MBP: I Need a Hero

April 20th, 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!

The good news is my MacBook Pro is coming back to me. It left Texas at around 6:00AM this morning. The bad news is I don’t know whether it’s fixed or not. In any case, I’ll be happy to move on to the next phase of this process. If it’s still busted, then I’ll be pushing for a refund or (if they want to gamble on it) a replacement. While it’s not very encouraging that new owners of MacBook Pros are still reporting the CPU whine, I have heard that it is at least quieter on some than on others. Perhaps quieter would be marginally acceptable to me. Otherwise, I’ll wait and hope that the MacBook or a later Pro edition is more suitable for “quiet work.”

John Siracusa over at FatBits wrote a great article a month or so ago, validating the the noise complaints people are having with Apple’s recent products. Today he passes along information from one of his astute readers about a job opening at Apple for an analog engineer. The job listing was posted in February, mere months after the final designs on the MacBook Pro must have been completed. The job listing includes specific language about DC converters and power supply design for desktop and mobile computers. These are the apparent culprits in the “CPU whine” category of annoying noises.

I can’t help but read into this job listing. Does it mean that Apple had a person filling this role who didn’t cut the mustard? Or are there several engineers in this capacity all working together to come up with solutions? Did they just realize in February, after all the Apple executives started toting around MacBook Pros, that the problem was as bad as it is?

Here is the history of the last several thousand dollars I have given money, along with a brief description of the quality of the product:

  1. iPod 40GB – $300. My girlfriend’s iPod. Works perfectly. Changed her life.
  2. PowerMac G5 – $2500. Big, pretty, fast, reliable. Makes a high pitched chirping noise that will drive me out of my effing mind if I don’t run a script to “disable CPU napping.” Sticks in my craw as the “top of the line Mac that will forever require an annoying hardware workaround.”
  3. iPod Nano – $250. Small, beautiful, doesn’t even scratch too much in my pocket. My only complaint is that I can’t unplug the dock cable while the headphones are plugged in. I use it to listen to Podcasts every day. Changed my life.

  4. ADC Membership – 2 Years. $1000. Reliable access to pre-release software. Hardware discount on price of defective MacBook Pro. Responsive tech support representatives. All in all a good deal – especially if you’re buying hardware.
  5. MacBook Pro – $2000. Sleek, fast, beautiful. Innovative design. Brilliant Intel-native software blazes and rocks my world. Noisier than any computer I’ve used since my dad’s Kaypro IV.

Seems the more money I give Apple, the less satisfied I am. The two most expensive products listed above are the two that have caused me the most grief. Shouldn’t Apple be making customers of its $2500 products as giddy as customers of its $200 ones? Perhaps my determination to not rest with this defective MacBook Pro is the result of Apple “using up its pass” with me on the G5. It’s been a long time since I owned a Mac that didn’t have an irritating aural defect. It surprises the hell out of me that a company with a self-proclaimed audiophile and perfectionist as a leader could allow these products to continue eroding Apple’s reputation for highest quality.

Have you ever stood at the top of a large cliff, or peered over the edge of a bridge, and curiously wondered what it would feel like to jump? Not suicidal – just indulgent curiosity. It’s the kind of thinking that makes you take a step back and double-check your grip on reality. I do know that I would never do that, right? Lately my thinking about the Mac has led me to such frightening thought experiments as “what if I lose confidence in Macs and abandon them? Can I get used to Windows?” This isn’t likely to happen. I’m so incredibly dependent on the Mac OS X software and the Apple development APIs, that I would essentially be giving up computing if I abandoned Macs. I don’t want to use any other computer.

I don’t want to use any other computer, yet I’ve indulged in the curiosity of whether I would. Apple is pushing me to that point. I’m not jumping ship yet, but I need a hero. I need an analog system designer of utmost skill and confidence – somebody who can save Apple’s computer business. If I end up buying a third top-of-the-line computer with a completely ridiculous noise defect, it might be the last $2000+ Apple ever gets from me. And that would be sad. Where would I dock my iPod?

35 Responses to “MBP: I Need a Hero”

  1. Ian Says:

    I know what you mean, Daniel, here are my purchases over the pasts few years…

    - Titanium G4 867Mhz: perfect, no problems, no noise.

    - iMac G5: very annoying buzz sound from the fans, returned for refund.

    - Powerbook G4 15″ 1.5Ghz: “chirping” sound which only disappears on “Reduced” processing power. Tried a logic board replacement, problem remained. Sold it on eBay.

    - PowerMac 1.8Ghz Single processor: perfect, no problems whatsoever, no noise.

    - MacBook Pro 2.16Ghz: the hiss / whine, annoying, returned for refund.

    - Powerbook G4 12″ 1.5Ghz: perfect, no noise, no heat.

    So, like you, it’s been a hit and miss for me in my Apple purchases, and these things are way too expensive for most consumers to be “gambling” on poor quality control / design in this way.

    In general, whenever I’ve purchased a Revision B, C, D computer from Apple they have caused few problems, Revions As have always needed repair or return for me.

  2. Vinbot Says:

    I too have a whining and overly hot MBP, and after the latest firmware update failed to rectify the problems, I decided to throw in the towel- I called Apple and asked for a refund. Because I’ve had it well past the 14 day return period, I am being charged a 10% restocking fee. At first they tried to bribe me with $150 to keep the machine (the Apple rep on the phone called it “appeasement”). When I declined, he also offered me a wireless keyboard! I tried hard to get a full refund, arguing that the machine was poorly engineered, but they said it was not “defective.” Then I said if the object was to appease me, they should apply the $150 to my 10% restocking fee. Nice try, but no. They said I could send the MBP to my local Apple service dept., but I argued that, based on the experiences of others that I’ve heard about, it would either be found to be within spec, or they would do “repairs” that would not solve the issues. Then I’d be right back to square one.
    So, I’ll eat the 10% and leave the “early adopting” to the more tolerant people out there. An expensive lesson, but one I won’t soon forget. I’m left wondering: As Apple continues to grow, are we going to be seeing more of these types of flaws/problems? Is Apple going to turn it into another Microsoft or Dell? I hope not, but the potential definitely exists.

  3. BrianC Says:

    They can disappoint on the low end too. It took me exchanging 4 video iPods before I got one that would hold a charge while sitting idle over night. According to the DHL guy I chatted with he says he sees quite a lot of these little boxes coming and going from Apple.

    The good news is that they paid for all the shipping and I got enough of those cool packages of packing tape to last for quite a while.

  4. Matt Henderson Says:

    Brilliant Daniel. Your weblog is fast becoming one of my favorite reads. This was particularly an enjoyable article as, curiously enough, I’ve recently had the exact same thoughts. “Nobody loves Apple and everything Macintosh as much as me, but the company is doing its darn best to drive me away.”

    Anyway, keep on blogging about it. My article from the other day brought some quick relief, most probably thanks to some folks at Apple that read your weblog.

  5. Hunter Ware Says:

    As a fellow MBP owner who went through 2 exchanges to find the tolerable whine he has now, I deeply appreciate your pain and your efforts to publicize this problem.

    On a side note regarding your “Hero”: For work I use a Dell Latitude 600 with FedoraCore 5. It’s the first time I’ve had Linux on a laptop with effortless wireless hotspotting, Bluetooth, Suspend/Resume, and good X support. It is no Mac but it certainly isn’t Windows and I would go that direction with nary a backward glance if further pushed.

  6. mgats Says:

    I have a 2ghz Macbook Pro that has the CPU whine (week 14). I talked to tech support yesterday and they said that it was a “known issue” and that they were working on a fix. I called sales support today and they let me return it for a full refund. I was pretty happy about that considering that it was custom configured.

  7. John Says:

    Sitting at MWSF keynote I felt a lust like I’ve rarely felt before (well at a computer conference anyway!) when I saw Phil wheeling around with his MacBook… That night I went online and placed an order.

    Cooler heads (my wife) prevailed a few days later and I cancelled the order saying “I’ll wait until they come out and a few reviews”

    I’m really glad I waited but feel bad for everyone who didn’t…. for this much money it really shouldn’t have the extent of the problems I’m hearing… Now here is the sad part… I’ve actually never heard the noise problem first hand so perhaps it wouldn’t bother me much but because of all the talk I’m scared to buy one now for fear of buyers regret.

    I was hopeful when the so-called ‘rev d’ motherboards came out that finally they had dialed in the recipe and it was safe to order but I’m still not sure…

    Anyway I’ve been enjoying reading the blog and hope it all works out for you.

  8. Lekun Says:

    Daniel, I am not an Apple-apologist or anything – without a doubt, MBPs should be free of these annoying defects. But I’m wondering if there is something special (aside from the lure of the Core Duo’s potential, and at this point, it is pretty much just potential) that led you to get a MBP over a 15 inch G4? The G4 leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it seems so old, but for programming (not compiling mind you) which is essentially writing (which is what I do) I’m not sure I can justify the ‘early-adopter’ status for an MBP.

    Again, let me reiterate, there should be this ‘early-adopter’ or ‘rev-a’ syndrome or whatever for Apple’s products. They are a big company with lots of resources, and their customers deserve better, but the reality is different. Was there every really any hope that the MBP was going to come off without a glitch? I guess the intel iMac did, but portables, atleast in Apple’s history, have always been especially cantankerous on first bout.

    Anyway, just wanted to hear your thoughts, and I am eagerly awaiting to see if Apple fixed any of the problems for you.

  9. C-Money Says:

    Well. Long story short:

    I have the cpu whine problem. Went to apple store, the guy told me it was “like every other macbook pro” he had seen.

    I even sat there with QuietMBP moving the slider back and forth. He stated that the noise is totally normal.

    I then pointed out that my left speaker literally sounds “blown”. He said we would do an in-store return based on my blown speaker.

    They swap me out a brand new macbook with serial number WG814* (previously I had WG812). I was very encouraged.

    Get home, left speaker still sounds ‘messed up” and I have the EXACT same cpu WHINE noise. And the macbook still runs extremely hot when plugged in.

    I noticed there was a slightly newer firmware update to the macbook pro dated 4/17/06 on apple’s site, so I downloaded it and gave it a whirl. No change at all in the cpu whine problem. Non, zilch, nada.

    Called apple tech support, “they can’t diagnose sensory problems over the phone.” The technician “Anson” could neither confirm or deny that it was a real defect.

    I showed the guy at the Apple Store this website, and it was basically scoffed at. I left this website open on a couple computers to hopefully make people more aware of the problem.

    END RESULT: I came home with a brand new W6814* Macbookpro and I still have the *EXACT* same problem(s).

  10. Anand Says:

    I got a brand new MBP (week 14) got the same issue. I went to an Apple Store and befoe listening to my problem they tried selling me Apple Care and told me how good it was and all that jazz. I said i would but lets see how well Apple support is with this brand new 4 days old laptop and then i showed them my laptop with CPU noise only to know that this is an acceptable noise and if I dont like it then I should download some apps that would keep my CPU busy so that I dont hear these sounds.

    I have another problem with my mouse pad, it’s irky after using it for a while when the laptop is warm enough (maybe) or just after using it for a while it shows this issue. When i click the mouse button it would create a two step click sound the first one would not register and if i press it a little harder I would hear two click sounds and then it would register. But unfortunately I was not able to reproduce it on the store and that’s when i found that i starts showing this problem after a few minutes of use :( I’ll keep trying for a replacement as I cannot afford to be without a laptop for 20-30 days as my work demands a laptop.

  11. Ponch92 Says:

    I sent my 15″ back for a full refund. It was a custom build with the 2.16ghz and 7200RPM drive ordered online so I couldn’t give it back to the apple store locally as a buddy of mine had because of the whine. My refund isn’t even finished processing yet and suddenly the 17″ comes out which will cost me $100 LESS for the same specs plus a firewire 800 (that I’ll never use), more resolution on the screen, the same hard drive and processor, and another usb. There is also a jump in the DVD drive 8x and dual layer. I went ahead and bought one. My credit card is going to think I’m doing something screwey.

    It will be here sometime early may. I’ll let you all know if the whine is still there but I can assure you all it’s still going to be HOT. Even the apple rep on the phone said it’s supposed to run hot and it’s a portable computer, not a LAP top. get it? oh well.

    I pray for no whine on the 17… amen.

  12. bigwasp Says:

    This is BS. Dude, apple needs to get a clue, here. Thy sent me some headphones as an appeasement. I am soo pissed! – Someone do something

  13. Steve House Says:

    Did your macbook come back yet?

  14. bigwasp Says:

    Just so everyone knows, I got 3 replacement macbook pros and all of them had the whine. Why some people on apple disccussions dont’ have it drives me nuts because everyone I’ve gotten has the whine.

  15. Steve House Says:

    It just hit me that the people who don’t have the whine could also be the same people deafened by the iPod volume issue!!!! :o)

  16. Steve Says:

    Is there anyone who sent an MBP and got it fixed? My MBP has the issue and I am wondering whether I should ask for a repair or a full refund. BTW, how do I get a full refund? I got my MBP last week.

  17. Steve House Says:

    Steve, you have 14 days to return for a full refund… better hurry!

  18. Lara Says:

    So, I got my MBP in the mail just a little over two weeks ago. The day after it arrived, I was at the local Apple store because of the CPU noise. They gave me the firmware update, and told me to come back if the noise was still a problem. The noise was still a problem, but I debated the wisdom of driving back to the store (almost 2 hours away) to try to get a new computer. Would the new computer have even worse problems? Should I just get over it? Or return the computer entirely and wait till the summer? Finally, after another week, I returned to the store to return the computer. I had to bully a bit. They said that they couldn’t hear the noise, and that if they could have heard it, it would have been within spec (basically). I told them that one of my co-workers has a silent MBP, which means that this is obviously not within spec. They agreed to exchange computers for me, and I came home with a new MBP.

    I’ve been using it for 5 days. There is no noise, and no other issues. I still downloaded QuietMPB just incase, but it has not been turned on once. Both computers were serial number W8614, 1.83 GHz w/ 1GB RAM. I just wanted to let people know about the possiblity of a silent MBP…

  19. Steve Says:

    Hmm. That’s interesting. So I called tech support yesterday, and the guy says it is “normal” in a sense that every unit would have the problem. He says neighther replacement nor repair would fix it. So I asked for a full refund, and he said it was possible and gave me the instruction. I was going to get a refund.

    So, you’re saying that you don’t hear any noise even on battery in a quiet room? Then what the support guy said is obviously wrong.

  20. wasp Says:

    According to Jobs, “These things are screamers” – I swear this is such BS. Where is redsweater? What is the status of his repair? It’s been like 2 weeks.

  21. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    I’m here. I was out of town for a few days so my MBP was in the holding bay at DHL. I’m going to pick it up today. There should be a new post soon detailing the results of the repair.

  22. Lara Says:

    Steve,

    Yeah, I’d been told that they all made this noise, and that one wouldn’t be any better than another. But before I returned my first computer, I took my co-worker’s into a quiet room. Indeed, his made no noise, on battery or on AC power. And now the second one I have is the same. It is perhaps just so quiet that is is impossible to hear– that is to say, perhaps the underlying issue still exists– but the machine exhibits none of the ear-splitting noise.

    Lara

  23. Dave Parizek Says:

    Please — everyone who gets the 17 inch machine — report here if it has the CPU whine problem. Thanks!

  24. mistersquid Says:

    Reading the comments above (about 2/3s of them) it seems that every post is from a relatively new Mac user. Apple has had Rev A problems with virtually every single piece of hardware they’ve ever made. Jalkut thinks satisfaction::money paid is an inverse ratio but seems not to consider that the 40G iPod is a 3rd generation product. The first gen 5G iPod had serious problems, everything from battery problems to easily-damaged scroll wheel interface.

    One commenter above had enough problems with the 15″ MBP that he/she returned it for a full refund. Apple comes out with a 17″ MBP and he/she plunks down the money (seemingly) without a second thought. The 17″ has more features, sure, but it’s still Rev A.

    Apple should produce higher quality products with first revisions. However, kinks cannot be worked out of the manufacturing process until these items are manufactured en masse. It’s that simple.

    On a side note, Jalkut is miffed his G5 chirps. The power supplies on the G5 series suck. My own dual 2.5 GHz G5 (2nd gen) has the same issue (as well as a squeaky fan). However, with uptimes exceeding 20 days, the chirping is a non-issue. Script or manually disable napping and go get a life.

    Jalkut considers going to Windows over such issues, comparing the possibility to standing over a ledge and being tempted to jump. Having experience with Windows up to XP, I believe the hardware problems of the G5 are a party compared to the disastrous excuse for an operating system that is Windows. You want to jump? Go for it. No one will miss you and your experience with high-end PC hardware may suit you better.

    I’m not saying Rev A hardware should be better-engineered. What I am saying is that shortcomings in the manufacturing process require real-world conditions (e.g. Rev A) to identify. I also am saying that if you buy Rev A, especially given the consistent history of partial lemons Apple produces with Rev A, you should be aware that you will more likely than not have problems with your machine.

  25. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Mister Squid: You make some good points but it’s hard to take them in thoughtfully – what’s with the hostile tone? Go get a life? What’s really weird is you refer to me in the abstract third person (as if talking about me while I’m not in the room), until the climax sentence where you coldly assert “nobody will miss you” if I jump ship to Windows. My metaphor was a bit of hyperbole but meant to paint a picture of frustration, not invite hostile goading.

    I try to state my opinions here with a sense of humor and with some level of decorum. I am amazed, as my blog gets a little bit more attention from outside my core readership, at the degree people are willing to piss all over somebody else’s page. What did I do to invite such treatment? Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoyed your rant.

    For the record, I loved my first generation 5G iPod, too. And I’m still using it.

  26. bowerbird Says:

    his comments didn’t sound “hostile” to me…

    “go get a life” = “get on with your life”…
    “nobody will miss you” = basic reality

    an outside opinion, for whatever it’s worth…

    -bowerbird

  27. Martin Says:

    this reminds me of the G4noise.com brigade, all computers make noise, some of it is irritating, put on some phones, play some music, use the machine.

    Alternatively register coreduonoise.com and be done with it.

    peace

    ;o]

  28. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    bowerbird: I don’t see how translating the comments into equally unfriendly sentiments helps anything. I’ll chalk up your comment as another vote for “people who come on to my blog to tell me unconstructively that they don’t value what I’m saying,” but I do think both the original comments and your interpretation of them are hostile.

    It’s possible I’m being overly-sensitive, but if you folks feel entitled to step into my space (public as it is) and antagonize me, then I guess I have the right to interpret and respond to it.

    Martin: I really don’t think wanting to use a computer (sometimes) in silence is such a ridiculous desire.

    Daniel

  29. Joe Frost Says:

    Did you try this:

    http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=461317&tstart=0

  30. mistersquid Says:

    Daniel,

    Hm. The moments you identify as hostility are not intense moments of such but, yes, I agree that my tone is not exactly friendly and for those moments I want to apologize. I never intended to insult you, and I do think my professional home (academia) rewards intellectual combativeness. In the current context/medium, I’m only just now extending my own blogging activity and I’m not always as politic as I’d like to be.

    By way of explanation, I was reacting (a bit out of proportion) to what I perceived to be a sense of entitlement on the part of Apple customers. It’s a fraught issue–the one regarding Apple Rev A. products–and your speculations and analyses make the very necessary point that Apple does not spend enough time testing (QAing) their Rev A. products (which would be hard to do while maintaining secrecy).

    There are a million ways Apple could go with this, and my thinking is that some kind of benefit should accrue to Rev A. purchasers, which might be difficult as they could open themselves up to liability even by unofficially acknowledging product flaws. Customer confidence seems in some ways to be at odds with product development.

    Also, Daniel, I think I slighted your complaints regarding the noise of the MBP, which I will try to amend now.

    Many Apple customers choose Apple because of the quality of Apple’s software and hardware. Occasionally (and famously) Apple produces products that drive their customers bonkers. The “wind tunnel” Quicksilver G4s are one example. The G5 with its chirping is another. So is the scratch-prone iPod Nano. Having never been within sneezing distance of a MacBook Pro, I am willing to bet I would personally be driven to acts of desperation and frustration by the analog noise issue to which the MBP is subject.

    In other words, I’m betting the noise issue is a serious downer for those of us who bliss out while computing. But, I do think that the MBP analog noise issue is, unfortunately, characteristic of Apple Rev. A. products. Apple’s Rev A. quality problems are often major PR issues, and as Apple attracts more devoted and hopeful customers, Apple would be wise to take steps to eliminate or sweeten the sting customers experience when buying Rev A. quality products.

    As a long-time Apple customer, I understand how terrible it is to have your Mac not-quite-what-it-should-be-but-oh-so-close. We Mac users only have one supplier to scratch our itches and it’s awful to have your financial investment produce emotionally and operationally unsatisfactory results. I’m with you on this point.

    And, again, my apologies for my moments of blogging incivility.

    Regards,

    Johnnie Wilcox
    aka mistersquid

  31. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Joe: The workaround you link to scares me because it essentially looks like a means of disabling power management. As much as I hate the noise, I don’t think it’s worth completely disabling the power management software. In fact, it might be dangerous!

    Johnnie: Thanks very much for expanding on your position and recognizing the potential for offense in your original comments. It means a lot to me to have the loose ends tied up like this. I hope you’ll continue to check in on the blog from time to time.

    Daniel

  32. Duncan Groenewald Says:

    Well I have just decided to go with it and get a MacBook Pro 15. Lokks great, feels great but sounds sick !! And the funny thing is I asked the salesman whether he was aware of the noise problem and he said, no, never heard of it it just a rumor. My research on the internet seems to indicate its way more than a rumour !!

    Within 10 seconds of completing the setup it started whining. Unmistakable and intermittent – so do something like typpe and the noise splutters along. Open an application and its quite while things are busy.

    Seems like there are some who have quite machines – I will let you know what the store has to say. All the stores I called before buying were very defensive when I asked about the problem and all said they had not had a single return. If find this odd – I guess salesmen will be salesmen. I was fortunate enough to also get a fault mouse which and returned it within 10 minutes of leaving the store. Man they were reluctant to do a straight swap, suggesting they would have to send it off to be repaired. Full credit to then for finally swapping it, its a microsoft mouse bundled with Mac Office.

    Another question for you all – this is my first Apple product. The fonts on the screen are not what I would call great. The odd character with a vertical line had the vertical line slightly blurred. For example and ‘n’ might have one of the verticals a good solid black and the other a blurred grey/green. Whats up with that? I have seen similar when I use my IBM X31 on my Dell 24″ screen using the vga connector and not the DVI connector. Looking closely it also seems this only appears on the lower half of the screen – so if I sit really low down its not as apparent. Mmmm methinks this is not going to be a good first experience with apple !! I hope I am proven wrong.

  33. andrew Says:

    As I type I am on my brand new $2000 MacBook Pro that makes the most annoying noise that I have ever heard. I have a Dual 2.7 G5 that is noisy too, but not nearly as annoying. I’m planning on taking it back tomorrow, (less than 24hours old) for a refund. So, it’s back to my PowerBook G4 550 for now and it will be a relief.

    Has anyone been tagged with the 10% restocking fee?

  34. Angela Says:

    Hi there,

    Love your site. Thanks for all the great info and stories. I got my MBP in October 2006 from a store in NYC. Everything was great with it for the first 6 months or so and then it started making this weird chirping sound. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern at all. It’s pretty much all the time when I don’t have my speakers on mute. I can send you a sound clip if that would help?? Over a 2 minute period it chirped 5 times…another issue seems to be the airport dropping the connection on a frequent basis. I’m not sure about that one but I don’t think it’s my ISP as no one else in the same area has the same problem.

    Any advice?

    Thanks,

    Angela
    Toronto, ON

  35. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Hi Angela – these problems sound specific enough that it is probably worth contacting Apple – you’re still in the warranty period so be sure to get in touch quickly before it’s too late!

    I would get the ball rolling by calling Apple support and telling them what’s going on. When you call they might try to act like you need to be AppleCare member to call but just insist that you have a problem “under warranty.”

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