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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. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Itinerant – in my experience it’s not true that disabling the second core improves battery life. Quite the opposite – see my battery tests post for more info.

  2. Shane Says:

    Maybe this will be helpful:

    The noise only started for me after running a program for 3 hours at 90% CPU, closing the lid expecting it to go to sleep, waking up in the morning to find out that it was locked up, very hot and still running at full force. Since then the noise hasn’t stopped.

  3. chaichat Says:

    ok, mine is hissing too, and once I turn on photo booth it goes away.

    I actually had a rev D mbp before this one, which I took great care of, but the lcd started to warp. The apple care lady said it could be cause by bad manufacturing job and that I should take it in for an exchange before it get worse or they may claim that I drop it if it get worse. I took it to the apple store, and they made it sound like it was my fault, giving all kinds of excuses. The rev D didn’t have the noise, but this one does. I’m very disappointed with apple customer service & quality control. Btw, the $400 apple care support doesn’t help at all. I don’t even know why i bought it, because theyseems to deny any problems that exist.

    I think this will be the last apple laptop product for me. i really hope a really good lawyer would get our words out.

  4. Darth Pixel Says:

    I bought my first Mac. One of those MacBook Pro.
    When it’s on battery, I hear this hissing noise coming from under the keyboard.
    If I plug the power cord, the noise goes away.

    I cannot say it’s a good first impression.

  5. Henry Says:

    That is insane…
    I didn’t believe the miror thing for the whining, but i tried it and it works (for me at least)

  6. $h4g Says:

    Best Solution I have Found —

    -Launch Photobooth
    -Doube-Click on any saved image (displayed below video preview as thumbnail) in Photobooth to open it
    -Hit Apple-Q

    The noise still returns after launching iChat, but what a blessing…no running process And no noise… now someone please automate this process for us!

  7. chris kearney Says:

    Interesting thing to note.

    When using boot camp to run Windows XP, the whining noise is not present.

    Windows XP makes the macbook 1.83 run so hot it can hurt my lap.

    Queit MBP works. But this is ridiculous, we need a fix Apple.

    conclusion: The sound will drive you insane!

  8. Ian Says:

    As of yesterday, April 18th, I just took possession of a 2ghz model (W8614xxx), and I am happy to report that, to point (15 hours of useage), there is nothing that causes me any great concern. I did notice a whine, but being of mid life and possibly deaf, it is not offensive. Of course the whine only occurs under particular circumstances, which are easily avoided. No dead pixels. No screen noise. I can hear the fan going, but the machine is not too hot.

    Previous to this, I owned a PowerBook G4 1.33 ghz. That notebook warped and the logic board failed and I was able to get it replaced. The replacement is the computer referred to above. In comparison to the previous machine, I don’t notice much difference. Of course my software is not running native, with the exception of the loaded apps. In terms of temperature, not a problem and I would go so far as to say that I wouldn’t be inclinded to place my previous laptop on my lap either. Overall, a positive experience. So for those with bad apples, I feel for ya. I seemed to have lucked out. If circumstances change, I’ll report back and let you know.

  9. Vance Makin Says:

    This forum has been very useful – thanks to all the contributors. It reminded me of my 14″ iBook. Apple has now acknowledged the problem with it, and replaced the logic board on affected computers. However, I went through three computers, withthe attendant time loss and aggravation. The screen would suddenly go black and it was unusable. Apple treated me as if they had never heard of this. I found them rude, as well. They refused to replace the computers. Meanwhile, the store’s technician told me there were several in the shop for the same reason. Eventually the store (not Apple) replaced it after I suggested a lawsuit might follow. After the second one burned out, Apple finally provided the third. A month later they admitted the problem and did a recall.

    To add to the absurdity, the letters started coming off the keys. Apple had never heard of this before, either. The third computer apparently was not registered in some database by serial number, so they couldn’t help for that reason, too (maybe it was a phantom or something). I gave up and used a marker pen to label the keys. I understand they are now replacing the keyboards for free, but only if you ask.

    This was my sixteenth Mac. I lost a lot of confidence in Apple from this. After reading this invaluable web site, I cancelled my MacBook Pro order until such time as I hear Apple admit the noise problems and promise it is fixed.

  10. Thanks for the input Says:

    I never owned a Mac and I was seriously considering purchasing one. However, thanks to your listing of issues, I am gonna purchase a new Fujitsu or Thinkpad. Perhaps in a few years I’ll try a Mac.

  11. mhamm Says:

    At first I was hopeful the firmware upgrade for 10.4.6 and bootcamp would fix some of the MacBook Pro (MBP)noises mentioned on oyur blog, but it did not.

    Then I sent my MBP in to Apple for noise repair and they replaced the logic board which seems to have fixed some of the noises but the “lowing cows noise” will not go away and they are present at this very moment as I write – have been for the past hour after several hours of operation. While not a show stopper for me I would imagine it is for anyone working with audio on a MBP.

    I do hope Apple takes this seriously and fixes these noises.

    We should really think about forming a petition to send in to Appple? If the petition were ignored we could take donations to post it in the WSJ like the Firefox promotional ad. We could also send it to Guy Kawasaki who has a very prominent/influential blog and many Apple contacts prior to sending it to the WSJ.
    I would donate money via PayPal. Would others? Going by the counter for this site there may well be over a 100,000 of us interested in resolving this problem.

  12. David Brown Says:

    Personally I am gutted because my friend bet me that apple could never get new hardware right first time. As someone who suffers from tinitus, this is irony bordering on the macabre.

  13. Oliver Clements Says:

    I’ve just received my MacBook back from AppleCare – they’ve fixed the inverter whine, so that’s one major niggle out of the way. They have however neglected to repair the CPU whine, which is a slight annoyance. I can’t do without the laptop for another week, so may consider sending it back in a month or so when they finally admit to it being a problem..

    I must say though, they were very quick turnaround. Sent it off on Monday, on my desk Friday morning repaired.

  14. Oliver Clements Says:

    As an off topic addendum, they’ve failed to put the case back together properly. Joy.

  15. Anne Says:

    For me the same problems:

    Really high noise, hate it.

    When i did boot into Windows XP, noise stops immediately but now it was getting really extremely HOT!

    I had a serial W8613…..

    I called apple, and they send me a new one, the new serial W8616.

    This one is noise-less, but still much hotter then my other powerbook G4 (last 15inch 1,67ghz apple sold)

  16. Chris Says:

    I have the MBP 2.16 and the cow moo from the lower right side is driving me nutz. Its deffinatly a motor spinning up and down, not static or filter noise. My guess is thats its the optical drive motor.

    UPDATE IF YOU FLIP THE COMPUTER ON ITS SIDE, THAT IS, HAVE IT LIE ON THE POWER SIDE THE MOO’ING GOES AWAY FOR ABOUT 10 TO 15 MINUTES…

    Im sure we will get a tech. notice on this shortly.
    Authorized Reseller and Service Provider.

  17. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Chris: Interesting observation! And I’m thrilled to have an authorized service provider reading the blog. If you hear anything interesting that you can share, please do so!

  18. Milan Says:

    I have MBP with a serial of W8613… and didn’t recognize any noises until I auto updated today (pages, garageband, keyboard, … ). Now I hear the noise and it’s pretty annoying. According to my old PC it’s still a calm. But it’s a shame on an otherwise excellent product.

  19. J-E Says:

    After not using my MBP (serial no. W8612) for a couple of weeks a few updates appeared as I logged in. I dowloaded everything without paying too much attention as to what it was (I’m kinda new to Macs and OS X). Now, however, I cannot stop the annoying processor whine by opening and closing Cimic Life, like I could before. Now the MBP whines and hisses whenever it’s (close to) idle! I never thought the problem could get any worse……. Shit! :(

  20. Dora Says:

    same here, downloading all the updates stopped the photobooth trick working.. now i have to use quiet mbp, and lose lots of battery life and cpu power

  21. jdragon Says:

    QuietMBP works for me, but Apple still needs to fix this problem!

  22. parags111 Says:

    I can hear the cow moo’ing.
    I can hear the whining noise.
    I can hear the fan speed up (really fast) and then slow down

    And now…. my MBP wont power on. Looks like a dud battery (serial #W8616)

    WTF Apple??

  23. parags111 Says:

    Interesting… the dead battery issue turned out to be a PMU issue:

    http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=303319

    I hope these guys release a firmware upgrade soon!

  24. Ron Doron Says:

    Hello everybody,

    DO NOT UPDATE your MacBook Pro with the “Security Update 2006-003 (Intel)” (1.0)!!
    I have the new 2Gz version, was quit before updating now it is louder than my first 1,86.
    A this time aim going to hate APPLE!

    regards
    r.doron

  25. Will Riley Says:

    Quick question: Who reckons the Macbook (released yesterday – apple.com/macbook) which otherwise seems to be a good solid replacement for the ibook which I love so dearly will be affected by similar nagging sound problems?

  26. Joakim Nygård Says:

    I have been fortunate enough to recieve a MBP without annoying noises. That is until today when I installed the SMC Firmware Updater! I now get the hissing noise when running on battery, a sound I’ve heard on some PowerBooks as well. Not good at all.
    To make things worse, I also hear a very distinct low frequency vibrating (not sure how to describe it, kinda like an engine running idle, a piston moving) sound ALL THE TIME. I think it’s a fan because when I put both cores to work (aka ‘yes > /dev/null’ in two Terminal windows), the frequency of the vibration goes up and then disappears completely. When the temperature drops again, the sound comes back.
    I am certain that this sound was not there from the start and I will call Apple in the morning, very disappointed. AAAARGH!

  27. Boliviandude Says:

    UPDATE ON NEW MACBOOK
    Hi today I tested 3 MacBooks (not MacBook pro but the brand new MacBook ), 2 Black ones and one white one.
    The whine was present in the white one , a 2 GHz model and it was absent in the two black ones. The whine in the MacBook is below the s and d keys. Looks like the processor is in this new position. The Whine subsides when you use quietMacBookPro.
    You might also be interested in knowing that the glossy finish in the screen was not well applied and a little texturized in two of the three machines. On the good news side, the machines don’t get half as hot as the MacBook Pro , I ran the cpu at over 78% for over 20 minutes both with and without plugging the machines to the AC and the heat was only on the bottom part and around the superior vents. It was not hot on the left lower corner which was a pleasant surprise. One interesting thing to notice is that in one of the black machines you could feel some low physical vibration under the keyboard all the time. But it was well under reason. My advice about the whine. Buy a machine form the Apple store and have them open it and let you hear for the whine .. worse case you can exchange for one of the ones that hey have on display. I repeat the white issue is still present in the MacBook 1 out of three in my experience. I hope this helps

  28. Naomi Says:

    i’m experiencing exactly the same issue… i used to stop the annoying whine noise by using the mirror widget but since i’ve downloaded all the updates yesterday (incl. SMC Firmware update & Security Update 2006-003 Intel) that trick doesn’t work anymore… now i’m doomed to leave photo booth running since trying to work with that noise is just unbearable. Quite MBP does the trick but I’m afraid to leave it on too long… then my MBP starts making other small weird noises and i don’t feel too safe about it…
    anyway, this is a major issue and i really hope apple will start to focus on it’s problem…

    thanks for your excellent blog!

  29. ryan Says:

    Question for those with the whine. Do you get it when plugged in, on battery, or both? My 17 whines only when plugged in.

  30. Cargo Cult Says:

    The SMC Firmware update seems to have stopped my MacBook Pro (very early model) from making those ‘moo’ sounds – in that I haven’t heard a moo since I installed it, and before it used to moo all the time.

    Probably not a coincidence.

  31. Joules Says:

    I get the problem when not processing anything. eg If I hold down the click button, load a programme, render… the sound vanishes. Then the minute I am inactive or simply typing it makes the buzz noise!
    I too am an audio techi/ music composer and having not yet used my mbp for audio/ writing because of the Universal problem with all the plugins etc – I am still using windows xp on a pc. So am waiting very patiently for the updates for these programmes.
    I then have noticed on this site that the noises appear on audio tracks! What the f***, no way. Is this true? I use Cubase SX3, so hope that whatever the problem is will be repaired. Otherwise I will have to go back to a G4 PB. Does this noise occur on audio if using an external fw card?? Or is it just with the built in mics? If it is just with the built in mics then get an external audio card and mic!

    As for the moo sound, I am glad to notice that it is not just my machine!!! I think it is a fan switching off and on. The same noise came from my old 120gig hard drive, and as you can tell I have been use to pc tower units so do not have a clue about how quiet these laptops are meant to be so I just thought it was the norm; it sounds like I am wrong in a big way. WE WANT SILENCE!!!!

    So am I the only where the sound goes away when processing?

  32. OCdan7 Says:

    On Monday I got a new Logic board (aka motherboard) to ‘hopefully’ upgrade my way out of the CPU-whine noise. (From Apple Store in the Irvine Spectrum in So California)

    Alas, but no. I did have to update my firmware for Bootcamp (proof? that I did get a new ‘board)… Nevertheless, the noise remains. To second an earlier post, Windows XP can’t idle a CPU ;) so I never hear it when I’m in that OS.

    It was a long and sordid story filled with management escalations, a store manager that said I was welcome to give it back for the restocking fee as well as 2-3 week potential wait if I didn’t have Apple Pro Care.

    My parting shot will be a follow-up call to Apple to let them know that my beloved MBP has an irritating whine.

    It’s an awesome machine that allows me to get along with my company’s VPN and proprietary software- as well as live my iLife.

  33. Brian Richmond Says:

    The display inverter problem is not rare, Toshiba laptops also suffered a problem with them which would cause the display to blank out because the lamp shut off; the “FL Inverter” had a design/manufacturing defect. Toshiba replaced all of them, even those years out of warranty, until this month, when the program ended. I know this because of personal experience with arranging for a friend’s Toshiba Satellite laptop to be repaired which was 3 years out of warranty. Maybe the owners of the problematic MacBooks should launch a Class Action Lawsuit as the owners of the faulty Toshiba laptops did.

    Explanation of problem:
    http://www.linuxquestions.org/questions/showthread.php?t=412811

    Class Action Lawsuit settlement:
    http://www.lieffcabraser.com/notebook-flicker.htm

    Toshiba’s “FL Inverter” Class Action Lawsuit required repair notice:
    http://www.toshibadirect.com/content/pc/b2c/legal_notice.html

  34. Allen Says:

    Just received my MBP replacement for my initial purchase (which was unbelievably noisy… even after two visits to service centres, one which included them replacing the logic board)… anyway – and all was fine… transferred all my date via firewire… did some additional configuration – THEN did the software updates unlcuding the SMC and Security updates… and NOW the noise is back… is there no justice????? After the nightmare of dealing with Apple – (and you know for an incredibly ingenius company insofar as technology – their customer service has to be some of the worst I have ever experienced) – I guess I am stuck with this one… ugh. Any suggestions for those who have experienced the noise POST updates????? HELP!!!!

  35. ArsGeek » My first 21 days with a new Macbook Pro 15″ Says:

    […] Moving on, there are several other small issues that cast a shadow on the Macbook Pro. The first is the heat issue – the second is the processor whine. When idle, the processors make a whining noise – very high pitched, very tough to hear. But in a quiet room, it will drive you insane. I found a really neat program called QuietMBP that basically keeps your processor slightly in use all the time, which kills the noise. Works great. Only problem? Running your processors like that keeps the heat levels up. Sigh. […]

  36. YIELD79 Says:

    HI! IM JUST SO SCARED.
    I´LL GO SWITCH TO MAC OVER NEXT WEEK AND I NEED TO KNOW IF IS POSSIBLE TO HAVE SOME SUGGESTIONS ABOUT THE FCK*ING NOISE.
    THANKS ALOT FROM SPAIN.

  37. Sad Me Says:

    I loved my eMac, but I really needed a laptop and due to all the complaints with this I went ahead and got a… Dell. After coupon it was only $650 for a 1.66 Duo Core. This really makes me sad though, I’ve been following it since MBP and you think Apple would have at least acknowledged the problem by now.

  38. ArsGeek » OS X Universal Binaries I can’t live without Says:

    […] QuietMBP – this utility fixes the annoying processor whine […]

  39. Laura Says:

    Question – is it possible to run QuietMBP and not have the icon sitting in the dock? Many thanks for this great Web site!

    Laura

  40. Markus Says:

    Hi guys,

    I just wanted to thank you for providing the QuietMBP script. I bought an MBP two weeks ago and went almost nuts because of this terrible CPU noise. Now I installed the script and it’s a great relief!! I can also confirm that the noise is somehow related to system updates. It was there before but became even worse after I installed the most recent update. Ultimately, I’ll have to send the MBP in but until this happens I can at least finish my work…

    Thanks so much!!!!!

    Markus

  41. Markus Says:

    I just wanted to add something to my previous message – since many people complain that Apple seems to convince callers that there is nothing wrong with the MBP. Back in the TIBook era I had this one unit where the coating bubbled and ultimately chipped off. It took me almost a week of continuous calling until one consultant – after putting me on hold forever – switched back and confessed that they’re aware of the problem but try to deny it wherever possible because customers have used it as an excuse for scratches and stuff. Anyhow, I find all this extremely annoying…

  42. David Says:

    I am so glad I found this blog. The cow noise was about to drive me insane. I’m also kind of relieved that I’m not the only poor sap that is having this problem with my MBP (I grew up on a farm and though maybe I was having flash backs!) I have to turn up my radio so loud everyday to drown out the mooing that I was just waiting for a neighbor to complain (I work from home).

    Anyway. After reading this blog. I just plugged in small USB jump drive and guess what! Ten minutes later and the mooing has not come back! Thank you so much whoever discovered this. Okay so it’s not an ideal fix but it is going to stop me from sticking a spork in my eye!

  43. David Says:

    Cancel that last comment. The mooing is back.

  44. Top 10 Reasons Not To Buy A Macbook Pro by Elliott Back Says:

    […] 6) Some Macbook Pro owners report a hissing noise from the display if it’s running at less than full brightness. […]

  45. widmann.org » Blog Archive » Apple updated OSX auf 10.4.7 Says:

    […] Somit verwende ich vorläufig das Programm QuietMBP, das die zwei Kerne des Prozessors immer auf Trab hält, damit das Fiepen nicht auftreten kann. Hier gilt die Devise: hoffen und beten, dass Apple nicht nur endlich das Problem anerkennt, sondern es auch irgendwann mal in irgend einer Art und Weise endgültig löst. […]

  46. Kay Sperre Says:

    It’s quit astonishing that Apple haven’t acknowledged and addressed this issue. I’m kind of dissapointed, as it brings down the overall feeling quality and excellence of the MBP… Thanks a Million for making the QuietMBP application, it’s a real prozac :)

  47. matt mclean Says:

    my MBP is in the shop for its 2nd time regarding the inverter noise. i wish they would just replace the dang thing.

  48. Brandon Hartley Says:

    So i thought that a majority of these problems were fixed with the recent revision updates so i went ahead and picked up my macbook pro the other day. To my astonishment the cpu whine is present on my mac. SN W8624. Atleast quietmac seems to be working for the moment.

  49. Ian Says:

    I posted earlier. Have a macbookpro, 2.0 gig hz. When I updated to 10.4.7 a week or so ago my cpu whine stopped. I only had the noise when unplugged. I am unplugged at the moment with 75% left on my battery and no whine what so ever. My guess is this update addressed that problem?

  50. renato Says:

    To Ian:

    10.4.7 didn’t address the CPU whine problem. My MBP (week 17) also has the whine; with 10.4.7 the fequency and the ‘behaviour’ of the whine has slightly changed.

    On 10.4.6, the whine was the same with and without the power adapter hooked on. On 10.4.7, the frequency is higher with adapter, and the buzz is lower and louder when running on batteries.

    So, software *is* changing its behaviour. Not stopping the whine as for now….

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