Blog Post

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?

17 Responses to “Nehalem Mac Pros Getting Hot and Bothered”

  1. Behbehani

    You are 100% roght, I brought I mac pro 8 core Nehalem system 6 Gigabytes of RAM and a 24 inch widescreen cenima Led screen and a the latest Final cur pro (and all that cost me about 4500$ dollars) and you know what’s killin?. what’s killing me is the facts that some times while working on Some simple tasks (on one of the apps that come with Final cut pro) is suddenly shutdown “unexceptedly” or more often it just starts to slow down and Kinda become rough (E.g while draging a clip on Final cut pro’s Time line the clip slips on the time line several times even though I still did not let go of the button on the mouse! and is still holding the button on the mouse so therefore the clip I’m dragging should move with the movement of the mouse.) and when such things happens I have to restart My glorious Mac pro desktop so that it will return back to normal).

  2. using an older version of imovie (the one that came with the G5 macs) completely destroyed the motherboard of said G5 imac by overheating it while editing a large movie project

  3. Ha, i was considering buying a macbook pro, but this post is making me reconsider. I like to run a bunch of stuff alongside eachother, like photoshop, virtual server, different browsers etc… but i guess apple no likey. Maybe it helps if you don’t use itunes?

  4. Freddy Krueger

    With my macbook pro (2007 version) running SL, the 64bit programs scream, mail and safari open instantly, but itunes is very cumbersome. my guess is because its still 32 bit… either way, im selling the laptop when i see the new imac lineup, i never use it as a laptop, and i’m ready just for a good old desktop, bring on the TV tuner and 27 inch screen!

  5. YES! I’ve been wanting to see an article on this forever.

    I’m a first-time mac user as of Summer 2009 and I looovveee my MacBook Pro. But I’m increasingly infuriated that I have to restart it about every three days and keep a super close eye on the programs I’m running (I always quit any programs I’m not using).

    In my Activity Monitor, when I restart there is less than 1/2 memory used (red, yellow, or blue) with all the programs that later in the day cause it to completely fill (iTunes, Pandora, Firefox, Mail, Stickies, Excel, and Word — pretty much all I ever use). When I eliminate all these programs, the Activity Monitor still stays mostly filled! So I’ve just gone to restarting every couple days… very annoying.

  6. 2009 nehalem here

    I had the iTunes slow-down problem too… but I figured it was hard disk I/O, so I moved my music to another physical drive and the problem disappeared.

  7. have the 2008 800mzh bus

    1. ATI HD2600 XT had to be replaced 4 times!!!!!! (so now i put in a gt120 form a 2009 and yes it works!!)
    2. power supply went out. 2wice! always making noise when machine off but plugged in.
    3. front row cant access internet content when using wireless connection however on hardwired lan it works fine

    4. drives appear out of order form bay 1 – bay 4 when disk utility is lunched and its different after restart like it shuffles. (no problems, im anal. but do all mac pros do this??)

    please let me know if you have 4 drives in the mac pro and they all appear in random order when disk utility is launched.

  8. I have a nehalem mac pro that I grabbed last fall and have been having issues with some minor tasks like running safari or mail. I have also noticed issues with my magic mouse tracking. I have no problems with other mice so its weird that its this one too.

  9. I have had similar problems with my late 08′ iMac. Every once and a while the fans go to 3500 RPMs and the CPU temp to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. The Apple store and Apple care can’t find any problems with it so I also suspect it has something to do with Snow Leopard.

  10. I have been having an issue with my wireless connection recently. It seems like the signal drops and if I turn airport off than back on it begins to work again. I have tried several solutions and none have seemed to work. It gets very annoying. Not sure if that is related to the above post or not