NVIDIA Killed My 2007 MacBook Pro

In mid 2008, amid growing evidence, NVIDIA acknowledged that a significant number of its previous-generation GPUs (graphics processing unit) and MCPs (media and communications processors) for notebooks are failing at higher-than-normal rates. For readers who are not aware of this story, TheAppleBlog covered this piece of news back in October.

Three weeks back, I was personally afflicted by this problem. One fine morning, after arriving at the office of a client, I took my mid-2007 MacBook Pro out of my bag and proceeded to fire it up. The MBP never got past the startup chime; there was only a blank, black screen. I took the usual troubleshooting steps: resetting the PRAM and the SMC, booting from the OS X installation disc and from an external hard drive, and finally, plugging in an external display…all to no avail. It was then that my suspicions turned to the NVIDIA GeForce 8600GT graphics card in the MBP, even though I had not ruled out a misbehaving hard drive.

Without a working display, there was no way to salvage my data unless I took apart the MBP and extricated the internal hard drive. Upon trying to boot the MBP’s system disk on an iMac, and diagnosing with DiskWarrior, it became clear that I was facing not one but two problems.

The system disk of the MBP was not booting up right. In addition to a dead graphics card, I was also facing an impending hard disk failure. Fortunately I was able to make a perfect clone with CarbonCopyCloner.

The next day, I took the MBP in to an Apple reseller for repairs. I told them that the most probable diagnosis was a failed graphics card, but, as a regular procedure, I had to pay a diagnostic fee of $58.

As I waited to hear from Apple, I braced myself for the possible cost of repair should the problem have turned out to not be the graphics card. No, I did not purchase AppleCare for this notebook, a decision I have come to regret after the Super Drive on the MBP began misbehaving and refusing to burn. [1]

A week later, I received a call from the reseller. Apple has confirmed that the NVIDIA graphics card has died, that they would be replacing the entire logic board, and that Apple will, true to its advisory article on this matter, honor the cost of repair on my out-of-warranty MacBook Pro. A couple of days later, I had my MBP back in my hands, back from the dead. I was even refunded the diagnostic fee I had paid.

If you own a mid-2007, late-2007, or early-2008 MacBook Pro of either the 15- or 17-inch model, you should brace yourself for the possibility that the NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics card in your notebook may suddenly fail. While you can rest assured that you will not have to pay for repairs if it fails within two years after purchase, you should prepare a fallback plan if your only machine does go down. When it does, my advice is to bring along a print-out of Apple’s support article when you send your notebook in for repairs, as the reseller I went to was, incredulously, not aware of the advisory.

And the final word I have in the wake of this affair? If you own one of these MacBook Pros, expect it to fail. Oh, and also: Buy AppleCare; it will pay for itself and then some, quite possibly when you least expect it.

1. Strangely, after updating to OS X Leopard 10.5.6, the SuperDrive on my MBP could burn again, without the dreaded “The device failed to calibrate the laser power level for this media” error dialog box showing up even once.