After using a MacBook Air as my primary laptop for nearly two years, a month ago I bought a new, 15.4-inch MacBook Pro, mostly because I wanted to watch more videos when on the go. I also wanted the larger screen and the comforts of a […]

frustrationAfter using a MacBook Air as my primary laptop for nearly two years, a month ago I bought a new, 15.4-inch MacBook Pro, mostly because I wanted to watch more videos when on the go. I also wanted the larger screen and the comforts of a larger keyboard. Furthermore, the matte screen was an option.

This Sunday, just about five weeks after I acquired the MacBook Pro, the machine just froze on me. I restarted but got the blue screen of death. Yes, you read it right -– blue screen of death. I tried the usual tricks, such as running disk utilities and rebooting from the install DVD. Nothing worked –- so off I went to the Apple store to get it fixed.

The Genius Bar was running behind schedule, so I waited. I admired the $999 MacBook. I gushed over the new iMac and a few minutes later, I was talking to the Genius Guy. He basically looked at it and said that my hard disk was gone. I would have to send it back for repairs. I was crestfallen and angry. And for some odd reason, the Genius Bar guy decided to replace the machine. He said, sorry, but here you go — have a new machine! Once bitten twice shy, I ended up buying the Apple Care plan for about $350. And thank God I did.

macbookpro154.pngI came home, booted up the machine and used my Time Machine backup to restore it. Things worked just fine for about 12 hours. Just after 12 noon on Monday, like the witching hour, my bad luck started again: the computer froze, though it didn’t show any blue screen. I couldn’t do anything. Since there are no batteries to remove, all you can do is reboot the machine and pray that it works. Well, it didn’t. So back to the Apple store, though this time a colleague went to the Apple store because I couldn’t back out of some prior commitments.

We were told that there were some problems with the hard disks of these 15-inch MacBook Pros. Anyway, they gave me a new machine. I went through the same process of setting it up. Today, at around 11 am, the machine went comatose on me again. You guessed it — the hard drive died.

Apple replaced the machine after much arguing. They say that the migration assistant might be the reason for the machine failures. Anyway they gave me a brand-new 15-inch laptop. And I got a $5 coupon for the iTunes store for being patient, whatever that means. (By the way, these machines were replaced at three different stores — two in San Francisco and one in Palo Alto. The restore from the Time Machine is working just fine on the old MacBook Air. )

Back home, the machine is sitting on the table, wrapped up in cellophane. I dread even booting it up. What’s the point if this one is going to be another lemon. Three in a row is a pretty bad sign, don’t you think? I’m not even angry anymore. I’ve lost the data and I’ve but lost my time, but more importantly, I’ve lost my trust in Apple and its hardware. As an unabashed fan boy of Apple products, that is the worst part of this whole ordeal.

Now I understand it can happen with any PC –- not just Macs -– but then PCs cost a lot less than Apple machines. And no, three machines in a row don’t malfunction. And please don’t tell me it’s just bad luck. Bad luck is buying a winning lottery ticket and losing it in a laundromat.

Apple and Steve Jobs have thrived on the idea of quality-always-costs-more. As we see wider adoption of Apple’s Mac machines and sales grow higher, I wonder if we’re going to see more of these hardware problems. Will quality suffer because of scale? I don’t know. I appreciate the replacements and the Genius Bar, but if these hardware problems happen way too often, then Apple is in trouble.

Today, as I write this on a Lenovo ThinkPad X300, I’m not angry at Apple -– just disappointed!

Photo courtesy of Zack Klein via Flickr.

By Om Malik

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  1. Unbelievable, that sucks for a company that prides on quality and customer experience! You are being too patient too to do it 3 times…..:)

    Btw any possibility that the Apple store that you kept returning and getting new products is the “same store” and “got a whole lot of bad lemons” from the factory and now sitting on their shelves??? If I was an Apple Service guy reading this, I would be running to that store, digging up all of their returns metrics for this product/store asap and confiscating the entire inventory lot rather than disappoint more customers like you :)

    Hopefully they learn!

    1. Raghu

      I tried to get these replaced at three different stores – Chestnut Street (SF), Market Street, and Palo Alto.

      This isn’t the same store or same lot. This is a bad production run.

      It is really hard to come to terms with this whole mess.

    2. Mishan Kontroll Wednesday, October 28, 2009

      I don’t know where the illusion of Apple’s greater hardware quality comes from, especially with a laptop. Apple is using the same components — especially hard disks — as everyone else. The pixie dust the factory sprinkles on it just makes it shine. It doesn’t make it more reliable.

      1. You don’t know anything about it.

        No, they don’t use the same components throughout. Hard disk yes. The motherboard is designed by Apple and IBM hardware enginners. So is the battery. So is the LCD and a few other things.

        I work for a well known technology company with thousands of these laptops and no one has heard of this issue. It is also not on Apple support boards or anywhere else I can find.

        Something is weird with OM’s backups. Imagine if you had this issue with Dell, HP, etc. You sure wouldn’t get a new laptop let alone any other help.

        You lost data? Definelty somethng wrong with your backup strategy.

        Pulling the battery makes no sense. This isn’t Windows. use Onyx and then Diskwarrior to check everything.

    3. BTDT, My old (3 yrs) 17″ MBP went through 3 hard drives in 4 months, Oh, and my Time Capsule died, AND Time Machine refused to back up on anything else. When the 4th hard drive started to sputter and cough up a lung, my husband decided to toss it on the scrap pile and get me a brand new 17″ uni-body MBP. I was headed for my 3rd spinal surgery and needed a laptop during my recovery. The Air Port card was also busted and I went through 2 of them also.

      Yeah, brand new laptop bought in June; all hi-end; maxed memory, maxed drive size & speed, etc… its now on its 2nd hard drive. This drive is just over 1 month old. I ain’t holding my breath with it either.

      I have no expectations of quality from Apple anymore, but I hate MS enough to not go back to them.

      Suck It Apple!

  2. Jeffrey Stevison Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Maybe something you are restoring from time machine is causing the problem? Seems like the one persistent variable in your equation.

    1. Matthew Frederick Tuesday, October 27, 2009

      Exactly. Every failure has had two things in common: you and the backup you’re restoring from. Assuming it has nothing to do with you personally, are you sure there’s not something in that backup, some nasty boot-sector virus (they do exist on Macs, as you know, even if they’re less common) or some piece of software you’re running?

      It certainly could be a string of bad hardware, but at this point it sure seems more likely that it’s a string of bad software installs/restores.

      1. Matthew and Jeffrey

        The problem is strange: even if restore is the problem, how does it kill the hardware.

        In order to check that, I erased and restored the Macbook Air and it is working without any problem. Or atleast for now. I will be posting an update later.

  3. @Om you did not complete this line : ” It is something regular Mac reviewers such as”

    1. I did but for some odd reason it got cut off. Not sure why. Maybe my software was a bit of a problem.

      1. Though after reading your story, there is little chance that this is not Apple’s fault. Have you tried checking on the internet/apple’s support site to see if others are having similar problems?

        concerning your macbook air, is it a real hard drive, or the Sold State? if you have been using that as your control variable when doing the backups from time machine that may make a different…?

        but to be honest, even if there was a problem with time machine, or watever, it is still apple’s fault and it is becoming a larger trend…. my macbook’s (granted from almost 2 years ago) fan wasn’t working properly a couple of weeks ago (they replaced it)

  4. When modern manufacturing goes right, we get great consistent products that run for years. When it goes wrong, entire runs of product go toes up. I used to build video editing workstations, and we once had a run of 15, yes 15, bad hard drives, all WD. It took a day to build and configure the machines, and these sequential failures hurt us.

    You have my sympathy, but even you must know that even three failures, as bad as that is, is a very small sample.

  5. That sucks! Wasted time and all.

    And speaking of wasted time, I can’t access gMail here in Vancouver, BC right now @ 821pm Pacific time. Message on screen is: 414 Request-URI Too Large

  6. I remember when you compared the perfection of Apple’s products with Taj Mahal. Its sad to see you have such an experience. I sure hope Apple looks into this and gets to the bottom of it.

  7. Om after that type of very public post you must regale us lesser mortals with Apple’s follow-up over the next couple of days. Who called, what did the say, what did they do etc. etc.

    Hope you let us peer over your shoulder as Apple tries to make amends. It would be the non-MSM thing to do.

    1. What are the odds that anyone will ever call or help out. I am pretty happy to share anything that comes my way.

  8. As somebody who who has spent a lot of time supporting both windows and OSX I have come to the conclusion that apple makes a great OS and really crappy hardware. Oh sure it is sexy, but mac problems are hardware problems like 90% of the time. Bad USB ports, bad (and outrageously overpriced memory), and yeah bad hard drive runs, fan failures (spend the dam 10 cents and get good fans damit)… and really bad and unreliable and allays imminently prone to death batteries. this all plays havoc with businesses and really changes the TOC numbers depending on how to look at it. Yeah hardware is easier to replace then trouble shooting many software problems but with macs, when it rains it really pours if you buy in batches.
    I still prefer them though, flaky over priced hardware is easier to deal with the endless bizarre things customers can find to do unto their xp/vista installs… and some times the winboxes have hardware issues too but they are comparatively rare.
    I wish apple would spend a few fractions more on hardware QA and supply chain management for quality (rather then driving down their prices to maximize profits) versus image and design, which they do well enough to have to have a store in every other mall to support the hardware collapse rate :p.

    Honestly though the no replaceable battery thing has been the final straw with me. I won’t order mac’s anymore with out user changeable batteries. All batteries fail, apple one’s just do it in droves, not being able to do a simple swap is just beyond IT unfriendly.

    I was a fan, now I am less so.. .and the design direction is making it hard to come back… Hackintoshes are looking better all the time.

  9. Hi Om,

    With Apple, Microsoft, Google, …. first versions, even second versions of anything software, hardware .. are betas and you are the tester. If being a Fanboy means buying first versions of everything then expect more of the same. I’ve learnt to let others be my beta testers. As a tech journalist you are forced to get first versions of everything so consider it an occupational hazard – but I am surprised that you are still surprised when it happens. As a QA engineer in a previous life I saw the sausages being made.
    My strategy buy version 2.1 of everything always – and be safe.

    Remember windows 3.1 was the first Windows that people really started using. Apple IIe was the first successful Apple. ….. If you want Apple hardware that works buy it on EBay – 2 revisions old and half the price.

    I am a Mac fanboy too – just no longer fooled by the shiny objects.

    1. You have spoken you wise one. what can I say… will never disregard your sage advise.


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