Nehalem Mac Pros Getting Hot and Bothered


Naturally, it’s important to every Mac owner that their computer behave itself and work reliably and efficiently. But if, like me, you’ve handed over the extra shekels for a Mac Pro, instead of, say, a MacBook, you don’t just expect reliability and efficiency. You expect — no, you demand — nothing less than Perfection.

It’s unsettling, then, that in recent months, owners of the very latest model of Mac Pro (the “Nehalem”-based machines introduced in early 2009) have been reporting worrying problems with their machines when performing otherwise very mundane tasks.

Let me give you an example. Imagine it’s early morning and, coffee in hand, you take your comfy seat before your 30-inch HD Cinema Display and power-up your gleaming Mac Pro. In no time at all you’re on the Snow Leopard desktop. You fire-up Mail and Safari and, as you prepare to trudge through the messages and articles that have amassed overnight, you decide to play a little light music in iTunes to lift your spirits. Some Beethoven, perhaps. Maybe a little Hans Zimmer. (John Williams is much too stimulating for this hour of the morning.)

Bam! No sooner have you hit Play and your machine inexplicably slowed to a crawl. You hear the Mac’s normally-whisper-quiet fans suddenly kick into high gear. For some unaccountable reason, your mighty Mac Pro is now guzzling power from the mains and getting very hot under the collar. It makes no sense. You’re doing the same things that would present no challenge at all to the most humble of MacBooks (a “mere abacus” by comparison, to quote the late great author and Macintosh-fan, Douglas Adams).

This isn’t just puzzling. It isn’t just troubling. It’s completely and unremittingly maddening. Your Mac Pro cost you an arm and a leg. Nothing less than perfection, remember?

Old Problem

The first reports of this problem appeared on the discussion forum back in October, but eventually migrated to the Apple Support Discussion pages where they have grown quite considerably in number (and noise).

Users report the problem on machines running both Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6. Symptoms usually include a hefty cut in overall performance (as much as 20 percent in some cases), skyrocketing internal temperatures (excesses of 30 degrees celsius are common) and dramatically-increased power consumption for even minor “low power” tasks.

Software known to reliably and consistently trigger the problem includes heavy-duty titles such as Logic Studio and Flash, plus everyday applications like iTunes. The issue doesn’t appear to affect any earlier model of Mac Pro.

Curiously, the problem vanishes completely for those users who boot into Windows 7, which has led to speculation that Mac OS X itself is the culprit. MacNN reports;

Based on testing it is suspected that there could be a flaw in OS X’s handling of power management kernel extensions, or else the driver that exploits particular Nehalem features, such as SpeedStep and Turbo Boost.


Predictably, Apple is saying nothing. Users are also finding that even AppleCare Support is proving less than helpful. MacRumor’s Eric Slivka writes;

Despite the thorough investigations by users into the situation, AppleCare representatives have been unwilling [to] acknowledge that any issues exist, calling such temperature spikes normal and within design parameters for the machines. Users continue to be frustrated, however, by the performance hits their machines are experiencing and Apple’s refusal to address the situation. Apple has yet to issue any statements regarding the issue.

Anecdotal Evidence

I am very proud of my Mac Pro, for which I paid a quite obscene amount in April last year. I could have bought a car, or gone on a fantastic, life-changing trip around the world. But I’m a geek, so instead of those things I bought a big metal box with a picture of a fruit stamped on its side. (I regret nothing.)

And I really use this thing, all the time. I run iTunes constantly, and very regularly use audio-intensive apps like Apple’s Soundtrack Pro and Adobe’s SoundBooth. So far, I am relieved to say, I’ve never had any problems as a result.

But I have had one issue, and I’m beginning to suspect it might be connected to these complaints.

You see, in my experience, iMovie 09 is a great, lumbering cow. I need only use it for a few minutes before my machine collapses onto its metaphorical knees in protest. Closing the app doesn’t return things to normal, either. Instead, I have to completely restart my Mac. It’s annoying, certainly, but I spend more time in Final Cut these days, where I have no performance issues at all. I always just assumed that iMovie was a little buggy. Now, I’m not so sure.

If you’re a Mac Pro owner I’d love to know if you’ve suffered any of these problems. And, even if you’re not, leave a comment and let me know – is it just me, or is iMovie ‘09 an uncompromising diva for you, too?

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