Monday, April 20, 2009

My MacBook Pro Fan Problem

I’ve been using Apple products since the mid-80s, and only very rarely have they needed repair. The Intel-based Macs, unfortunately, have been different. I bought an iMac Core Duo as soon as it became available in order to develop universal binary versions of my products. I did not buy AppleCare because, to that point, I had never needed it, and because I intended to replace the iMac with a notebook or tower when they became available. The iMac worked great for a little more than a year. Then, the warranty having expired, one day it would no longer turn on.

My first MacBook Pro, a 17-inch Core 2 Duo model, had a defective logic board so that after the first full day of use it wouldn’t turn on. Apple quickly repaired this, but I soon discovered that the hard drive was defective. I sent it in again, and Apple returned it without touching the hard drive. In the third mail-in repair, Apple replaced the hard drive, and it’s been working ever since.

My second MacBook Pro, a 15-inch unibody model, doesn’t work properly with external displays. There’s a problem using the Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter. I sent the computer to Apple, who determined that the hardware was working correctly and promised a fix via software update that—about six months after the unibody MacBook Pros were introduced—has yet to be released.

After about two months, the MacBook Pro developed a fan problem, which judging from Apple’s discussion boards is rather common. The fan under the keyboard made a rattling/clicking noise. It was constant but most pronounced at low RPMs when there was less other fan noise to drown it out.

On March 27, I sent the computer to Apple to have them fix it.

On April 2, I received it back from Apple. The fan had been fixed, but Apple’s repair crew had added a large scratch to the front of the case, near the Apple logo. Happy just to have my Mac back, I considered not doing anything. I didn’t really want to do another one-week repair for a cosmetic issue.

On April 3, I decided that (a) the scratch might hurt the resale value, and (b) I wanted Apple to know that it was their fault, so that if any other hardware problems developed they would fix the case at the same time. So I called Apple again. They confirmed from their repair center records that the case had been pristine when they had received the computer for the fan repair. They took responsibility and were very apologetic, saying they wanted my (still essentially brand-new) MacBook Pro to be in perfect condition. They would provide “white glove service” and get it fixed quickly. So I decided to do another mail-in repair.

On April 6, I sent the computer back to Apple.

On April 9, the repair status Web site said that the repair was “On hold - Need information.” I called Apple and, after 10 minutes on hold, was told that they were waiting on a “requote”; they would call later in the day with more information. A few hours later, I received a call saying that (contrary to their previous admission) Apple had not damaged the case. So I could pay $1,200 to have them fix it or else have them ship it back unrepaired.

I made a new call to Apple and eventually got to speak with a supervisor who said that Apple would honor their original promise to repair the MacBook Pro at no charge.

On April 10, the supervisor called to say that he estimated that the computer would be shipped back to me on April 13 or 14.

On April 15, the supervisor e-mailed me:

They are having some issues at the moment in getting the computer to pass testing. They have not sent it back yet and are working to get it up to manufacturing standards.

On April 16, FedEx delivered the computer. The entire outside of the case, as well as the palm rest, was grimy, although this was easy to clean. There was also a pinhole dent next to the speaker grille, which I’m choosing to ignore.

The repair notes showed that Apple had replaced the LCD, the bottom case, and the frame. They had also replaced (and, thus, erased) the hard drive, which I had not used, having immediately replaced it with a 500 GB one when I bought the computer. I have no idea how so many components failed. Everything had seemed normal while the computer was in my possession. Of course, I had taken good care of it. Due to the short ownership period, and the fact that it was out of my possession for almost a month of that time, I had never even travelled with it.

In any case, the computer now passes Apple Hardware Test, and everything seems to be working properly, except for the external display.

Here are some random notes about the repair process:

  1. Despite the above problems, I still prefer mail-in repairs to using my local (non-Apple) store. If you have a non-notebook Mac, Apple will not do mail-in repairs, even if the computer is covered by warranty or AppleCare.
  2. Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky, but Macs don’t seem to be as reliable as they once were. AppleCare is probably a good investment.
  3. Of course, I still recommend having a backup and a backup computer. You don’t know how long the repair will take.
  4. It’s fantastic that the unibody notebooks (and the plastic MacBooks) make it so easy to swap hard drives. This allows you to (a) not send your data to Apple, and (b) stick the drive into a BlacX or Voyager in order to keep using it as your boot drive. However, I doubt Apple will repair a Mac that doesn’t have a hard drive, so make sure that you have another drive to swap in.
  5. If you use Time Machine, it will see the backup computer as a separate Mac, even if you’re booting from the same hard drive. Thus, unless your backup drive has lots of free space, you’ll need a second backup drive to continue making Time Machine backups.
  6. Some applications require reauthorization when you switch Macs, even if you’re booting from the same hard drive. For me, these where: iTunes (which threatened to delete all the apps from my iPhone), Script Debugger, QuickBooks, and Aperture. OmniFocus does not need reauthorization, but it sees the backup Mac as a separate computer for syncing purposes. Going into the preferences and removing unused sync clients can really improve the syncing speed.
  7. Each time I switched back to the unibody MacBook Pro, Energy Saver had forgotten to use the “Higher performance” graphics setting.

10 Comments RSS · Twitter

Unfortunately, you are not alone in witnessing Apple's decline in hardware reliability and service. All of the problems with my first Intel iMac showed up 13 months after purchase. I suffered through another 7 months of failed Apple repairs. After 7 months the manager at the local Apple Store was tired of dealing with me every month, couldn't guarantee a repair, and replaced the computer entirely. The optical drive on the new computer failed within 2 months and after burning only 20 disks. It took another 3 months and several visits for them to fix that.

Everyone I know, from family to friends, has had issues with Intel Macs. MacBooks, iMacs, and towers have all failed and Apple has provided horrible service.

If unreliable hardware is the result from Apple using off-the-shelf PC components in their machines, there is no longer a reason for me to continue choosing Apple over the competition. Not even being a owner of Apple products for over 20 years, which by definition makes me brand loyal, is reason buy unreliable hardware. I need a reliable computer, not a boutique item.

Being a corporation, Apple was never "my friend." Even so, it is very disappointing to witness these changes. The last time things were this bad was in 1996-1998, when Apple had a run of defective products from both design and manufacturing. Sadly, I just don't think Apple cares — for every long-term computer customer like me that is lost, they gain at least 5 from consumer iPod and iPhone sales.

Arnold Ziffel

Have two Mac Pros (1 is over two years old and is run hard for more than 8 hours/day and the other is about 1 year) and a MBP that is two years old--all trouble-free!

Constable Odo

I was able to replace the left-side (processor) fan on my MacBook Pro for $50 (the cost of that little ol' fan!!!). It's very easy to replace. I'd already had some Torx bits to fit the MacBook. I think I used the iFixit site to follow the repair steps and that's all I needed. It took about 15 minutes and that was it.

The fan gave out after about a year and a half of about 6 hours daily use. The bearing was worn and had a lot of play in it which produced the rattle. It started with a little buzzing but grew louder by the day and the fan speed was declining steadily. I couldn't take it any longer and just replaced it. I guess the right-side fan will eventually go, but no sounds are coming from it yet. If I'd had a larger drive, I could have replaced that, too, while the machine was apart. Very simple installation, indeed.

My MacBook Pro 2.33 is still going strong. I got my money's worth.

I work at a school and have bought about 100 Apple computers every year for the last 5 years. I also approve their repairs.

I agree that non-user-fault repairs in laptops have increased, but not dramatically. From about 4% / year to 7% / year. Still well below competitors, my guess.

Desktops are another story. CRT iMacs and especially, CRT eMacs, have been way more reliable for much longer, than LCD intel iMacs. The problem that stands out is the vertical line screen issue which costs 75% of new to fix. 30% of our first generation LCD intel iMacs experienced that issue within 3 years.

Apple Remote Desktop is another app that needs to be re-authorized after switching hardware (I routinely copy my boot volume from a Mac Pro to a MacBook Pro).

I can't agree with the fact that PowerPC or Motorola based Macs were more reliable.

Based on Macs I've used:

- Mac LC: The only thing that failed on this Mac was the switch button because some cost-killer idiot at Apple decided the LC couldn't be started from the keyboard.

- PowerMac 7200/90: The Ethernet card was flawed on most units (including mine).

- PowerMac G3: The Zip drive was suffering from the click of death issue.

- PowerMac G5: Issues with the default RAM, issues with the power supply. Issues with buggy GPU drivers. Issues with security flaws. Can not run 10.5 reliably.

- PowerBook G4: noisy AirPort card. Prone to freeze when running Mac OS X 10.4.

I'm having the exact same issue with my fan, and it's driving me crazy. I'm happy to see that you were able to get if fixed, but a scratch is a high price to pay. I hope I have better luck. Thanks for sharing your experience.

I asked our parts guy at my work (school district) to order through GSX I think it's called, both fans. I replaced them myself, using iFixit. I have a MacBook Pro 17" Early 2009 Unibody. I couldn't believe how soon the fan went bad. There were dust bunnies inside, and also once the system didn't sleep when I closed the lid and it ran that way for about 3 hours and got hot. So maybe the both issues caused the problem. It was beautiful to work on though.

Wow, and i thought it was just me that was having serious issues. I've had my MBP for less than 18 months, and so far apple replaced 2 logic boards, an optical drive, a hard drive, and i personally installed a new left fan because the warranty was up. I was extremely disappointed seeing as how i purchased this machine to avoid these very issues. Now, the left fan stops working completely on occasion, mostly when the machine heats up and needs it to run harder.

I bought my first Mac (Macbook Pro Intel 2,5 Core 2 Duo, late 2008) 12 month ago. I needed a reliable and powerful enough system to do film editing on the field. So far, so good. I am very satisfied with the process: from the camera through Final Cut to the final movie all works fine. The rendering and exporting takes ages but hey ...
Unfortunately, several issues begin to appear:
- vertical stripes (like spotlights) appeared on two occasions from the bottom of the screen. It's supposed to be a problem with the Geforce 8600GT.
- a vertical sync problem (tearing) with flash and divx movies and animations. Check: I compared with several much much older PC's where the problem was non existent.
- the graphics processor temperature gets very, very high, which will certainly shorten the life span of the device. Why does the temperature reach 80 degrees and more when I'm watching a poor quality youtube video or any other online broadcasting?

I try to stay positive and I really hope that my 2000 Dollars investment (+ Software, Cinema Display and External Hard Drives) doesn't make me look like a fool in a year or two. My choice went to Apple a year ago because I wanted to skip any misfortunes. Like Andrew put it: I didn't buy a boutique item but a professional tool out of which i make my living.

Professionalism is the key word here. Why? Well it says MacBook Pro, doesn't it?

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