Why Apple’s NVIDIA GPU Extended Service Program is Inadequate

Nvidia GPUs PossibleA tip of the hat to fellow TheAppleBlog contributor Clayton Lai in his recent column NVIDIA Killed My 2007 MacBook Pro, and the people who commented with similar tales of premature hardware failure woe, for finally convincing me to cross the late 2008 MacBook Pro off my short list of candidates for my next system upgrade.

Clayton’s ‘Book fell victim to what evidently is a not uncommon defect in the NVIDIA GeForce 8600GT graphics processor units in May 2007 and Early 2008 revisions of the MacBook Pro, combined with a simultaneous hard disk issue which rendered the machine unbootable. The good news is that Apple came through with a repair that involved replacing the entire logic board under a recently announced extended service program for these models even though Clayton’s computer was out of warranty. The bad news is that it seems many owners of these MacBook Pro models are experiencing similar difficulties to such a degree of frequency that Apple announced in October:

“In July 2008, NVIDIA publicly acknowledged a higher than normal failure rate for some of their graphics processors due to a packaging defect. At that same time, NVIDIA assured Apple that Mac computers with these graphics processors were not affected. However, after an Apple-led investigation, Apple has determined that some MacBook Pro computers with the NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics processor may be affected. If the NVIDIA graphics processor in your MacBook Pro has failed, or fails within two years of the original date of purchase, a repair will be done free of charge, even if your MacBook Pro is out of warranty.”

Apple and NVIDIA stepping up and taking some responsibility for this defect is a good thing as far as it goes, but it almost certainly does not go far enough. There seems not much probable cause to believe that (a) this problem will not eventually afflict most examples of those MacBook Pro models if they are used long enough, and (b) that once repaired there’s any guarantee of the issue not repeating itself after the two-year extended service eligibility or even three years of maximum AppleCare extended warranty coverage.

I expect my computers to provide reliable service much longer than two or three years. My present main workhorse Mac is a model originally debuting in September 2003, and I have a couple of more than eight year old Pismo PowerBooks in daily service as well, none of which have ever been troubled with hardware defects. With devices costing as much as Apple notebooks do, one should expect nothing less.

An extended service program more along the lines of the seven-year one Apple implemented for the PowerBook 5300 and 190 models back in 1996 after that model proved plagued with a constellation of hardware and software problems including bad motherboards, power and circuitry problems, inadequate AC power adapters, enclosure issues like flimsy display screen hinges, power adapter plugs and trackpad buttons that broke, would be more in order,

In 2004, Apple announced a more modest three-year Extended Repair Program for G3 iBooks manufactured between May 2002 and April 2003, with Apple CFO Phil Schiller acknowledging that “We have determined that a small number of iBooks introduced in 2002 have a display problem caused by a component failure on the logic board.” Unfortunately, numbers weren’t all that small, and I had readers report that logic boards in their G3 iBook G3s had serially failed two, three, even four times.

Arguably, this GPU issue with the NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT equipped MacBook Pros is as bad or even worse than the PowerBook 5300 troubles. I bought a 5300 in late 1996. At about the 4 1/2 year mark it developed the loose power adapter jack, broken trackpad button and screen hinge issues, and the entire case plastics were replaced by Apple for free under the extended service program. I’m happy to report that the old 5300 provided eight years of useful service, the first three and a half for me and the remainder as my daughter’s high-school and university freshman year computer. We still have it and it still works. I’m wildly pessimistic that there will be very many May 2007 through September 2008 MacBook Pro’s that will still boot and run come the year 2022. People who purchased these machines deserve better.

Personally, I’m now of a mind that my next system will be a MacBook unless I can scrape up the scratch to get one of the new unibody 15″ MacBook Pros, whose NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT GPUs we hope will not be afflicted with a similar issue down the road.

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