If you don’t own a 2011-model Apple MacBook Pro with a problem with it’s discrete GPU, then you should probably stop reading right now and go look at a video on wimp.com instead. This one is pretty funny.
I confess. I’m a Macintosh person. In fact, I’m one of those annoying Mac people who makes fun of people who own Windows machines. I’ve been a Mac person since about 1990 when I bought my first computer – a Mac Classic. In those days, if you used a computer for MIDI, you had to get a Mac because Windows machines never really knew what time it was. Not precisely or accurately enough to be used to play a MIDI file. And, once audio editing came along (not ProTools – the GOOD stuff, like Sonic Solutions) it was Macintosh or nothing because Windows people would look at you funnily when you talked about SCSI drives.
Last week, though, my evangelism came to a crashing halt when my trusty 2-year old MacBook Pro suddenly went bezerk. It started with my son booting up Minecraft, which tried to change the screen resolution. The result was a large black vertical stripe down the middle of the screen with the left side of the desktop on the right side of the screen, wrapping around to the left side. “Dad, there’s something wrong with the computer…” he said. “No problem” I said, “let’s just reboot it.”
Rebooted the computer, got the pretty grey Apple logo, then just a blank grey screen. Tried again, same result, Tried again, same result… Uh oh… It’s only been a couple of weeks since the last backup, so I haven’t lost too much data – but the time it’s going to take to get up and running again… Guh.
So, I started Googling for some solutions about what to do with a stuck grey screen. Apple has a friendly page about this – try this, try that… If that doesn’t work, try something else. If that doesn’t work, you probably have to reformat your drive. Guh.
Then I Googled some more and found out that my symptoms were not unusual. In fact, it wasn’t long before I came across a news article and another one and a very long discussion thread on the Apple Users Forum with over 1,000,000 views and an online petition (currently standing at over 13,000 signatures) – where everybody was talking about me – or at least my problem with my Mac.
Turns out that my hard drive is fine. My data is all intact. What is NOT fine is my discrete Graphic Processor Unit or GPU. Apparently, MacBook Pro’s made in 2011 (mine is a late-2011 model) are dropping like flies. And, interestingly, the whole mess was sort of predicted by this site when they did a tear-down of the computer back when it first came out. As they said back then, in talking about the GPU: “Holy thermal paste! Time will tell if the gobs of thermal paste applied to the CPU and GPU will cause overheating issues down the road.” and “Absurd amounts of pre-applied thermal paste may cause problems down the road.”
Okay, so the MBP’s from 2011 have a problem. This is forgivable – even engineers make mistakes sometimes. Manufacturing or design defects are not surprising in this day and age. However, what astounds me is that Apple is completely denying that this issue exists.The stories being told tell tales of people forking out over $300 to get a logic board replacement, only to have it fail within a couple of months. Another $300 logic board, also fails… Apparently, Apple is replacing faulty logic boards with “refurbished” boards that have exactly the same problem as the one getting taken out of the machine. So it seems that there is a large circulation of faulty circuit boards getting put into machines at $300 a pop. This means that I won’t be sending my computer off to get a “new” logic board any time soon.
Other people tell epic tales of a great little utility called gfxCardStatus which allows you to force the computer into using either the discrete GPU or the integrated GPU.
So, following some interactions on the Interweb, I tried rebooting my computer over and over and over and over (say, about 50 times, but it felt like a million…) until it worked! installed gfxCardStatus and locked it into the integrated GPU. Life was great. A little slow, but great. At least my computer was up and running again. Long enough to do a backup of EVERYTHING – just in case.
Sadly, the party didn’t last long. 4 days later, the machine crashed. 50 reboots later, it was running again – this time for only 3 days. And when it crashed that time, things got worse. The machine did a complete shutdown, and restarting resulted in another complete shutdown immediately after seeing a stripy grey Apple sign.
So, I went to plan #2 – trying to disable the discrete GPU permanently by moving the .kext, .plugin and .bundle files for the GPU. I did this following the instructions at this page – which I’ve repeated below. If you’re reading this because you have the same problem as I do, and you try this, don’t hold me responsible if you break your Mac using this technique. It was a last-ditch attempt for me to revive my machine – and so far so good…
- Start up in Single User Mode (hold down CMD-S immediately after startup)
- Get ready to move System files by typing the text mount -uw /
- Create a directory to move the Extension files into by typing mkdir /System/Library/DisabledExtensions
- Move the files by typing mv /System/Library/Extensions/ATI* /System/Library/DisabledExtensions
- Type exit
- You might need to type exit again to reboot.
This still required that I do a hard shutdown (holding the power button for 5 seconds) and restart 4 or 5 times – but here I am, once again, typing on my computer that, yesterday, was a brick. Let’s hope that this solution sticks.
However, what would be REALLY nice is if Apple were to own up to this one, and call up all those people like me who own a defective machine, and tell us that they’re going to fix it for free. Or at least fix it for a reasonable cost with a solution that actually works. Either way, I might regain a little faith in a company that I used to trust.
A little more information, in case you’re reading this because you have a similar problem: I have a 15″ late-2011 MacBook Pro with an AMD Radeon HD 6750M discrete GPU. I haven’t done anything to it (like replace the HD or add extra RAM).
For more information about this, see http://action.mbp2011.com.