Adventures of a Dead Mac (nVidia GPU)

The other day my primary computer died (my Macbook Pro). I should warn anyone before reading this that this blog post is mostly me venting about my experience during the ordeal, so don't expect to get anything useful out of reading everything here (oh, and my first experience with an Apple "Genius" leads me to believe that they are just plain rude and to be avoided if possible).

For a couple months now I'd randomly get artifacts on the screen and things would get weird. Eventually it got so bad that I would get kernel panics, random particles, vertical lines, and more artifacts. I called Apple about it and was told to just reboot. The first couple of times this seemed to fix it. However this past Thursday when it happened again the screen froze and the internal fans were running at full speed (the machine was really hot).

I forced a shutdown, waited for the computer to cool, and then turned it back on. I could hear the Apple chime, the fans power up, and the HDD doing it's normal boot process, but there was no image on the screen (same result if I added an external monitor).

I tried all of the regular steps (cleared PRAM and SMC, attempted to boot from the install DVD, etc) but no video appeared. I then called Apple tech support who had me repeat the same steps. I was told that the GPU was likely fried (apparently a known defect in all MBPs that have the g84 and g86 chipsets *See link references below) and that the logic board needed to be replaced. Unfortunately this is happening to a lot of MBP and Mac Pro owners who have the nVidia chipsets.

For those interested, my laptop specs are:

  • Macbook Pro 3,1 2.4 Ghz Intel chipset
  • Purchased June 2007
  • 2GB RAM original (I later purchased 4GB RAM)
  • 160GB 7200 RPM HDD
  • ...and before someone asks, I do play games every now and then which make the laptop (most likely the GPU) run really hot).

From my understanding, when I send in my MBP in for repair I'll just receive a new logic board with the same defective chipset. My default one-year warranty recently ended and for once I'm feeling better about having purchased the $350 Apple Care (Apple's version of extended warranty) since Apple is only handling this on a case-by-case basis (HP and Dell officially recognized this a while back, but to-date Apple has no comment).

The tech support guy was really nice and suggested that I take the laptop down to the local Apple Store for a faster turnaround in replacing the logic board. So I made an appointment for the earliest slot and then headed down to the local Apple store. I explained the situation to the Apple "Genius" who in turn was very rude to me and treated me like I was wasting his time (a whole 5 minutes). He tried resetting the PRAM and SMC and decalred that the machine would have to be sent in for repair. He explained to me that I should take the machine back home, call Apple tech support again, and have them send me a box (for shipping) to have the machine sent in for repair. He said it would be a faster turnaround than having him send the machine out from the Apple store (right...).

So... I called tech support (again) while still in the Apple store (instead of waiting until I got home). I didn't have my case number on me (from the original call) and the tech support person couldn't find it attached to my information, so we had to create a new one -- which meant we had to start all over again (clearing PRAM, etc etc) until he was satisfied (in his defense though I felt he was just doing his job... the guy was actually really nice). We went through some second-tier support (who was also very nice and also confirmed that these nVidia chipsets are failing quite a lot) and got approval to have the machine sent in for repair.

Apple tech support was supposed to send a DHL box to my home (to be received no later than Saturday morning) with instructions on how to return the laptop... Unfortunately it hasn't arrived yet (and it's late Saturday night). I now have a feeling I'll have to wait until Tuesday to send the laptop out for repair due to the holiday weekend (in the US we have a national holiday on Monday where most businesses (including Apple) are closed) so that I can wait an additional estimated 7-10 days to receive the repaired machine (thanks Apple "Genius" (the rude guy) who assured me this process was faster than having it sent out directly from the store on Friday).

Here are some recent articles and discussions about the nVidia chipset problems

I've heard rumors that the possible September 9, 2008 Apple announcements may include a new MBP (doubtful, but you never know). I wonder then if Apple would be willing to replace defective machines (or logic boards) with something newer... or are we just stuck with these defective chipsets?

Please note that other than this defective chipset problem, I really do like my video card. For the most part it's been really good to me and runs games really well (and I bet I could cook eggs on it with all the heat :) ).

Sorry for the long vent. Here's to hoping that Apple won't send me the same defective chipset :).

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Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
Sean Coyne's Gravatar That sucks. I recently had an issue with my battery in my MBP. I went down to the Apple Store in West Hartford and even though my computer is out of warranty and I have no AppleCare, they replaced it right there. Maybe it depends on who you get when your name is called for your appt. Oh well, good luck Jeff.
#1 by Sean Coyne | 8/31/08 1:53 AM
O?uz Demirkap?'s Gravatar Hi Jeff,

Sorry for your situation.

I had also some weird situation as you can see in the following photo.

After reboot it works as expected but now scared about the situation.

I hope you can resolve in a short time. I wonder the upcoming story.
#2 by O?uz Demirkap? | 8/31/08 4:48 AM
Nitai Aventaggiato's Gravatar I have been using Laptops from Apple for a long time and I have to say that the quality has decreased over the last couple of years. One co-worker has a 17 Inch one and experienced the same as you the other day.

Two years ago, I was using a Dell machine for one year, thought the OS (Windows XP) was bad (I had to reinstall it 3 times in a year!) the hardware was flawless, meaning with a extended support you got a 24/7 replacement if something happened. Which did and Dell just replaced the whole motherboard in our office within 3 hours. I think Apple has no such service and will most probably fail in this regard.

I wonder if a Dell, Lenovo, etc. with Linux wouldn't be a better alternative then dealing with Apple's shortcomings of late (Laptops, iPhone, etc.).
#3 by Nitai Aventaggiato | 8/31/08 8:39 AM
Sean Corfield's Gravatar Should I be glad I have the Radeon chipset in my MBP 17" from March 2007?
#4 by Sean Corfield | 8/31/08 11:07 AM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar @Sean Corfield,

Heh. I actually waited to buy my first Mac. But when the June 2007 release came out (4GB RAM (instead of 3), 64-bit processor, nVidia chipset) it seemed a no-brainer.

I sort-of mentioned this in the blog post, but other than the chipset burnouts, I actually really-really like the nVidia card (one of the main reasons I switched to MBP finally). When it works it really does an amazing job (better than I had hoped). I've used nVidia for years (for PC gaming cards) and hope Apple continues to do business with them in the future.
#5 by Jeff Coughlin | 8/31/08 12:00 PM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar For anyone interested, I'm currently using my Dell PC laptop with an ATI Radeon 9700 chipset and after 3.5 years it's running great (I even played TF2 at the highest settings for a couple hours late last night). Because 99% of my work files are in SVN, I was able to get what I needed for development work onto the laptop and am functioning as a web developer once more :).
#6 by Jeff Coughlin | 8/31/08 12:01 PM
Doug Cain's Gravatar I just had the same thing happen to a dell xps 1330, be nice if apple was as quick to sort out these problems. A guy was round the next day to swap the logic board and all is good (be nice if it had OS X though).

I've heard that nVidia has written down a big chunk as all those chipsets have a manufacturing flaw that no one wants to admit too.

Bring on the new MB/MBP :o)
#7 by Doug Cain | 9/1/08 1:24 PM

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