MBP: I Believe in Miracles

March 30th, 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!

In my last post on the subject of the MacBook Pro noise dilemma, I dismissed with borderline contempt the notion that “opening and closing Mirror.widget” was a reasonable workaround for the CPU whine problem. I felt pretty certain after my experiments with tweaking CPU usage that any workaround would necessarily equate to equivalent CPU usage or battery draw behind the scenes.

I may yet turn out to have been right, but I’m now using the “Mirror Widget Hack” (MWH) instead of my own QuietMBP. Why? I just got the feeling that my machine was running hotter, mooing more, and generally behaving less amicably when QuietMBP was used to alleviate the symptoms instead of the magical Mirror.widget. The damned computer feels like a wise investment when I use the MWH! I love it again (mostly). So, to all the readers who felt dismissed by my jarring rejection of MWH: mea culpa. I’m sorry.

I don’t like magic, though. At least not when I can’t understand it. I’m ready to admit that MWH does something that brings my computer into a state of calm, but if MWH can do it, surely some other piece of software, that is more convenient to run than a dashboard widget, can do the same thing. I decided to start looking carefully into what exactly happens to the computer when you apply this hack.

First of all, Mirror.widget contains no code. Well, that’s no fun! How the hell does it fix my system, then? The widget is largely implemented in the form of a special QuickTime movie “mirror2.mov” that is somehow configured to automatically reflect the incoming iSight image in real-time. Great, so I can get the same system-calming affects by opening the movie in QuickTime Player, right? Right. But as soon as I quit QuickTime Player, the noise comes back. When you close the widget, the noise stays away forever (actually until you use some app other than Dashboard that opens and then closes access to the iSight). I thought I’d try to open the widget in Safari. No dice. Even after editing the widget so it would attempt to operate despite not being in the Dashboard – it silences the noise while the movie is visible, but the noise comes back after closing the web page. Get this: even turning off the movie in Mirror Widget, by clicking the little “i” in the lower left corner causes the noise to come back. Something about the (perhaps clumsy, but beautifully, wondrously clumsy) way that Dashboard closes up shop for the widget while the movie is active causes the system to get “stuck in good mode.”

I decided to whip out Shark, Apple’s profiling tool from the CHUD toolset. I figured there must be something different about “my computer doing nothing” before and after the magic MWH. To get a fairly straightforward sample, I quiet all visible applications except Shark and the Finder. Then, with the noise blaring, I took a 2 second timed sample of “Everything.” This means all processes on the system that are using any CPU time at all for anything. Then I silenced the MBP with the MWH, and grabbed an identical 2 second sample. I did this a few times to make sure there were no statistical anomalies coloring my view of what’s going on. The difference between the two samples? Almost absofrickinlutely nothing. In fact, nothing of interest I can pinpoint after multiple sessions of sampling at different rates, over different durations, and using different sampling configuration.

The Mirror Widget is magic. I use it and love it. Be warned that as soon as you use your iSight again in another app, and then quit, the noise will come back. But other than that, I now switch my allegiance to Mirror Widget. I just wish I knew why it does what it does. Maybe somebody with more Shark skills than I can get to the bottom of this.

Update: Supporting evidence that the silence is a side-effect of a poor “cleanup” from Dashboard: opening mirror2.mov in QuickTime Player and then force-quitting QuickTime player produces the same “permanent” fix to the system. Also, opening Photo Booth (or I presume any other iSight-using app) and force-quitting it while the silence is golden will achieve the same result. Getting closer to an answer!

More: Apple’s “WhackedTV” developer sample also eliminates the noise if you add a video track in the app (defaults to iSight) and then quit. Apparently however it cleans up or doesn’t clean up upon quit is also well-suited to leaving the Mac in quiet mode.

Update 2: I decided to hack the WhackedTV example to produce the simplest possible app that can shut the MBP up and immediately quit. This would make a suitable login item, and can be manually relaunched any time the noise comes back (e.g. after using the iSight for something real). Download MagicNoiseKiller (Intel only) today!

84 Responses to “MBP: I Believe in Miracles”

  1. Red Sweater Blog - MacBook Pro Noise: Stop the Cow, MacBook Pro Says:

    […] http://www.red-sweater.com/blog/108/macbook-pro-noise-i-believe-in-miracles/108/macbook-pro-noise-i-believe-in-miracles […]

  2. Melanie Says:

    Count me in with the unhappy updaters — the mirror widget hack worked perfectly for me until I installed the keyboard update this morning. Now nothing stops the whine except keeping the isight running constantly. Argh!!!

  3. Dmitry Kirillov Says:

    Simple trick – whenever your processor is busy, noise is cancelled. Try making a photoshop effect over a big file and hear it for yourself. I hate the noises, since I can hear them a lot.

  4. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Dmitry: Yep, that’s the reasoning behind my other workround, QuietMBP. It lets you gobble up CPU consistently over time so it remains quiet.

  5. maxi Says:

    you can get rid of the whine temporarily by downloading the CHUD tools from the first system install CD. then, go into system preferences and de-select the second core. no whine when running in solo mode

  6. 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.

  7. Paul Doherty Says:

    I just got a MacBook Pro 2 Ghz 15.$ inch model (serial W8617) last night. I heard nothing until I started running it off battery. Then it whined like mad when the CPUs were idle. EXTREMELY irritating and unacceptable. I tried the Dashboard mirror widget and that seemed to stop it. Thought I’m not entirely sure since I plugged it back in and also plugged in a USB wireless mouse which may also be what silenced it (heard that using USB devices will shut it up).

  8. gianoddone Says:

    Fascinating thread. My experience has been quite similar. 15.4″ MBP, 1.8, 1GB, 7200, SN W8616 etc… The opening/closing photobooth hack worked until the keyboard update…now it doesn’t. Ironic that Apple would defeat our efforts to correct their hardware problem. I vote for the theory that it’s caused by some sort of power management issue. If you have been waiting to purchase that bluetooth mouse you’ve always wanted, do it now, because the hiss disappears when bluetooth is active. I use the Logitech V270 (does not require any external USB connector). Perhaps somebody should make a bluetooth bracelet that keeps the MBP bluetooth active whenever you use it so as to shut it up. Probably eats a bit of power… Ah, and BEWARE you don’t allow your MBP to wake on bluetooth, for it will awake while in its case and cook itself otherwise. In fact, I would recommend shutting it down whenever you put it in the case…it did cost you $2000+…Good luck.

  9. Brian Huynh Says:

    I have purchased a new MBP 15.5″ screen with 1.83ghz processor. I experienced the same things at this posting like everyone else also including 3 dead pixels right smack in the middle of the screen. So I check my serial number and its a series W8612. I thought this serial wasn’t suppose to cause problem but eventually it did. It was getting very hot after about an hour of use. The screen was making that buzzing noise and was eliminated only by turning the brightness to max or min level all the way. So i upgraded the firmware to that SMC 1.0, still no luck and try almost everything posted here on these sites. Opening photobooth and leaving in the background, closing it and all sorts of stuff like that. So I finally gave up and went to the store to exchange for another one with the same series of serial number, W8612. So far an hour into using this notebook haven’t experience the buzzing of the screen and the heat issue. It does run warm but not that you can’t touch it. Also i haven’t downloaded any SMC firmware or updates yet. I will wait out and see if the newer series number do solve some of these problems. I wouldn’t risk udpating the firmware and the problems started appearing again.

  10. Jonas Turkheim Says:

    Is the whine related with CPU or GPU activity? Do you see any difference if you launch apps that only use the GPU (like ChocoFlop or other CoreImage applications) as opposed to PhotoShop being emulated?

    I am afraid of buying a macbook pro because of this whine issue. It would make me mad. I hate noises of that kind.

  11. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Jonas: The GPU doesn’t seem to affect the whine. For instance running a Quartz Composer composition doesn’t eliminate the whine.

  12. FalconDelta Says:

    As far as I can tell, the CPU whine is probably not hardware related, but has to do with the way OSX regulates the CPU via kext files. The reason I say it’s not a hardware issue specifically is because when running windows under bootcamp the noise is completely eliminated. Moreover, when I messed up the permissions on a certain SMC file so that the system couldn’t load it the noise was eliminated as well without the need for the mirror widget or the “magic” one. However, I don’t recommend modifying the permissions of the SMC file as a permanent fix. When I modified this file OSX lost all ability to regulate the core frequency, resulting in full frequency processing all the time. This full frequency processing made the MBP very very hot.

    For those who are putting a lot of creedence in the serial numbers, I wouldn’t bother with that. I have a W8616 model and it has the CPU whine. It’s my firm belief that the problem is mostly, if not entirely software related, so I’d expect they will eventually correct the offending kext files to solve all of our problems.

    With the current SMC update, I higly recommend using the “magic” fix, because it doesn’t require altering the kext file and it doesn’t hot the isight camera.

    Again, my theory that it’s not specifically a hardware issue is supported by the fact that windows does not have a cpu whine. Install bootcamp and WinSp2 and see for yourself.


  13. Court Says:

    my new MacBook (unpro) is affected by the cpu noise as well. QuietMBP doe a trick of at least allowing a consistent noise so im not continually distracted, I will soon (or whenever the intel-compatible patches are available) be setting up this computer as an audio workstation. Hoping to not get the same problems as the Logic user. Thank you for your work.

  14. Skytag Says:

    I just got a 2.16GHz MacBook Pro and the only time I can hear the whine is when the computer is asleep and plugged in.

  15. Brent Says:

    Just received my (Apple refurbished) MBP on 6/6. The machine was in great condition, aside for the whining noise :). MagicNoiseKiller, nor any of the other isight-related hacks work for me after they’ve been quit or forced quit. The whine is indeed silenced while they are open.

    QuietMBP on the other hand, does indeed work.

    The other thing that works is the “pedestal” I have from CoolerMaster called NotePal. It’s metal with two USB-powered fans. When plugged in, no whining noise, so I would agree with the direction that this is mostly power-related in some fashion.

    I’m not sure that 10.4.6 is the cause for MNK not working for me, as I’ve had it installed since getting the machine, but I really hope Apple releases some kind of update or firmware upgrade for this soon. It’s extremely annoying.

  16. Ryan Says:

    MagicNoiseKiller still works great for me on 10.4.6. But you must not download the Keyboard Update. If you have then this may help…
    “I think I found a solution (used some information from xlr8yourmac.com). Apparently, the keyboard update replaces the file /System/Library/Extensions/IOUSBFamily.kext

    If you have a backup of this file, just restore it and the whine will be gone. Since I never make backups of system files, I did a quick Google search, and luckily Apple provides this package for downloads (actually targeted to programmers, but no problem). Download it from http://developer.apple.com/hardwared…/usbdebug.html
    I switched the file and MagicNoiseKiller works.


  17. Benjamin Browder Says:

    I’ve noticed that QuietMBP doesn’t work as well as it did after the new update (10.4.7). I used to be able to keep it at 150, but now it’s just annoying. The most comfortable setting now is 100. :mad:

  18. Peter V Says:

    > Benjamin
    I did notice the same thing after installing 10.4.7… ihave to set quietmbp to between 100-120 to silence the beast now (could go as high as 180 before) My machine is numbered w86240 so its quite new and the problem is still represented… hoping apple will prove worthy their quality status and release a firmware/whatever update to fix the issue…

  19. Melanie Says:

    Here is some new Mirror widget voodoo to keep the magic working after the 10.4.7 update. I was pretty unhappy to lose the Mirror hack after I updated, but then I found this info on an Apple Discussions thread, and it works for me.

    1) go to the Dashboard and open Mirror widget.
    2) close Mirror widget, but don’t leave the Dashboard.
    3) while still in Dashboard, close the laptop lid, putting the computer to sleep. This is the exciting new step that pleases the widget gods.
    4) open the lid and wake up the computer. The noise should be gone.

    Hope it works for you.

  20. dhc Says:

    ‘New’ mirror hack worked a treat. Thanks.

  21. Angie Says:

    Nice. Now we have to rely on the camera hack gods to be pleased with us before we can be ensured of noiseless sanity.

  22. andy Says:

    is there an update so that this “magic” will work on 10.4.6?

  23. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Andy: I’m afraid not. I gave up on the Magic and switched to QuietMBP :(

  24. szm Says:

    this mirror widget thing works by leaving the isight on even after closing the dashboard. for me the whine always goes away when using the cam

  25. Bendis Says:

    Does anyone mention before that the MacBook (not Pro) has the whining too? Mine is a white 1,83 Ghz and ist whines…

  26. Dan Parnell Says:

    I don’t actually have a MB or MBP, but I do have a PowerBook G4 (17″, 1.33 GHz model) and PowerMac G4 (Digital Audio, originally 733 MHz, upgraded to 1.467 GHz) that both exhibit similar symptoms from time to time. The whine is much quieter on the PowerBook than on my tower, but in both cases the solution is the same: I open System Preferences->Processor and uncheck the “Allow Nap” checkbox.

    The Processor system preference is on both of my systems but I’m not sure where it came from. I know it wasn’t there originally; perhaps TinkerTool or the Developer Tools stuck it there.

    I’m not sure if the Intel processor will allow you to disable processor napping in that manner, but it causes an immediate and abrupt end to the processor whines of my G4s the moment the checkbox is unchecked. Hopefully the Intel ‘Books will let you do the same and make my comment useful.

    – D

  27. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Hi Dan – the Processor panel comes from Apple’s CHUD performance tools. Unfortunately the Intel chips don’t seem to support the napping feature.

  28. MacBook Firmware 1.0 update - 99mac Says:

    […] Ursprungligen skriven av jopo Vet inte om det diskuterats här tidigare men i ett tyst rum hör jag fortfarande det där väsanda (eller vad man ska kalla det, "hissing"?) när processorn ldlar .. slår man på photobooth så försvinner det eftersom processorn då får mer att göra. Finns det någon riktig lösning runt det ljudet? Det är ingen lösning på problemet, men du kan alltid testa MagicNoiseKiller eller QuietMBP för att sysselsätta processorn. Båda programmen är egentligen till för MBP, men kan kanske fungera för MB. […]

  29. Richard Bowman Says:

    I have a MacBook Pro purchased at the start of June (serial number 8617…); the mirror trick doesn’t work for me. The noise disappears when running e.g. photo booth, but even if I force quit photo booth with the camera running, the noise comes back. MagicNoiseKiller also doesn’t work at all, as far as I can see.

    I have the whine which is *really* irritating as I use the machine a lot for looking at PDFs of notes whilst in the library. There seem to be 3 regions of noise:
    almost no usage (e.g. looking at a PDF in Preview): quiet
    little usage (e.g. scrolling said PDF): whine
    more usage (e.g. opening an application or whatever): quiet(er)

    I realise I’m posting later than most of you; has apple sorted this problem somehow, or are you all just getting used to it?


  30. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Hi Richard – if you follow the series of posts to the end, you’ll find The Quiet Mac, which summarizes my more-or-less successful resolution, and also points to some of the evidence that Apple has pretty-much resolved the problem in newer machines, and can replace a logic board to great success on older machines.

  31. meee Says:

    “I have an 8612 and it does have the whine. However, unlike some other people’s experiences I have not had a problem using MagicNoiceKiller on 10.4.6. It works just fine for me, no noise.”

    Hmm. this is interesting, my friend has a mac, even though you cant hear a wine, if i plug head phones in i can hear the same noise that u are describing. (the modulation in the pitch that is) when ever the cpu is working.

  32. Nate Says:

    The whining sound that you hear on Macbook Pros generally comes from one of two possible sources.
    1) The first possible source for the whining sound you hear is the connection to the display from the motherboard. The computer runs on 12 Volts, whereas the display runs on only 5V of current. Thus, the current needs to be changed. This is done by a piece of hardware located above the F12 and Eject buttons on the standard Macbook Pro keyboard.

    2) The second and most likely source of the sound is from the inability of the logic board to handle the changes in power requirements that the two processors draw upon. When the processors are churning away, the logic board has a pretty easy time handling the distribution of power to the processors. This is why opening up a program like photo both will reduce the whining sound (The program draws on a lot of processing power, the processors require a consistent and “more quiet” flow of power, and the noise is reduced).

    However, as soon as you close photo booth the whining will come back, this is because not all of the capabilities of the Intel processors are being called upon, and quite frankly the logic board just can’t shut off the power all the way. Hence, your second processor (chip, core, “brain”- or whatever you call it) begins to whine. If you listen over the F,G,H, and D keys you should be able to hear this.

    Now you know the problem…Wanna know the solution???
    Well I really don’t know..I just recommend spilling copious amounts of water or alcohol on the machine…see what happens!


    1) open the pack of CDs that came with your computer. Or you could download CHUD off the internet..
    2) Look for the CD that says “Developer Tools” on it…it may be called CHUD
    3)Insert Disc
    4)Run Disk
    5) Run the program known as CHUD
    6)Install all the little programs…really they are ridiculously small…just put them in the Application folder and forget about them.
    7)Go to system prefs
    8)Go to processor
    10) Click the little icon and change it to one processor
    11)Enjoy the silence =P

    That should do it…Peace Out.

  33. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Nate: Congratulations on having perhaps the longest comment on this blog :) But there are two problems with your advice:

    1. I paid for two processors, not one.

    2. Battery life when running on two processors is actually (confusingly) better than when running on one.

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