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Why Apple’s NVIDIA GPU Extended Service Program is Inadequate

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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.

13 Responses to “Why Apple’s NVIDIA GPU Extended Service Program is Inadequate”

  1. Stephanie

    This is definitely a problem that exists, but from what I understand, only some of these chipsets were manufactured with poor packaging and the problem is remote. Initially NVIDIA claimed that they did not make it to MacBook Pros, but obviously some of them did. From my understanding, it is the minority of these particular MacBook Pros that have this problem, and for every one person that bloga about it, there are probably dozens that are not experiencing any problems.

    That said, this problem is definitely effecting enough people for Apple to offer the extended warranty, and it’s good to see that they have done this because it is disappointing to see it occur at all. Apparently according to someone that I know in the industry, most of the effected MacBook Pros have the rom revision 2715 and not the rom revision 3212.

  2. “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.”

    –Really??? That statement alone invalidates your entire article, sir. Anyone who expects any computer, let alone a laptop, to be a viable machine 14 years in the future is obviously delusional.

    This article is entirely speculative, and isn’t even based on any real world knowledge — who expects their laptop to last them 14 years? Just to exemplify, Mac was just selling the “Macintosh SE” 14 years ago. It was revolutionary because it had a hard drive! See for yourself:

    To give another anchor for any readers, the “Apple IIc Plus” that was sold in 1988 was revolutionary for its use of 3.25″ floppy disks in lieu of 5.25″ floppy disks. There isn’t any software available that would run on this machine today… Also, excuse me author, but do you subscribe to science? If so, where are any real world numbers to back up these claims???

    Apple Blog, please, really, why are you letting these people write articles for you? It’s an insult to anybody who has even mild IT experience. I love this blog, but you have some writers who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. I hope you will be more selective in the future, I’m sure that many readers are tired of delving through the garbage to find real fact, statistics, and the like.

  3. Charles Moore

    Hi Darren;

    As Alex says, the machines referenced in the article are the June 2007 and February 2008 revision MacBook Pros. The new Unibody MacBook Pros use a completely different Nvidia GPU (and have integrated graphics support as well which provides some comfortable redundancy). Hopefully, Nvidia nailed the issue that plagued the older GPU and the Unibodies won’t be likewise afflicted.

    Personally being in the hunt for a system upgrade myself, If my budget would stand it I would probably go for a Unibidy MacBook Pro 15″, but it will more likely be a 13″ MacBook.


  4. Darren,
    Actually the MBP’s being discussed are the older MBP’s (not unibody ones). So stay away from the previous models.

    Unless you need the extra 2″–and after this issue–I’d go for the new unibody macbook (not pro). It starts at $1300 and is basically just as powerful as the MBP. Oh–and if Apple finds out something is defective in those and something happens after 2 years you lose $700 less…

  5. Clayton Lai

    Thanks, Charles.

    Vanni – You should be prepared. Apple’s advisory page for the NVIDIA problem clearly states that “These computers were manufactured between approximately May 2007 and September 2008”.

    For what it’s worth, the specs of my repaired MacBook Pro are as follows:

    Chipset Model: GeForce 8600M GT
    Type: Display
    Bus: PCIe
    PCIe Lane Width: x16
    VRAM (Total): 256 MB
    Vendor: NVIDIA (0x10de)
    Device ID: 0x0407
    Revision ID: 0x00a1
    ROM Revision: 3175

  6. I’m in the market to buy a new mac laptop. I currently have an ’03 iMac. I’ve just started graduate school so I really need the convenience of being able to take my computer from home to school…I was planning on getting a MBP, because they’ve got more memory and are faster than the regular macbooks. I basically will need it for writing papers, and among other things I’d like to be able to play around with garageband and manage my photo and music collection. Should I opt for the MB instead of the pro or are they affected by the NVIDIA bug as well? Is a refurbed older mpb a safer bet?

  7. My late 2007 MBP had not one, but two Nvidia related failures over the course of four months. The second failure brought the HD down with it along with my optical drive. The burner no longer has enough power to burn DL DVDs. This has been a nightmare.

  8. @vanni
    Yes you should, I bought mine in June and I expirenced some problems in August (I think), when text started to look disrupted, but the problem disappered. I hope it stays that way.
    As of today my drive stopped burning dvds, that shure sucks, good ive bought AppleCare, but imho this shouldnt happen half a year after buying the machine, I think i just burned 4 dvds or so

  9. I bought my MBP in August of 08 ..Should i be worried?
    GeForce 8600M GT:

    Chipset Model: GeForce 8600M GT
    Type: Display
    Bus: PCIe
    PCIe Lane Width: x16
    VRAM (Total): 256 MB
    Vendor: NVIDIA (0x10de)
    Device ID: 0x0407
    Revision ID: 0x00a1
    ROM Revision: 3212

  10. I completely agree with you Charles. Dishing out $2000 along with moving to a completely new OS was not an easy decision to come to, but I bought my MBP in Nov 2007 (Leopard) anyway after doing much research and realizing that its build quality + OS X was the best computer combo out there. Now to hear that my $2000 investment (I do much of my work on that computer) can go at any time and my “warranty” ends in November is quite disappointing. Does Apple truly think that a normal consumer should be buying one of their expensive computers every couple years? I think they should stand by their product. Automotive (safety) recalls are accessible for the life of the product–and they do the work preemptively. Shouldn’t Apple stand by their customers and make sure that they do right by their customer?

    • I’ve had this problem too and I’m dismayed to find that the problem is being repaired by replacing the broken part with ANOTHER BROKEN PART!

      What I don’t understand is your reaction. Instead of saying that this is wrong and apple do not deserve your business again because of this, you just say that you’ll change to a macbook or a later macbook pro model. You’re like rewarding their scandalous conduct by buying more of their products! WTF!