Apple hardware: MacBook Pro issues and solutions

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
June 29th, 2006 • 3:59 pm

It is interesting to put these two pages side by side.

One is a blog post by JC, a former AppleCare employee who tries to put the recent reports about flaws in MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops in perspective:

Obviously, the issues being reported are real, and they are affecting people. However, I’m not sure that the conventional wisdom labeling these as a widespread pandemic worthy of herculean recall, as many as casting it, is even close to legitimate.

The other one is an Apple tech note about the latest firmware update for the MacBook Pro (17-inch), which, according to the note, “adjusts fan behavior in the MacBook Pro 17-inch.”

As Betalogue readers know, I recently purchased a MacBook laptop that I ultimately had to return to Apple because a fan noise (the “mooing” sound) that Apple considers “normal” and “within spec” even though, in my opinion and in the opinion of my wife, it is the worst possible kind of noise to try and get used to, and it effectively renders the machine unusable for us in our quiet home environment.

Both pages are unsatisfying in their own way.

JC’s post tries to provide some perspective, but fails to provide evidence of wild exaggerations in the blogosphere. I am willing to acknowledge that some blog writers might be exaggerating the importance of some issues, but I would have liked to see JC provide direct links to such outlandish posts, because I haven’t read any myself. JC only refers to “comments on Digg, TUAW, or others,” without providing specific links. But I fail to see how such comments qualify as “journalism” of any kind, even the “yellow” kind. These are just comments by individuals and do not claim to be anything else. And even if they do claim to be representative of larger problems, this doesn’t give them any legitimacy. Every seasoned Internet user knows that anyone can post a comment on a blog or “social network.” Everyone knows that such comments should be taken with a grain of salt.

What JC fails to acknowledge is the existence of in-depth stories written by fairly well informed readers such as Daniel Jalkut or myself about significant problems with MacBook and MacBook Pro machines.

Maybe I didn’t follow the blogosphere’s response to previous generations of Apple laptops carefully enough. But I don’t recall seeing such posts by well informed users about significant issues with their laptops. Of course, there’s always going to be an element of exaggeration on the web, because it’s not a controlled environment like the traditional press.

On the other hand, the traditional press has failed us repeatedly when it comes to reporting on hardware issues in the recent past. Does anyone recall Macworld ever publishing anything about the G4 MDD noise disaster—or about Apple’s power supply replacement program, which was an explicit acknowledgement that there was a substantial noise problem with a large number of machines? All I remember reading about the G4 MDD in Macworld was the usual glowing review about the machine being a speed demon, etc.

If the traditional press cannot be trusted, then we have no choice but to turn to on-line reports. We can judge the relevance and significance of the issues reported based on the credentials of the writers and the quality of the writing. And certainly, in that respect, regardless of JC’s credentials, his piece fails to convince that there are indeed no significant issues with the latest generation of Apple laptops. It’s just not acceptable to dismiss all reports about issues with the new machines as “yellow journalism.” Individual blog writers will never have access to the statistical tools or resources needed to develop a truly objective picture of the situation. But they have a great advantage that traditional journalists do not have or at least no longer have—i.e. time to personally explore issues and provide readers with an in-depth, real-life personal story.

In his post, JC doesn’t even mention whether he has any extensive personal experience with a MacBook or MacBook Pro. You would think that it would be the minimum requirement before writing such a story.

Apple’s tech note about the latest firmware update for the 17-inch MacBook Pro is also disappointing, but for a different reason. The reason is that it provides no specific information about what fan behaviour has been “adjusted.” Is it the mooing sound? Is it another sound? What are the adjustments? Has the sound been eliminated?

The reality, in my situation, is that I will not consider purchasing another Apple laptop for my wife until I can be reasonably certain that the issue that caused us to return the machine has been fixed. Posts like JC’s will definitely not help, and Apple’s tech note does not help either, because it provides so little specific information.

All I can do, at this point, is continued to read other posts about the MacBook and the MacBook Pro, and draw my own conclusions. For example, yesterday I read this other post by a new MacBook user:

Other things I notice but don’t really care much about– yes, my Macbook does make the mooing noise that people have reported. Eh, not a biggie. But it’s there. The machine can get nuclear hot. Right now, with just, IRC and Safari open, the processor is running about 66 degrees Celsius. I’ve seen it up to 90.

What this post confirms, as far as I am concerned, is that the mooing sound is very much there in his machine. It is, fortunately for him, “not a biggie” as far as he is concerned. But his post confirms that it’s there. Sensitivity to noise obviously varies from individual to individual. But what I do know is that such a mooing sound is not acceptable in this household.

As long as Apple does not openly address the problem, I will have to rely on such reports to decide whether it’s time to give it another try by going to a store and giving the demo machines on display a close listen. Obviously it’s not time for this yet, but Eric Rice’s post confirms to me that the problem exists in a number of machines, and the issue at this point is whether you can live with it or not. I know we can’t, and so we are not buying. Maybe Apple will come up with a firmware update for the MacBook as well one of these days, and we’ll have more reason to think that the issue might have been addressed. But at this point it still looks like Apple—and a fair proportion of MacBook users—consider this mooing noise acceptable and “within spec.”

By dismissing all the complaints about issues with the new machines as “yellow journalism,” JC is not really helping the situation. He just sounds like someone who will blindly accept without question all the design decisions made by Apple, as if these decisions had always been good. The reality is that Apple has sometimes made mistakes, especially when it comes to noise (see the G4 MDD disaster), and potential buyers have very valid reasons to be suspicious.

11 Responses to “Apple hardware: MacBook Pro issues and solutions”

  1. jc_geekery says:

    i didn’t link to specifics, specifically not to give them any undue credit or traffic. they are trolls and should not be fed.

    but since you asked, chief among them is, which passes itself off with journalistic intent, but fails miserably in the attempt.

    if you think that i’m dismissing complaints about these issues, you didn’t read my article, or are already too biased to get the point. you even managed to quote the part where i acknowledged that people are, in fact, having the problems reported.

    my beef is with sites, columnists, bloggers, and such who have the opinion that these issues are ubiquitous, of epidemic proportions, when they have not been proven by any stretch to be so.

    just because you have an issue, or even you and a some other people, in the grand scheme of things, does not an epidemic make.

  2. jc_geekery says:

    doh! not i meant! bad typing fingers…

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    I do understand your point. All I am saying is that, since traditional journalists are not doing their job (i.e. covering such issues properly), we have to rely on blog posts by informed individuals with first-hand experience. Otherwise, we would have to be uninformed buyers. That’s just not acceptable. So I think your post would have been more useful if you had provided some balance by underlining the fact that some of the information available on-line can be useful when trying to make a purchasing decision. People just have to be discriminating readers.

    I certainly would not have ordered a MacBook if I had read about a mooing noise that can be very distracting in a quiet environment. Unfortunately, I ended up having to discover this the hard way.

  4. jc_geekery says:

    i’m not lamenting your choice to tell your tale.

    i just think it’s inappropriate to try to pass these experiences off as the typical owner experience, which some sites (like, mentioned above) do, and which has seeped into the Common Wisdom as evidenced by many comments, stories, and articles seen on MacNN, Macintouch, MacFixIt, Digg, and, frankly, your site.

    For instance, you jump to hyperbole in saying:

    By dismissing all the complaints about issues with the new machines as “yellow journalism,” JC is not really helping the situation.

    …when you know full well that I was not “dismissing all complaints.” you even managed to quote, directly, the passage where I give credit to complaints such as yours.

    Be careful with hyperbole; it is a double-edged sword.

  5. jc_geekery says:

    as well, you indict me for not divulging my experience with the machines, and fail to recognize that I’ve not made a statement other that – judging from online reports – it appears these issues are real. And, again, you even quote the passage where I give credit to blogs like yours. whether i have experience is irrelevent, as I haven’t stated my personal experience – i’m quoting a plethora of people I know who have supported hundreds of users each.

    but since you asked… I own a MacBook Pro that has seen precisely zero of the issues noted online. I also own a white MacBook which has also seen zero of the issues, in addition to a Mac Mini (PPC) and a Titanium PowerBook G4. Until yesterday, I also owned an aluminum PowerBook G4.

    I’m also part owner in two companies that own a grand total of two macbook pros (one of which is the one i cite above), two intel Mac Minis, and two iMac Core Duos.

  6. Pierre Igot says:

    You do acknowledge that the problems are real, but at the same time you are effectively saying that I am exaggerating when I say that the mooing is a “disaster.”

    What you seem to have failed to realize is that a person like me is not a journalist and doesn’t claim to be one. Consequently, a person like me cannot be accused of “yellow journalism,” since that would entail that I am a journalist in the first place.

    More generally, I haven’t seen the sensationalist approach in journalistic reports on the MacBooks and MacBook Pros. hardly qualifies as a journalistic endeavour. It clearly describes itself as a blog, and most reasonable people would perceive it as such.

    Therefore I do not see where this accusation of “yellow journalism” comes from. I just don’t see a widespread epidemic of yellow journalism among computer/tech writers.

    What I do see, obviously, is a number of very frustrated and disappointed customers expressing themselves. These people are not claiming to be journalists. They just find that the experience of spending $2,000 on a computer only to discover that it has unacceptable (to them) characteristics that are considered “within spec” is a very traumatizing experience.

    Your post connotes a distinct lack of empathy in that respect. Sure, there is some exaggeration out there, but it hardly qualifies as an epidemic of “yellow journalism” in the Mac press. These are not Mac press people getting a loaner MacBook for a couple of weeks without having to spend a dollar on them. These are real people spending their hard-earned cash on an expensive little machine with a number of expectations, and if these expectations are not being met, it is their right to express themselves about it—using harsh terms such as “disaster” if that is how they perceive the experience personally.

    When I say that the MacBook’s mooing was a “disaster” for me and my wife, I am not exaggerating. I am just describing what the experience of buying this machine and having to return it after a few weeks and having to spend so many hours on the phone just to get our money back was like.

    I am of course not claiming that the MacBook is a disaster for everyone, far from it. In fact, I think I made it quite clear in my story that what I consider an unacceptable noise is probably acceptable for many people in many environments. This doesn’t make it any less unacceptable to me (and my wife). And this doesn’t mean that our concerns and frustration are less relevant. They might not be statistically relevant, but they are personally relevant. Blogs are about real individuals using real computers in the real world bought with their real money—not about statistics. And they don’t claim to be about statistics.

    If they claim to be statistically significant, then indeed the validity of such claims can be questioned. But it’s only natural for individuals to feel that a problem that they feel so deeply is important, and to suspect that other individuals might feel that it is as important as they do.

    That is all that this is about. I realize that people like AppleCare tech support representatives have to develop a “thick skin” in order to be able to deal with the abuse, etc. But at the same time it’s a sad consequence of the system in which we live—and not a reason to dismiss people’s real feelings about their real experiences.

  7. danridley says:

    He mentions TUAW specifically. TUAW, yesterday: “I wonder how Apple has sold even a single unit”.

    Pierre, in your MacBook article, I thought your tone was quite reasonable, especially considering that you were given lousy AppleCare and return service (which frankly is more irksome than the hardware issues, to my mind). It actually surprised me, becuase I think you do sometimes have a tendency to paint issues with overly broad strokes, something I’ve mentioned in long-ago, faraway comments — and because it seems to have become a popular past-time with the MacBooks.

    However, I think your “I’m not a journalist” defense is a distraction. Blogging is something new. It’s not quite like journalism, and it’s not quite like a chat at the water cooler, but I don’t think there’s any harm in applying some journalism-centric terms (including “yellow journalism”) to the medium.

    I didn’t get the impression that JC was arguing against bloggers posting about issues with their MacBooks. However, there is a tendency, among both bloggers and commenters, to extrapolate to the assumption that all MacBooks are loudly-mooing, discolored fireballs that will burn your fingers off if their MagSafe adapters don’t catch fire first, and that’s clearly wrong. It’s probably more widespread than Apple would hope, but comments like TUAW’s, AppleDefects’, etc are not contstructive.

    I don’t think your post fell down that particular rabbit-hole, and I think your defending yourself against an accusation that wasn’t directed at you. I think both issues are real — the MacBook, when acting “within spec,” is loud enough under certain conditions to be unacceptable to sensitive users, and there are some manufacturing defects that are affecting multiple users. However, it’s no more of a sky-is-falling situation for Apple than the scratchy iPod nano, an issue which AppleCare generally dealt with quite well and which was resolved in manufacturing. If anything, I suspect that (just like the nano) the fairly widespread reporting of these problems is, in the end, a symptom of the products selling quite well. The more you sell, the fewer problems by percentage it takes to create a sensation. If 1 MacBook out of 1,000 sold has a problem, there’s no story, but if 100 out of 100,000 have a problem, the current Apple blogosphere will quickly conclude that the sky is falling.

  8. jc_geekery says:

    i’ll be direct and short; my article was not directed at you. it was directed at

    your reflexive defensive diatribes here, however, stand out as knee-jerk insecurity. take some vallium, an afternoon off, and re-evaluate your mental image.

  9. Pierre Igot says:

    JC: Maybe your initial article wasn’t directed at me, but your comment above (“and, frankly, your site”) certainly was. And if your initial article was directed at, how do this square with the idea of a widespread problem? It boils down to the same issue I raised earlier, i.e. the lack of specificity of your article makes it sound like it’s a widespread problem, without providing any concrete evidence that it is. So, in effect, you’re just as guilty of exaggeration as the people you accuse.

    Dan: I think that, by taking a jibe at my own site in his comments, JC made it quite clear that he also includes me in this “unfortunate” trend. He just wasn’t explicit about it. I appreciate that you see it differently, but I strongly suspect that JC doesn’t have the same views. Hence my response.

    There are substantial problems in applying traditional journalism-centric concepts to bloggers. It completely fails to take the very personal nature of blogs into account. One of the beauties of the Internet is that it provides people with the opportunity to express themselves in ways that were not possible in the pre-Internet era. Of course, it comes with all kinds of drawbacks. But I don’t think that sharing a painful personal experience is not “constructive.” There is nothing we can compare it to in the pre-Internet era, so it’s a new reality that everyone has to adjust with, including the companies making the products (like Apple), traditional journalists, and fellow bloggers. You can’t have your cake (your own blog) and eat it (dismiss other people’s blogs) too.

  10. Andrew Aitken says:

    You only hear from the people with the problems. You very rarely hear “My MacBook works exactly as advertised” on the web, and it certainly doesn’t get as much publicity as “MacBook of Doom”. These stories echo around the blogosphere making it seem like more of an issue than it actually is.

    I’ve personally only seen one MacBook that moos, none that have been ‘discoloured’, and a few MacBook Pro’s with inconsistent backlights. We’ve had roughly the same number of faults as we do for any machine, nothing spectacular.

    My personal major gripe is when people say “Apple confirms $a is a known problem” or “Apple has released revision $a of component $b that resolves the issue”. They quite obviously do not have a clue.

    Pierre, I think you are giving the general public much more credit that they deserve when you say: hardly qualifies as a journalistic endeavour. It clearly describes itself as a blog, and most reasonable people would perceive it as such.

    The vast majority of people I deal with do believe everything they read on the internet. Some even take the word of a random blogger over my sound technical advice. I agree that to the web-savvy person the distinction is obvious – but most normal people aren’t smart enough to distinguish between a reputable online news source, and a random blogger.

    I also venture that JC was perhaps referring to the comments posted on your entry about mooing, rather than the actual blog post.

  11. Pierre Igot says:

    I’ve always said that, apart from the mooing, we loved the new MacBook and couldn’t find any flaws with it. The problem is that the mooing was, as far as we were concerned, a pretty big flaw.

    The problem was compounded by the fact that this was our second experience in a row with a brand new machine that failed to meet our expectations. The first one was the TiBook, with its abysmal AirPort reception. Five years later, I think I can safely say that Apple never did acknowledge or address the problem. The reception probably did improve in subsequent revisions and in the Aluminium PowerBooks and MacBook Pros, but I still see enough reports to convince me that the reception of the laptops with metal enclosures is nowhere near as good as the reception of the laptops with plastic enclosures.

    The AirPort signal issue with the TiBook was not a deal-breaker and we kept the machine and lived with it for five years, but it was still a major disappointment. (Getting a range of 35 feet when the advertised range is up to 150 feet is simply not acceptable.) And then this mooing disaster happened…

    Seeing that JC used the word “disaster” in the very title of his blog post, I have good reason to believe that he had my own blog in mind (along with others) when writing his post. He confirms it indirectly by referring to my site as one of the “inappropriate” ones in his comment above.

    As I explained above, to me the “mooing” issue with the MacBook does qualify as a disaster, much in the same way that the AirPort reception of the TiBook was disastrous. It was a disaster for us personally. And I don’t think that there anything inappropriate about qualifying it as such in a blog post and suggesting that the same disastrous situation could affect other potential buyers.

    Andrew, you obviously have more experience with “normal people” buying and researching computers than I do. I have experience with normal people using these computers once they have bought them. But in my experience “normal people” don’t read blogs at all—especially not technical ones—whether it’s before or after buying their computer.

    So in the small microcosm of the Mac web, I still think it’s safe to assume that most people reading tech blogs know that they are just blogs.

    But the real issue here is, once again, that “reputable online news sources” are not doing their job properly here, which is why some people might turn to blogs for their information. Where is the “reputable online news source” that reported about the abysmal reception of the TiBook? Where is the “reputable online news source” that reported about the G4 MDD noise disaster? Where is the “reputable online news source” that is discussing this mooing sound?

    Just because something does not affect the majority of users, doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to be discussed. Just because I am in a minority doesn’t mean my opinion is irrelevant. But “reputable online news sources” have become so limited when it comes to investigative journalistic efforts that people practically have no choice but to turn to other sources for more accurate information before they buy.

    It’s unfortunate that they trust a random blogger more than they do an experienced Mac sales/support person such as yourself, but in a way, I can understand their level of distrust vis-à-vis the “official line” and mainstream publications/advice. They do not feel that these mainstream or official sources are providing them with enough information to make an informed decision. And I bet that one of the reasons that they turn to alternative sources is that they have been personally burnt themselves by purchasing a product that didn’t meet their expectations. After all, there must be a reason why they are seeking advice from alternative sources.

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.