I was getting increasingly anxious to finally bite the bullet and pursue repair and/or replacement of my defective MacBook Pro. I have held off for a while hoping that Apple would get its story straight and hopefully have a comprehensive, time and cost effective method for dealing with these complaints. After the initial experience of calling and scheduling a product return, I will say that I’m pretty pessimistic that all of my problems will be fixed, but I’m hoping for the best.
Making the Call
I was inspired to finally call when Tom Harrington told me about his experience reporting similar (though not quite as extensive) problems. Something about the courage of numbers or something. After I called, I also noticed a good write-up by Jason O’Grady on the subject of his similar experience. In my opinion, the more people who speak openly about this problem and the results of pursuing a solution, the better.
Here’s how my process went. I called up AppleCare and got a very friendly, sympathetic representative, who dutifully wrote down every last smidgen of detail I recited to her (for the record, I only complained about display buzz, display squeal, cpu whine, mooing, and heat). I asked her up-front if it made sense, given that I was going to reveal a laundry list of MBP issues, that I be transferred to a “product specialist.” She let me know that if that were to happen she would have to provide them with a written list of the complaints anyway, so I went through that process with her.
It took about 15 minutes and when we were finished I was put on hold while she talked to the product specialist. I never actually got to talk to the specialist, but apparently my representative sort of relayed the facts of my problem to the specialist, and it was the specialist’s job to bat down as many of them as possible while essentially only admitting to the likelihood that the screen buzzing was the known screen inverter problem.
The verdict? “Send in the MacBook Pro for the display buzzing and hopefully everything else will magically get fixed as a side-effect.” Uh, yeah right. So I explained again as cordially as possible that I understand the process a little bit, and if I’m just going to end up sending it straight back in to Apple for further repairs, it might save us all a lot of time and money if she can emphasize my desire to get the other issues addressed.
In the end my tactic didn’t really work. After almost an hour total spent on the phone, I was given a dispatch number which would be used to track the repair process. Oh well. I’m really pessimistic that anything but the screen buzzing will be fixed on this round, but at least that will be a start, and marks the beginning of my due diligence in letting Apple repair the defects of this computer.
An hour or two after the telephone call, I got an email confirmation, summarizing the gist of my complaint as “Customer Sensory Issues.” This was the same assessment Tom had received, and I think the fact that more than one of us has gotten this assessment betrays Apple’s failure to own up here. Maybe chalk this one up as another case of “unfortunate use of language,” but the problems here are not “customer sensory issues.” True, there would be no problem if I didn’t have senses, but if that were true I would also have no credit card. And $2000+ from that credit card would also not be sitting in Apple’s bank account right now. These are “MacBook Pro Noise Issues” – not customer sensory issues!
Pickup and Delivery
To Apple’s credit, they pay for all the shipping costs to and from the repair center, but the amount of time I had to dedicate to being at home just to make this happen I think embodies the reasons people hesitate to embark on the process. First, I had to wait for the delivery of the empty box. It was shipped “overnight” but I found out that it really means “within 2 business days.” I was so eager to be here for the delivery of the empty box, that I practically didn’t leave the house for the whole next day after calling AppleCare. Missing the box would mean an extra day of waiting! The first day passed and no box. Shucks! Fortunately, on the second day the doorbell rang at around 11:30AM and I ran down to make sure I took possession. Since I’m up on the third floor, it’s not unheard of for delivery people to give up and rush off before I’m even able to make it down there (we don’t have a buzzer or intercom). I raced down the stairs, my heart pounding, and thrust open the door.
The box was sitting alone on the porch. A yellow DHL truck revved off down the street.
Ah, quaint, trusting Somerville. I guess I didn’t have to be here at all. Hope they don’t leave it on the porch when it’s full! I took the box upstairs, opened it up, gave my MacBook Pro a final kiss goodbye, and packaged it according to instructions. I was especially impressed with this little tablet of individual packaging tape slices. Neat! My future best friend lay waiting in the box, now all I have to do is call DHL back and get them to pick it up!
I was hoping that maybe because DHL had just been here moments before, they might still be in the neighborhood to come back and pick it up. I guess it doesn’t work that way. I called at around 12:30AM and got an estimated pickup time of “by 6:00PM.” OK. that’s kind of a huge chunk of my day, but hopefully they’ll come early.
I sat around (working, but sitting around) all day waiting for that door bell so I could once again make the sprint down the stairs, this time with the precious cargo in tow. Hours passed and no doorbell. I occasionally feared that somehow I’d missed the doorbell, so I went downstairs to check for any sign of a stealth visit. No signs.
At 6:00PM – pretty much on the dot – I called the DHL number to see what was up. I didn’t particularly have anywhere to be, but I had postponed things like taking a shower all day so I could be present for this process. I’d just as soon out of “being DHL’s lap dog” mode, and back into my normal daily routine.
“Hi I’m just calling to check on the status of a scheduled pickup I made for today.”
“The system shows that the driver is on schedule to make the pickup by 7:00!”
“7:00? Oh, I must have misunderstood earlier. Hmm. Thanks.”
I hadn’t misunderstood. But I was trying to be nice. I didn’t want any chance of this pickup guy getting angry with me and purposely mishandling precious. Anyway, it was just another hour so I figured I’d wait it out and finally be done with it. When 7:00 rolled around, I starting getting irritated again. What the heck. This time I waited until 7:15, pacing around the living room and peering up and down the street for signs of the yellow truck. I called DHL again – I just wanted to make sure the driver didn’t check out for the day without picking up my package.
“The driver is running a little late today but it still shows he’s scheduled to make your pickup at 7:30”
MMmmmmmmkay. I guess a six hour window isn’t enough time to work with when picking up packages. I wouldn’t mind so much if they would just narrow it down a little or give me updates throughout the day. Like “there’s no chance in hell we’ll get there until after 5:00 so feel free to go out for lunch.” Even the DMV does a better job than this. At this point I’m pissed but still being polite on the phone. What if I had dinner plans or something? DHL is not winning my affection.
Finally at 7:45 (only 15 minutes late!) the driver rings the bell. I sprint down the stairs faster than ever, making as much noise as possible on the way. This is how I let the delivery guys know that I am not only home, but I’m completely insane. When I get to the door and open it, I see the driver wielding a portable bar-code reader. I rotate the box so that the scannable label faces him.
“I see you’ve done this before!” he says cheerfully.
“Heh.” I say, trying to remain upbeat and not knowing how to phrase “No, I’ve never done it before but I’m incredibly brilliant and I know what those magic guns you use are capable of.”
I continue making smalltalk, offer my sympathies to the driver as he complains that he still has several more pickups to make. He complains that there are too many one-way streets around here and he keeps getting lost. I feel sorry for him, but I also feel sorry for the several people after me on his list, who are also dancing around looking for yellow trucks to appear on the horizon.
Optimizing for Success
As I said earlier, the outlook is not great for my getting a completely repaired MacBook Pro. I got good lip service about the problems, but they were more eager to offer workarounds like “maybe you can make sure the micorophone is far away from the computer” when I offered reasonable circumstances in which the noises make the computer a less than Pro offering. Since the well-trained telephone staff seemed eager to dismiss all but the completely undeniable defects, I decided I better try to appeal to the techies themselves. So prior to sending off the MacBook, I made a few notable preparations.
First and foremost, I backed up every single bit of data that was in any way important to me. They can incinerate precious if they want to, as long as they send me a new one without noise. I am psychologically separated from that machine in particular. I never even installed the extra 1GB RAM I ordered, because I wanted to be sure it went into a machine that would be mine for a long time. If these noise issues are not fixed, I will be demanding a refund or a replacement. In the worst case scenario, I guess I’ll be stuck with 1GB of RAM and no laptop to use it in.
After archiving my own stuff (I left an encrypted copy of my home directory on the disk, for my convenience if I do get the same one back), I went to setting up the “optimum techie user account.” When you’re on the phone with Apple, they’ll ask for your login and password. Instead of giving it to them, just ensure them that you’ve set the machine up to auto-login when it boots. I added an account “apple” with password “apple” and hint “The password is ‘apple’.” I set this account up as the auto-login account. There. A fresh clean space for the techie to enjoy my laptop’s flaws in.
After setting up the techie account, it occurred to me that I might improve my chances of success if I improved the odds of the techie observing the heinousness of the problem. In particular, the CPU whine seems to be the most disputed of flaws by Apple. Reports across the web paraphrase Apple as basically dismissing the noise as “within Apple spec.” My earliest hack at quieting the noise was a little program called “QuietMBP,” which utilized the CPU at varying levels such that the noise was eliminated or extremely diminished. Now, a side-effect of QuietMBP is that you can also adjust the slider “the wrong way” and hear the noise. But when the slider is midway, it turns out there is a sweet spot of pain, where the noise is even worse than it is when the machine is completely idle. This demonstrates the “worst possible scenario.” It’s not exactly realistic that the machine will always be in this state, but then again it’s not exactly unrealistic. It’s just a program using the CPU. There’s no reason to think that Photoshop or some other program might not use the CPU with such a pattern as to maximize the noies.
I decided to set up QuietMBP in “noisy” mode, and configure it to start automatically with the “apple” account logs in. In place of the usual text in the QuietMBP dialog, I added a direct plea to the techie. I explained what the program was there for and suggested that until the slider can be moved from one extreme to the other with no audible noise, the machine was still defective. I also made it clear that I would be returning any machine that didn’t pass this obvious test of “fixedness.” As bitchy as this may sound in the blog, I was a bit more tactful in the actual text.
I also decided the techie might not be familiar with my blog and the work I’d done to get to the bottom of these problems. So I configured Safari to automatically launch as well, and positioned its window so that it would appear next to (not obscuring) the QuietMBP window. A perfect little “entree” to the problem at hand. Since I couldn’t rely on the techie being connected to the web, I downloaded a local copy of just the main summary page, and set that as the “home page” for Safari. Et voila:
If everything goes well, the techie will be staring at the above screen while also noticing a hideous high pitched chatter coming from the left side of the machine. If the techie cares at all, he or she can also pursue the questions raised in my blog, after connecting to the internet or on another machine. It may not make the slightest bit of difference, but I figure there’s at least a small chance that the techie will be touched by this problem, and become independently dedicated to making my MBP well.
Please, Apple Techie! Fix my MacBook Pro! Heck, fix them all!