Thursday, October 25, 2007

MacBook Pro: second impressions

I've now had a 17" MacBook Pro for two weeks. In a post about my first impressions, I noted some preliminary issues. Here are some updates on those.
I purchased the MacBook Pro at a somewhat unfortunate time: Leopard has now just been announced as shipping on October 26. Daring Fireball seems to be claiming that Apple (in the US, at least) will provide free upgrades for machines purchased on or after October 1. It will be interesting to see if this applies in Australia.
It certainly does apply in Australia. I've pre-ordered my copy of Leopard for $A 12.95, the shipping fee.
The display completely froze, and the machine became unresponsive (at least to the keyboard and mouse—it would be interesting to try to contact it over the LAN) on two occasions now. I was doing nothing in particular at the time. I need to do some Google work on this, but if it happens too many more times (for some value of "too many"), it's going back.
This has happened on at least two more occasions. The following entry seems to be logged in /var/log/system.log at the time of the lock-ups:
Oct 24 14:37:53 ralph kernel[0]: NVChannel(GL): Graphics channel timeout!
Google tells me that it's a widely reported problem with GeForce 8600M GT cards. There also seem to be some very vague suggestions that it's driver related, and that it will be "fixed in Leopard". Given that the alternative is to return a two-week-old machine to the store, I'm prepared to wait and see what happens with Leopard.
There have been two or three episodes of what one might call "sleep-wake confusion". For example, I've closed the lid, and I can see the display is still on. Or, I'll open the lid, and the display stays blank and the front indicator light keeps flashing as if it's still asleep. It will usually recover, but once it required a power-cycle. Again, I'm going to have a low threshold for return if this continues.
This hasn't happened again. Evidently I have to win sometimes.
The keyboard seems subtly different in ways I can't quite describe, but I keep missing keys, and some seem a little sticky. To be honest, I pretty much hated the PowerBook's keyboard when I first got it. Hopefully I'll break this one in.
Steve pointed out in comments that this might not be down to my poor typing, and that it, too, was a widely-reported problem. I am consistently getting random dropping of keypresses. Adjusting the key repeat speed and delay had little effect, though checking "Ignore accidental trackpad input", as suggested somewhere on the web, has improved the phenomenon slightly, but has the side-effect of making the trackpad less responsive. Again, I'll wait and see whether Leopard improves this at all.

To be honest, if this was my first Mac, I'd be horribly disappointed. The two outstanding hardware problems described above are not just minor glitches, they're significant problems that are impacting on the usability of the machine. There are at least two major difficulties with returning it to the store:
  1. The display freezes are very intermittent. While a few minutes worth of typing should be sufficient to demonstrate the problem with dropped keypresses, the display problem might not be replicated for days, if at all. Convincing the technician there's a problem might not even be possible.
  2. I've become such a laptop junkie that even a couple of days without it would be an enormous productivity hit for me. I just don't use a desktop for anything anymore.
Of course, it's not my first Mac, and now that I'm a fully-fledged fanboy, I think solutions like "wait and see if it's fixed in Leopard" sound reasonable in comparison to "return the faulty hardware". What a sucker I've become.


  1. Yeah, you seem to be having a run of misfortune. My problems are limited to poor wireless reception and I haven't been bothered returning the laptop for a new wireless card yet.

    I cringe when I recommend a Mac to someone and then they have problems, which is why I generally don't bother making a recommendation other than being a Smug Mac Git.

    The upside is that these kinds of driver problems generally do get fixed over time, as Apple have a limited range of hardware to support rather than thousands of various cards and chipsets in billions of permutations.

    Even if you didn't get Leopard, Apple would still issue those driver fixes for the earlier operating systems as they do not subscribe to the "pay for upgrade to fix problems" model. Each end-of-line revision of the OS is left as flawless as possible.

  2. Does not look like Leopards going to fix it but this could be unrelated. I'm ssh'd into my MBP and outputting the dmesg


    NVChannel(GL): Graphics channel timeout!
    NVChannel(GL): Graphics channel exception! status = 0xffff info32 = 0x3 = Fifo: Unknown Method Error
    NVChannel(GL): Graphics channel exception! status = 0xffff info32 = 0x3 = Fifo: Unknown Method Error
    NVChannel(GL): Graphics channel exception! status = 0xffff info32 = 0x3 = Fifo: Unknown Method Error

    I've only experienced this so far trying to compile a DVD within iDVD, the swirlly busy icon appears (no its not doing jack cause the process list shows nothing utilising much).

    Lets hope they do something to fix this annoying issue.

  3. This is probably the fix for the issue...

    Apple has released MacBook Pro Software Update 1.2 which improves graphics stability and is recommended for all 2.2/2.4GHz MacBook Pro Models running Mac OS X 10.4.9 or 10.4.10 Tiger.

    This is for Leopard. Apple does NOT do the "upgrade to latest OS to fix your problem" shit that Microsoft does.

  4. Arrgh. I mean it is for Tiger and you won't have to update to Leopard for the fix!

  5. Sorry Steve. I failed to mention that WAS the output from my machine running Leopard :)