I’m getting very close to finally sending my MacBook Pro in for repairs. I suspect I’ll have to jump through these hoops even though it is starting to sound like perhaps units of my vintage (ordered on the very first day) have enough quirks that they can only be comprehensively solved by replacing the unit. I’m jealous of my friends and readers who have written to let me know that their later models seem to exhibit none of the annoying shortcomings that mine does. Here’s to hoping that I can negotiate my way through the Apple support waters and end up a happy customer after all.
Anybody who knows me or reads this blog has probably started to notice a distinctly unpleasant noise coming out of my office in Somerville, MA. What’s that sound? It’s human whine. I try to be patient with Apple and wait optimistically for a solution that will make everybody happy. But I’m running into more and more problems with the MacBook Pro, and as my frustration about a particular problem compounds into the frustration of the next, the high-pitched whine of my muppet-voice becomes ever more piercing.
I thought I’d take an opportunity to sort of cleanse my system of all complaints. This will be helpful to me when I call AppleCare, so I can make sure that everything that may be fixable gets logged in my complaint. It may also serve to reassure you if you feel something is weird and just haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere yet. Best of all, if you spot something in one of my complaints that seems unfounded, please point me in the direction of a “duh!” solution, or let me know why I shouldn’t expect better from this unit. Alongside each complaint summary I’ve included my presumption about how fixable the problem is. Please help me update the presumption with a more educated opinion if you feel qualified to do so.
I would like to make extra-special clear that this list, every item on it, is a complaint that I have personally about my MacBook Pro. I’m not trying to be a citizen journalist here (much), by for instance providing a detailed survey of all problems that all users have encountered. It’s a shame that I’ve got so much to complain about – and too bad that on top of these I have heard of yet more problems that I thankfully have not faced.
Comprehensive MacBook Pro Complaint List (Ordered by Annoyance Factor)
- Screen-related buzzing at all but highest brightness. This has become the biggest complaint because it’s also the loudest distraction. And it kicks in whenever the computer decided in its power-savings, or I decide in my blindedness, to reduce the screen’s brightness. When I’m working quietly, I have to put the screen at maximum brightness, or I can’t concentrate. That’s annoying. Fixability Factor: should be fixed by replacing faulty screen inverter.
- Screen-related high-pitched squeal. This started much later than all the other complaints, but is also unbearable. The squeal begins reliably after some short period of working in silence, and goes away promptly at the slightest adjustment of the screen’s tilt. Is it related to the inverter flaw above? Who knows. This one happens even when the screen is at highest brightness. Fixability Factor: may go away if the above problem is fixed.
- CPU Whine. The classic. The only good things about this bug are that it’s maskable by various power-guzzling workarounds, and that it’s barely noticeable when one of the insanely loud noises above is being emitted by the machine. Best theories so far suggest the problem is a flaw in the power supply, which vibrates in response to fluctuating power draw and produces audible noises. The most recent shipping units seem less likely to exhibit the problem, though it seems some are still squeaking (heh, heh) by. I’ve never read of or heard of anybody who has sent a machine in for repair and had the whine fixed, though I have heard from several who have received replacement units with no whine. Fixability Factor: I’m guessing it’s 100% fixable but perhaps a 10% or less chance a defective unit will actually come back fixed.
- Mooing Madness.The extremely sporadic mooing problem is usually either absolutely present are or absolutely absent. I am pretty sure it has to do with the heat of the machine, with gives credence to the idea that it’s a cooling fan repeatedly firing up and spinning down. It’s wrong, whatever it is. Fixability Factor: it seems like an obvious flaw in either the power management software or in an electrical connection to that fan. If it is a fan, that is. I’m holding out for 50/50 chance of fix.
- White Noise. As we move down into the “far less problematic, but still annoying” ranks, we have the issue of the 100% active left fan. While the mooing noise almost sounds as if it’s a fan that can’t quite get started, the subtle white noise that emanates from the left side of the machine seems more like a fan that will never shut off. Perhaps the computer runs hot enough that always running a fan is the way to handle things. UPDATE: Chris Liscio chimes in with information suggesting that the Seagate hard drive is responsible for this noise. How can he be so confident? He observed a similar sound from his iBook, starting when he replaced the original hard drive with a similar Seagate. Case closed, as far as I’m concerned! Fixability Factor: Assuming it’s the hard drive, anybody who is really bothered by this constant, very quiet white noise can probably find another hard drive that doesn’t exhibit the same trait.
- Hot, Hot, Hot! Perhaps related to the always-on fan is the fact that the machine gets very hot. So hot that I can’t hold it on my lap. I thought this might be a side-effect of 2.0Ghz of dual core power, and maybe it is. But some have reported that the heat issue is less significant in later revisions. If so, I might as well point out that ideally I’d like to be able to put this laptop in my lap. Fixability Factor: if the always-on fan and the can’t start fan are signs of underlying cooling problems, it might explain why the machine is frequently hotter than a fresh biscuit. Vague hope for a fix.
- Track, Damn Trackpad! This is one I hadn’t noticed until I started trying to do more long working sessions at the MacBook Pro. Frequently I find myself unable to move the mouse for a few seconds as the trackpad apparently becomes unresponsive to my movement. I don’t know if this is a wacky side-effect of the way I use the pad, or what. I’ve never had this problem on another Mac laptop, but perhaps it’s somehow related to the “two finger scrolling” feature, which I quite like. Fixability Factor: given my extremely negative experience with the Mighty Mouse, I suspect it’s possible that Apple is simply studying users who don’t expect pointing devices to behave the way I do. If that’s the case, perhaps I just have to learn to live with it.
- Bright Spots. No, this isn’t the optimistic change of tune you might have been hoping for. My display has bright spots. Literally. The bottom left and right corners are slightly brighter than the rest of the display. Not a big deal, but a “sub-perfection” observation. My only concern would be if the brightness is an early warning that the magnetics in the speakers are not being properly shielded from the display. Does it even work that way on an LCD, though?Fixability Factor: don’t care that much but suspect that another screen might happen to be better (or worse).
- Sweeping Broom Noise? Is this is a new UI effect, or yet another aural anomaly? I sometimes upon starting up my machine hear a sort of crashing/broom-sweeping noise. It only seems to happen when power cycling, but it’s disconcerting. One reader has reported a “rattlesnake noise” which might be the same. Anyway, this barely bothers me at all because it’s confined to a specific period of time, but I’m slightly worried it is the tip of a problem that will develop into something more omnipresent. Fixability Factor: shrug – I’m in the dark here.
- Airport Flakiness. Here we are at the very rock-bottom list of my complaints. This is the least of all complaints, but it’s something I haven’t noticed before on my other Macs. It’s basically guaranteed that every other time I click on the Airport menu bar item, it will be empty of stations. I have to click it again to see the list (sometimes quite numerous) of stations in my immediate vicinity. Note this is not the same as the “doesn’t reconnect after sleeping” issue, which I fixed by making a new “location” in Network Preferences from scratch. This issue doesn’t affect connectivity at all but is just a nuisance when trying to make an initial connection. This has mostly annoyed me on my recent week-long vacation to various points west of the Rockies. Fixability Factor: suspect it may be fixable in software, as other wireless detection software such as AirTrafficControl seems to maintain a more consistent view of the wireless world.
Well – that’s roughly what I’m going to try to convey to Apple when I call up to get the ball rolling on this. Quite a mouthful, huh? I’m hoping I can convince the rep to “get real” with me and cut to the chase if replacing the unit is really what will be required in the long run to address at least all the “can’t concentrate in a quiet room or record music” noise problems.
Based on reader feedback I’ve received and forum postings I’ve read at Apple, I’m a bit pessimistic about what will happen when my machine goes in for “repair.” Based on some anecdotes it sounds possible that some techs at Apple are happy to address one of the many issues described as problematic, and send it back to the user for further head-bashing. It seems like all the shipping and ill-will would be more expensive than making a deliberate effort to really patch things up here, but who knows. I shall know more soon (I hope!) about how effective the problem resolution process is.