Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bumpy road ahead for Apple's glossy new MacBooks

Apple is facing yet again another tough road to bypass the nearing end of this year 2008, especially for its latest MacBook line-ups.

Sure, we are saying "ooh" and "aah" when we see the aluminium body and the glossy screen of the new MacBooks, but apparently behind those eye-blinding device, the MacBook got problems that are hard to be ignored.

First it was a problem with the new design of MacBooks' glass trackpad, where Apple quickly responded & fixed it with a new Mac OS X update soon after the problem reported. And now users are facing problems after they've installed 3rd party memory up to 4GB into their MacBooks; such as the machines become unstable or lock up, unable to stay in sleep mode, turning itself on when closed every minute or so, or freezing when woken up.

Since Apple is charging insanely high prices for memory upgrade, Mac users have been buying memory upgrade from 3rd party memory providers like Other World Computing (OWC), an online retailer that specializes in Mac products. There are more reports by users who bought OWC memory, although some also reported the same problems with memory bought from Kingston Technology Corp. and

A user said he had been contacted by an Apple engineer after he had posted several messages, and sent an e-mail to CEO Steve Jobs. The engineer; William Brocklebank said Apple is "very aware" of the problem and that it was due not to non-Apple memory, but because users were bumping up the machines to 4GB.

"They are about to release a software update to address it. He said that officially it might take up to a week or two for this to come out but unofficially we could expect it within a matter of days," Brocklebank wrote on Dec. 4. "In the meantime he said that a solution could be found by removing one of the 2GB sticks and replacing it with the original 1GB." That same solution has been tested by jkOnTheRun.

As MacBook users are waiting impatiently for the software update, an intriguing finding is reported by Charlie Demerjian from the Inquirer that could lead to very serious implications both for MacBook users and for Apple.

Perhaps you still remember about the massive recall of laptops with NVidia GPUs from Dell, HP and Apple; where reportedly NVidia was using of high-lead in solder bumps (tiny bumps that glue the chip to the green plastic base) which resulting in a failing GPU under extreme temperatures, the material may be exposed to fatigue cracking, and essentially the laptop become useless until the GPU is replaced.

NVidia then switched to so called eutectic solder bumps with less lead and more tin, and said that the problem in those GPUs was minor and was corrected. But Charlie (from Inquirer) was curious to find if NVidia was telling the truth or not, so he bought a brand new 15” Macbook Pro in California shortly after the systems were announced in mid-October. Charlie said he was aided by a team of unnamed scientists who have access to the multi-million dollar tools required to properly examine the chips.

What they did next in order to examine the GPU can be considered brutal for Mac fans: it was disassembled, desoldered the GPU chips, sawed them in half, encased them in Lucite, and ran them through a scanning electron microscope equipped with an X-ray microanalysis. *pheeew* ;-)

The result of the finding is that the MacBook Pros with the GeForce 9600 chips still have the older, defective high-lead bumps, but the MacBook Air and MacBook have the newer eutectic solder (newer, low-lead bumps). So the MacBook and MacBook Air are fine, while the MacBook Pro is the one who still inherit the bad genes.

Inquirer has included images of some kinda X-ray photos from somebody's head in its report, this proves NVidia is continuing to use what it in indicated it does not use. Although if we're to be realistic, not all GPUs with high-lead solder bumps will fail, but they all carried the potential of failing.

NVidia quickly reponded: "The Inquirer reporter believes high-lead bumps are bad. That's his underlying theory. It's not true," said Michael Hara, vice president, investor relations and communications at Nvidia. He continued: "The Inquirer's initial analysis of problems with some of the older chips was already flawed."

Michael Hara explained more about the situation in a more technical words, if you're interested in reading about it, then head on to his interview with Brooke Crothers from nanotech: the circuits blog.

Basically, NVidia vehemently disagreed with the allegations from the Inquirer, even further revealed that the material set (combination of underfill and bump) that is being used is similar to the material set that has been shipped in 100s of millions of chipsets by the world's largest semiconductor companies: Intel & Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).

User are reporting crashes happened when running games on the GeForce 9600 discrete chip, which said that the issue manifests itself when the systems heat up during game play, sometimes causes the notebooks' screens to go black after just a few minutes of gaming, while the systems lock up and the audio enters into an infinite loop.

So far Apple stays mum regarding the NVidia graphic issue, nor responding to the crash reports connected with it. But Apple is said to be investigating the problem at this moment, and we'll see if the hefty price tag of MacBook Pros is going to pay for what the owners will receive: a superb and healthy machine, not a sick one...

Sources are from:

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