MacBook Still A Whiner?

June 9th, 2007

I’ve been curious lately, with the updates to the MacBook Pro lineup, whether I’d risk buying one again. The smaller MacBooks are looking more and more attractive to me, as I primarily use the portable for travel.

But I’m really afraid of a repeat of last year’s MacBook Pro Whine fiasco. I have been seeing a lot fewer complaints, and hearing more stories of “resolution” when the problems do crop up, but Apple has evidently still failed to address the core problem.

Sergey Tsalkov writes about his experience earlier this year which mirrors mine almost exactly from a year previous, except he decided to give up and get his money back, while I pressed on for months to reach a resolution.

Though I did end up mostly satisfied with my MacBook Pro, I can tell it’s a problem that’s been masked more than it’s been fixed. For instance mine still makes the nasty noise, it’s just a lot quieter (so much so that, I honestly am not bothered by it 99% of the time). But when I plug it into a sound system in a conference room, the tell-tale noise comes buzzing across the PA. Then my blood starts to boil again. My $2500 noisemaker becomes a lot less charming.

If Sergey’s experience is at all typical, then many MacBook and MacBook Pro owners are still experiencing this defect. A defect in a product whose public image exudes quality and perfectionism. If on the other hand his experience is no longer typical, then replacing it with a guaranteed top-quality product should have been automatic and quick.

All MacBook owners should have the same experience, otherwise the viral nature of marketing is lost. We all talk about the products we love, some of us more than others. These days I tell people that if they buy a MacBook or MacBook pro, it will probably be a fine product. I hate having to qualify my recommendations like this. It’s a qualification I never make when endorsing the iPod, Mac OS X, the Tom Tom, my favorite bands, or my favorite restaurants. The fact that I finally got a MacBook Pro with tolerable noise levels in 2006, but that Sergey couldn’t get one in 2007, betrays a lingering problem.

If it’s possible to produce high quality MacBooks, then everybody who pays full price should get one. Anything less is a disgrace.

(Also: I have heard a bit of feedback from various sources about how the “core problem” is not easy to fix. I empathize. But fixing hard problems is what you do when you’re the innovation leader for an industry and are working with a product surrounded by billions of dollars in revenue. Fix the damn problem!)

18 Responses to “MacBook Still A Whiner?”

  1. Jeff Johnson Says:

    I purchased a new 17″ MacBook Pro 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo in March, so it’s not the latest model, but it’s a recent one. It definitely has the second-processor ‘whine’ (I’d call it more of a beeping), but the sound level is pretty low. In a quiet room I can hear it and it annoys me, so I’ve been using the Photo Booth method of silencing the whine. When there’s background noise, however, such as in a coffee shop, I can’t hear the whine at all. I haven’t been willing to part with the machine for repair before now, because I’ve needed it for work, but I may have an opportunity to send it in soon.

  2. Sebastiaan de With Says:

    I must say, it’s one of the things I first found your website with. I got my Macbook Pro when it just came out, and the first one I had went OK for a few months, and started with whining, flickering the display, to continue down the bad path as it’s battery started dying at random and eventually melted, completely frying the touchpad circuitry and bending the entire case. I brought it to an Apple store, and they shipped it to Cupertino overnight (I’m in the Netherlands). I had no Macbook Pro for another three months of continuous whining up the chain because they would only offer a replacement from the same serial number range (and in the mean time, the speed had gotten bumped and there were like five revisions).

    Now that I got my replacement for about 11 months, it’s also starting to show defects. It’s superdrive is completely defective and is bound to break easily. I’ve seen the magsafe cords being silently replaced because the first series easily snapped at the laptop contact point or melted. The finish can come off. The whine is still there (my girlfriend’s machine (Macbook Core2Duo) and my new Macbook Pro both have it occasionally) and there are other fishy problems with the MBP line like bent casing, strange uneven backlight.

    I love Apple. I really, really love them. But since the Macbook line, the quality of their products has gone so low that I think of them as pushing out new products too fast to perfect them and iron out the possible defects.

  3. Tyler Says:

    I have a MacBook (without Pro) of the first batch, and while it moo’ed at first at a very specific temperature a firmware upgrade has long ago corrected that.

    So no problems here. Have you an Apple Store or reseller nearby? Perhaps it would be better to examine a new machine instead of just buy online.

  4. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Tyler: I will definitely examine the demo machines at my Apple store before I make another decision. But it’s pretty hard to evaluate for noise because the Apple stores are very noisy places.

    Also, you can’t examine any Mac before you buy it. You have to buy it and then open the box at the store. It may be a lot easier to return it quickly, but you don’t get the chance to try before you buy (and why would you, because after you open it, it has to be refurbished to sell again).

  5. Jon Hendry Says:

    Dan,

    For the audio-out noise, you might try a USB audio out device, and see if that still has the noise. Turtle Beach makes one that sells for about $30. I have one and can bring it to the next meeting, if you want to try it.

  6. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Thanks Jon – I’ll try that if I need to use the audio out for something serious. Mostly it’s just a shame to know I’m limited in general from casual use of the audio out.

  7. Thomas Mango Says:

    I had the first version of the MacBook Pro. The same version you have and had the same CPU whine that you experienced. I ended up selling it on ebay and picking up the second version of the MacBook Pro and it has been perfect since the day I got it. My brother also picked up the same MacBook Pro and his is fine as well. I assumed when I got the second version and it was okay, they fixed the whining issues. I have no idea about the new ones though. I can’t imagine they are worse.

  8. mare Says:

    My LED backlight equiped MacBook Pro is going to be delivered next week so I really hope they fixed the problem :-) Of course there will be new problems, there always are. My PowerBook (latest model before the MacBook Pro came out) also makes noise (it picks up the signal from my cell phone) and one of the speakers crack when put on full volume. I couldn’t bring it in for repair because I needed it, and also wanted to wait if something else came up, but hopefully I can have it repaired soon. My previous Titanium Powerbook spent wore time in “the garage” then not. Three motherboards, 2 DVD drives and during the last repair, when the parts hadn’t arrived after a months Apple gave me a new AluBook. Just three weeks before the MacBook was introduced :-(

  9. Mike Abdullah Says:

    I’m currently borrowing a Core 2 Duo MacBook from a friend (it’s about 6 months old). No sign of a whine here. The fans are ever so slightly louder than my PowerBook but not an issue. To my surprise, the battery life also seems to be slightly improved.

  10. Joe Goh Says:

    I too experienced the same whining problem with my MacBook Pro when connecting the audio output to an amplifier.

    I’m currently working around this by connecting the audio output using an optical connection instead, as you can definitely not introduce any sort of noise using that.

    However, Apple really should still improve this situation. Not everyone has an amplifier with an optical input.

  11. Michael Sykes Says:

    I’m yet another of the people who first found your blog because of the whining issues. Bought a MBP the very first week, and have always had the whine. Got the screen inverter replaced which fixed part of it, but not the processor part for which I use still use QuietMBP. I’ve come to peace with just always running a processor at 8%, and the associated (hopefully minimal) decrease in battery life.

    I was surprised however by your comments about the Audio Out noise. I use my Audio Out all the time for watching TV shows downloaded from iTunes while connected to an external stereo, and I’ve never had a problem with noise. Perhaps I’m just lucky in that respect.

  12. ~bc Says:

    Dan, Let me just add, as someone who is a long time user and used to do Apple tech support (at your closest store, in fact) that the reports you hear of Apple tech problems on the internet are always, always overblown in comparison with the actual number of malfunctioning machines. People don’t go online to bitch about functioning machines. Period.

    I run a MBP, I didn’t hesitate to buy one (or four for me and the rest of my company) right after the Core2 bump, and we’ve all been very pleased. No troubles in 8 months.

    When you buy any computer, from any vendor, there’s going to be risk. It may not work out of the box, or it may fail early. I wouldn’t suggest buying a machine for your biz machine only when your old one dies. If the new one is defective, then you’ll be in trouble. You need redundant machines to run a business, because computers fail. Fact of life. In my experience, both as a user and Mac Genius tells me that Apples fail, but less so than any other make I’ve encountered.

    So, what I’m trying to say in short is that I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a MBP. You have my email from the form, feel free to use it if you have any questions.

    ~brian
    [ happy MarsEdit user, too ]

  13. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Thanks bc – good reminder. I think you’re right that the problems are usually a lot less systematic than the net portrays. But in this particular case I think the problems are a lot more systematic than the user base portrays.

    That is to say, lots of users are not bothered by the whining noise. I guess you could argue this makes it a non-problem. But really, it just means it’s a problem that’s infuriating to many, but which lacks impetus to get properly fixed.

    But you’re right that there is probably a lot of swift action I could make happen if I got bitten again and actually reacted to the problem within the first few days of having bought it.

  14. Sergey Tsalkov Says:

    bc – I saw plenty of threads on Apple’s support forums with hundreds of posts apiece, detailing this problem. Even if we accept your argument that the problem is actually experienced by a tiny fraction of Apple users, that doesn’t excuse Apple’s inability to solve it all this time later, nor does it excuse AppleCare’s utter disregard for the satisfaction of those customers.

    After all, horror stories like mine are disturbing not because we ran into a problem, but because AppleCare refused to make things right and essentially told us to shut up and deal with it. No matter how you look at it, that’s simply not acceptable.

  15. Michael McMillan Says:

    Macintosh laptops get hot, and they need a way to get rid of the heat. There are two ways to do that. First is to get rid of the heat by blowing fans across the internal components, but that makes noise.

    The second way to get rid of heat is to radiate heat passively through the case. I have augmented this method slightly on my iBook. I have went to ace hardware, to their hobby section and bought two pieces of copper plate, the $5 size for portable use, and the $10 size for at my desk. I put a small piece of cardboard under the plate so that it firmly presses again the bottom of the computer, and let the remainder stick out the back or side. Using this method, the fan rarely activates.

    At home if the plate actually gets warm, I can place a heat sink on it, 2 inch by 2 inch by 1/2 inch is plenty.

    It isn’t a high tech solution, but it works, is compact, and costs about the same as a pint of beer.

    -Michael

  16. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Michael, good advice, but the noise I’m alluding to is not fan noise. It’s CPU-related noise.

  17. Michael Worsley Says:

    Hi,

    I’ve just installed QuietMBP on my shiny new Core 2 Duo Macbook, and just wanted to say thank-you. That whine would have quickly driven me insane.

    I take it from your comments that there is no resolution to this problem from Apple?

  18. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Michael – people have varying success by demanding that Apple fix the problem. The thing is, the problem varies considerably from machine to machine. So I would demand an exchange or fix. If your machine is still quite new they might agree to exchange it since it’s “defective.”

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