” noise is a distinct and acknowledged defect. Apparently Apple has identified the humming/hissing noise many MBP owners experience as caused by a faulty “display inverter.” The noise is usually only present when the display is at less than full brightness, and goes away immediately at full brightness. It sounds like owners who are afflicted by this noise can get their laptop serviced under warranty. I will certainly do this as it’s distracting and a waste of battery to run at full brightness, but I’m waiting to see if any of the other issues might be fixable in the same service request.
  • People believe in magic. There is widespread discussion about the fact that running a 3rd party “Mirror” widget alleviates the noise indefinitely, even after the widget is shut. People are so excited by this fix that they are going out of their way to come up with automated techniques for invoking and then quitting that widget. I can’t help but think that if the noise is stopped, something interesting is still going on. I assume that running the Widget configures the hardware in such a way that power is being consumed even after the widget is closed. I took a look at the Widget and observed that at its core is a standalone QuickTime movie that contains all the iSight integration. You can open the movie independently of the Dashboard (with QuickTime Player) and cause the noise to stop. However, when you close the movie from QT Player the noise resumes. I don’t believe there is a magic solution to this problem, since it seems so directly related to power consumption.
  • There is a 3rd noise. A somewhat distracting noise, sort of like a lowing cow, occasionally emerges from the lower-rigth quadrant of my MBP. I haven’t heard this noise discussed much, but in my opinion it might as well be tossed into the defect list. It sounds like a false-starting motor, or something. I don’t know if it’s a fan that starts up and then decides it doesn’t need to, or if it’s the DVD drive trying to access a non-existant DVD. I would like this issue to enter the discussion, though.
  • Some people, including Scott Stevenson, have noticed that plugging an external USB device into the MBP alleviates the noise. This isn’t convenient for me, but if you’ve got a USB flash drive around that happens to silence it – might not be such a bad way to buy your sanity.
  • People are excited about Cryptonome. Since I shut down comments on the last MBP noise post, people have been emailing me furiously, concerned that they might miss out on the culmination of Cryptonome’s work. I’m excited to see what he comes up with, but I have also been warned that such manipulation of the MBP’s power management strategy might be dangerous. I’m sure the delay in Cryptonome’s releasing anything is because he’s carefully studying the impact such a tool would have, but I would be timid about running such a tool all the same.
  • QuietMBP is still the best all-purpose workaround I know of for the CPU noise. I’ve updated the application to include a slider so users can precisely control the amount of CPU the program uses. This should satisfy the curiosity of those who worry I could be using less CPU to achieve the same goal, and it’s also fun to play with the slider to hear the difference in sound at various CPU utilization. Download QuietMBP 1.1.

I still anxiously await a public response to the CPU whine issue from Apple. It’s the single biggest downer about the MBP and it’s affecting a whole heck of a lot of people. I’m still getting hundreds of referrals a day from Apple discussion forums, and the popularity of that single entry’s URL is about to exceed the default entry URL for my blog as a whole.

Update: People are starting to record their MacBook Pro noises, and to be honest they are usually not representative of what it really feels like to be in a quiet room with the problem worming itself into your brain. But this post by Paul Turner includes an interesting analysis of the sound showing up in Logic (Apple’s own pro audio recording software) with no microphone plugged in. He observed that the subtle but insanity-inducing “CPU whine/twitter” actually shows up in a Logic recording even when it’s not audible through the speakers. Interesting, indeed. I feel really bad for Apple. I love Apple and I don’t want to see this machine turn into a complete audio lemon. I also don’t want to regret my purchase, since I’m interested in home recording myself. This is just one more downer for what is otherwise a great machine.

148 Responses to “MBP: Noise Update”

  1. MattC Says:

    Is it a good idea to send my MBP back for service? Or am i going to get my or another MBP back with the same whinning problem? thanks

  2. Joe B. Says:

    Another solution is not to run Mac OS X. When running Win XP in the “notebook” the whine/hissing is gone. go figure. but yes I have been complaint about this too. And the store I bought mine from says there has been only one instance of a MBP that has been bought from their store that has had this problem. I find this hard to believe. Welp now they have two. (week 11) Is it too late to get a full refund?

    As for the mooing… I had a slight ticking sound in the fan that would happen with every revolution of the fan. Then one day it got extremly loud for about 5 mins then died along with the ticking. I believe the fan is now dead, don’t even hear it run now. Will find out later tonight from their “Genius Bar” if they just used their ears this could save them a lot of time.

  3. Matt Says:

    I have a week 23 MBP and before I installed the 10.4.7 update I did not have the whine but now I do. I was wondering how to uninstall 10.4.7 and reinstall 10.4.6.

  4. macophilia » Das Apple MacBook Pro… Says:

    […] In der Vergangenheit hat es allerdings wenig Sinn gemacht, ein Early Adaptor der Apple-Rechner zu sein. So hat das MacBook anscheinend schon mehrere identifizierte Probleme, sei das Lärmproblem, sei es der Brand des MagSafe-Steckers (dessen Besitzer die Photos mittlerweile modifiziert hat, weil Apple ihm angeblich ein neues MacBook Pro angeboten hat). […]

  5. yallaman Says:

    Some weeks ago I updated the firmware on my MBP (W8613) and the processor noise got even worse. I think a lot of people have experienced this. I could still silence it with the QuietMBP programme, set at about 150 (milliseconds). Now, with one more firmware update, it got even worse!!! I cant’t ******* believe it. Now I have to set QuietMBP to only 70 milliseconds, and naturally, the processor works harder and gets hotter, thus making the fans run faster and LOUDER (and wasting even more battery). I too heard from my local Apple dealer that Apple consider the ‘noise issue’ to be ‘normal’. I’m impressed! Obviously, I’m not looking forward to the next firmware update …

  6. cat slave diary » Blog Archive » End of an era Says:

    […] In the new year, after the wedding, I’ll get a nice MacBook Pro once they’ve sorted out the whine, fan noise and overheating issues (probably fixed with the firmware update), and expanding batteries and reports of poor battery life. […]

  7. Cindy D Says:

    I just got my 2.16 MBP and had purchased a 23″ Apple Monitor at the same time. For the past couple of days it’s been plugged into the monitor and there has been no problem (consistant with the USB port solution). Today, when I’m actually using the computer away from the monitor I’ve had the whine. I downloaded the app suggested and the whine is gone.

    Maybe Apple will sell a little cheese to go with the whine … it could come from the cows….

  8. Alex Says:

    I just read through the whole blog and I’m impressed, now I have my second MBP, the first one I had to send it back because of the beautiful overdrive on the right speaker, any way I was sitting in this quiet hotel room and wondering if this stupid hiss it’s normal? If I called the Apple service for sure they had told me “it’s normal”, it’s ridiculous what’s happening with this guys anyway.
    I read somewhere that if I turn on PhotoBoth the noise goes away, so I tried and it did, then I found this beautiful blog and I shall download MBP in few minutes,

    In the end the stupid hiss is not that bad, when you’re in very quiet environment you can turn on QuietMBP, and probably a quiet environment it’s in doors so there while be an electricity plug around,
    On the other side you have yo use this baby hard, make it work!run it hard , so it shall stay silent when I’m bloody recording something,
    Thanks a lot for this application

    All the best

  9. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Alex: I think it’s worth pressuring Apple to repair the noise now that they seem to have logic boards without the problem.

  10. NumacUser Says:

    I too have the dreaded whine. I’ve noticed that the photobooth trick works as well as holding down the mouse button. I’m going to try the QuietMBP script pretty soon. I’m glad I found this site because I thought I was going crazy.

  11. Marc Logemann Says:

    i heard that the latest revision of the MacBook Pro Mainboard have no noise problems anymore. But still we dont have an official respsonse from Apple so far. In fact, they will most likely keep it this way because replacing mainboards will get expensive. I will try to replace it anyway, because in a quiet room, this noise sucks and i am not willing to accept that for a machine expensive like that.

  12. Jeff Says:

    I sent in my MacBook Pro after hearing a odd fan noise. It sounded as if the fan was hitting another component. I got my computer back after 6 days and it appears that they replaced several components:
    SVC,MLB,1.83GHZ, 128VRAM(M1-CAP)MBP15″

    They also included a letter stating that they installed a different version of the Main Logic Board and if I need to reinstall Mac OS X I will need to use the new disc that they included. The fan noise is still there but I was more concerned with the high pitched whine from the inverter, which seems to be gone. They did not need to reformat my hard drive.

  13. Bruno Says:

    FYI, Apple finally acknowledged the problem : http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=303365

  14. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Wow, thanks Bruno! That’s great news, to have some acknowledgement. To anybody worried about calling support you now have something to point the phone representative to when they refuse to comprehend what you’re complaining about.

  15. Jess Says:

    my macbook pro used to make that high-pitched hissing/whining noise, which stopped when photobooth was running. so i took it back, they updated it, now that particular noise is gone.

    BUT, there is still a constant high frequency noise (not a hiss or a whine, just a constant high pitched noise). it is so annoying. it makes me want to slice my eardrums out. other people i have shown cant seem to hear it, but it is definitely there. thing is, i cant really return/refund a computer where it’s problem is so hard to pinpoint/point out. i guess i will just have to get some earplugs and deal with it.

  16. Jillian Says:

    I’m absolutely devastated. I bought this MBP to replace my 5 year old Toshiba Satellite laptop which is held together with duct tape and barely runs. I had been SO looking forward to getting a Mac, they look so well-designed and professional and (I thought) they had a reputation as a great machine. Also the noise of my old computer had been giving me quite severe headaches.
    I’ve been using my MBP for 2 days now and I have to remind myself every couple of minutes how much it cost just to stop myself hurling it across the room in frustration. The whine is killing me. I cannot believe Apple will not admit the severity of this problem. Do they not use their own computers?

  17. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Jillian: you should get in touch with Apple because they seem to be fixing the problem, now.

  18. Jillian Says:

    I downloaded QuietMBP and obtained instant relief from the above symptoms the moment I ran it, thank you very much!
    However in playing with it I realised that the lower the number on the slider, the higher the frequency of the whine. Surely this means that my computer is still whining, it’s just now doing so at a frequency I can’t hear? As somebody mentioned earlier that will probably still be cause for a headache. But if I’m going to get a headache regardless I’d rather do it without having to listen to that noise!
    Has anybody sent their MBP in since Apple acknowledged the problem? I’d be interested to hear whether they actually fixed it…

  19. Red Sweater Links » Blog Archive » Apple Acknowledges MBP Whine Says:

    […] A reader pointed out in the comments to one of my MBP saga blog entries that Apple has finally, briefly, acknowledged the CPU whine. Thanks Bruno! […]

  20. mike dutch Says:

    The MacBook Pro noise is a problem which annoys many people, judging by the number of posts. There is, however, no known solution to the problem (other than getting a replacement MacBook) only workarounds. One work around is occupying the CPU, as the noise appears when the CPU is idle. Some suggested turning on the Mirror widget, then turning it off, putting the MacBook to sleep and waking it again (the noise will be gone until the next sleep). How about doing something useful with the CPU instead? Today I downloaded a client to the Folding@home distributed computing service (http://folding.stanford.edu), which does molecular research into cancer and other diseases. It works great, occupies enough CPU for the noise to disappear, but at the same time does not interfere with other tasks (it only occupies the idle time, and in case you want to do some rendering, you can always switch it off).

    Apple must know by now about the problem, so let us wait for a solution to the MacBook whining, and instead of whining ourselves, let us turn the situation into something useful, by supporting, for example, molecular caner research.

  21. Jillian Says:

    Me again, I still didn’t have a chance to take mine back to the shop, but I did discover something else that fixes the problem.
    To deal with a completely unrelated issue, I downloaded the CHUD tools from developer.apple.com and switched off the second CPU (install the tools, go to System Preferences > Processors and unclick the second processor). The noise stopped at once. However, running on one processor does kind of defeat the purpose of spending all those $$ on a (theoretically) decent computer…

  22. Ketan Says:

    i have an AMD athlon 2400, recently my comp has been giving me few beeps after shutdown…there are around 3 to 4 beeps each at a diff scale…any idea wat might be causing it

  23. Chuck Says:

    My powerbook has this whining problem and that is how I found this web page. I downloaded QuietMBP and have to turn the slider all the way down to zero to get the noise to stop.

    Does anybody know what the difference is between 1 and 1000? Is 1000 using more CPU or less?

  24. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Hi Chuck – 1000 is using less CPU. The closer to 0, the closer to constantly using the CPU to keep it busy and avoid the fluctutating that seems to cause the whine.

  25. Tobias Says:

    Does anyone know how to set CHUD to default to single processor mode on startup?

  26. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Tobias – you could use an AppleScript/ShellScript combo. Paste this into Script Editor:

    do shell script “hwprefs cpu_count=1”

    Test it by opening up the Processor control panel and confirming that the cpu count goes from 2 to 1 when you run it. Now save the script as an “Application Bundle” and add that application to your login items.

  27. Witty Srisa-an Says:

    So I sent my Macbook Pro 1.83 GHz to Apple last week to fix the hissing problem. I got it back today and was surprise to see they replaced two fans. I didn’t think I had any fan problems. Unfortunately, that didn’t solve the problem. It is still as loud and as annoying as before.

  28. Joshua Ellis Says:

    Just a note here — I got a refurbished 2.16Ghz MBP a couple of weeks ago and I’ve only noticed two auditory problems: 1) the whine when the screen isn’t at full brightness (which I barely even notice), and 2) the distorted right speaker, which is far more irritating to me.

    As far as CPU/drive noise, I don’t hear a damn thing…and I’m using this for recording, so I’m pretty sensitive to such things. It’s actually much quieter than my old PowerBook 866Mhz G4!

    I wish they could fix that damn speaker, though.

  29. Mark Says:

    I am trying to record using an external mic into the line-in. I disabled the built-in mic by going to utilities and selecting line-in, but when I record using GarageBand, sound is still being input through the built-in mic and not the external mic. What is going wrong?

  30. Creative Creature » Blog Archive » MacBook Pro-blems Says:

    […] However, after about 3 months of solid performance from my new machine (a MacBook Pro 15.4″ with the 1.83 GHz Core Duo), problems started to crop up. I had already grown accustomed to the intense heat put out by the machine (particularly on the bar over the function keys and precisely where you place your wrists while typing), and I had found a wonderful little app to stop the incredibly annoying whine (QuietMBP). However, the new noises were much scarier, and seemed to originate from the right fan near the power button: […]

  31. oldfartingskunk Says:

    Hello everyone:

    My roommate’s constant complaints have finally forced me to seek advice. I tried everyone’s suggestions including the QuietMBP software, dismantiling Photobooth…the works. I’m pretty much getting ready to call Apple and demand a new computer. From googling, I noticed a lot of people were in fact successful in this endeavor, but wanted to see if anyone on this site could speak to their experiences!


  32. Scott Stevenson Says:

    I’m pretty much getting ready to call Apple and demand a new computer

    It’s a supported issue. Just take it to a Genius Bar, or call Apple Support if you’re not near a store. Here’s the complete text of the knowledge base article:

    “If your 15-inch MacBook Pro emits a high-pitched buzzing sound, please contact AppleCare for service.”


  33. Michele Says:

    I just installed the newest firmware update for my mac book pro. IT BEEPS!! Not a buzz..but a loud beep. ABOUT ONCE AN HOUR! I have heard of all kinds of other complaints regarding noises, but not after the firmware update.

    Is there anyone whho knows how to fix this?

  34. firstpinkgirl Says:

    I thought my Mac was going to explode the first time it started whining – then after a while I was hoping it would, so I could go back to apple to tell them the noise sucks. It’s incredibly annoying. And what’s worse, my PC friend tease me.

  35. Ethan Says:

    Does this high pitch sound under the s and d key also show up in recent MacBooks??

    My MB, just a few hours old suddenly starts making this noise =/ :S

  36. PCFish Says:

    Easiest fix to your noise problem: don’t fix it.
    Instead, wear your headphone and play your favorite tunes.

  37. Rob Says:

    Noise on your MBP. I am on my buddy’s mbp and we have the same problem. I did find something that you didn’ mention. The noise stops when the cpu is in heavy use. If the cpu is in idle, it’s not drawing as much power, so I presume another component is getting too much power.

    This “magic widget” is simply consuming cpu cylces, causing more power to go to the cpu, and less to the offending component.

    Taking the battery out and running ac only helps, but the problem is still present.

    If you get resolution (because wasting cpu cycles on another app as some have suggested), I would be anxious to hear from you.

    Keep fightin the good fight.

  38. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Rob: I think you’ll find the “noise stops when CPU is in heavy use” to have been among my preliminary findings in the earliest post in this series.

    As far as a solution – the best thing to do at this point I think is to insist on a replacement logic board from Apple. This seems to alleviate the problem to a great extent for many people. I think they finally reached a compromise that is not perfect but is much less aggravating.

  39. Din Says:

    It is disappointing to hear all the problems with the MBP. I am a avid MAC user at home and at work and was planning to purchase a MBP. Now i am having second thoughts about doing so.

    I guess I’ll have to wait and see how apple deals with all these issues with the next release of the MBP.

  40. Costas Cleater Says:

    Din’s comments above almost mirror those I left on an older site a couple of days ago. And if the other (more recent) comments above are anything to go by, your optimism about an improving situation would appear to be….well, optimistic. One year on, and nothing much seems to have changed.

    A real shame, but I’d say the scales are now tipping heavily in favour of an MS-based machine. Ironic, isn’t it? I wanted an Apple, yet they have all but succeeded in driving me into Bill Gates’ arms. Do Apple have a death wish? How many other potential customers are they willing to lose before they act to put things right?

  41. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Costas: I’m basing my optimism on the real decrease in the number of public complaints about MacBook Pros, and in the personal experience of myself getting a much improved newer one.

    Keep in mind that a lot of these early, flawed MBP are “out in the wild” so recent comments about the problem don’t necessarily mean *newer* machines. There are a lot of machines that never got repaired, either because the noise didn’t bother the owners, or because the owners didn’t know they could get it fixed.

  42. Costas Cleater Says:

    I have to admire your loyalty, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s misplaced. I just hope you’re right. As for recent machines being more reliable, one MAC columnist for one of our many PC mags recounts the story of a proud MBP owner/acquaintance who called on him to show off his new machine. Guess what? The machine died on him during the demonstration! He took it back to the shop and was given a replacement on the spot, no arguments. Guess what? It also died within the month. We are not told if he got a 2nd replacement as easily. Still think the current crop is more reliable?

  43. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Costas: yes, I still do. Because one anecdote doesn’t change my whole world view. But it sounds like you’ve been exposed to more negative stories than I have, so I can appreciate that your world view is different.

  44. Costas Cleater Says:

    One anecdote maybe, but I have to wonder how many times it is repeated across the world. Most of the ‘negative exposure’ that you refer to has come from sites/blogs like yours – from people who are pro Apple by nature and who should be singing the praises of their machines. Instead, the vast majority only manage to document one problem after another.

    Have you come across the ‘swelling batteries’ and dying displays yet? Where does it all end? When I typed MBP into a search engine, this is not what I expected to find. I expected that anecdote to be a one-off, not repeated a thousand times in different forms.

    I was a willing customer, but it is your own community that has put a hex on my enthusiasm. Despite all that, I’m still hanging on by a thread – but only just.

  45. kfupm Says:

    Thanks for your well explination of the problem.

    I was thrilled by this information.


  46. Evelhakur Says:

    Guys. After debating calling Apple to have my logic board switched due to the CPU whining problem, I think there is a fix! I downloaded the Battery Update 1.2 and it has cured my noisy laptop!!! Now I only have the friendly low pitched (and very, very low volume) whirr of the fan on the left side of the macbook pro.

    I love my MacBook Pro again!!! I hope this works for everyone else!


  47. Flahool Says:

    I’ve found that this exact problem also exists on my first generation iMac G5.

  48. Quora Says:

    What are good ways to solve the CPU noise problem in Macbook Pro?…

    As many may encountered, the Macbook pro has an annoying high frequency noise. You can hear it in a quiet environment. It is said that it is caused by CPU and energy saving strategy. Here is a detailed summary and some suggestions posted several months…

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