AFTER A LONG period in the wilderness as an anti-Apple person, I got an iPod, an iPhone, and then a MacBook Pro (MBP). After that, life was good. I was more productive with OSX than I’d ever been with Windows, iOS made Blackberry OS look like something from the Victorian era, and of course the original iPod Classic is a thing of wonder. The hardware was super-reliable too – my 13-inch MBP ran flawlessly for years, as did its replacement, a 15-inch MBP bought when my brother was looking for a Mac for home use – he took over my 13-inch, I got the shiny new bigger version.
Just under three years after I got the 15-inch, the keyboard started playing the fool. Certain keys were intermittent, then they packed a total sad and died. I was on Whidbey Island north of Seattle at this point, so I braced myself for a big bill from the Apple store over on “The Mainland” i.e. a ferry trip away.
My brother had actually ordered the 15-inch on my behalf, and unbeknownst to me, he’d paid for the outrageously expensive three-year Apple Care warranty (what a nice guy!). At the time, I’d have said that was an act of madness but with less than three weeks left on that warranty, I was glad to have it.
I hopped on the ferry, and drove down to the Apple Store in Alderwood Mall, where staff proved to be exceedingly helpful. The 15-inch went in for repair, all covered by the warranty. A week later, I got it back with a new logic board, a new lower case and a new MagSafe charger. All good in the hood, as they might say round here.
But no, things weren’t rosy. Apple had kindly swapped out my once-reliable logic board for one blessed with the notorious “Shitty AMD GPU Problem”. It started running hot. As in HOT! So much so that I couldn’t keep it my lap unless I wanted more heat and thrills than I was comfortable with. I assumed this was because of the recent upgrade to Yosemite rather than a hardware issue but I should have known better. We were leaving for Asia soon, it was the middle of the holiday season and we were mega-busy, so I just let it ride instead of taking it back.
I was living a long, long way from any Apple Stores (Bang Tao Beach, Phuket, Thailand) when the Mac started seriously playing up. Random crashes, failures to reboot and display glitches became a fact of life.
Apple Support Thailand transferred me to The Philippines, where I was given the runaround. The problem was apparently in the software, so I needed to format the drive and reinstall OSX. I was leery about this because it seemed to be a known hardware issue based on a brief Google search. Eventually they told me that I had to take the Mac to an Apple Store. How many of those are in Thailand? Zero!
Then after I pushed a bit, the support guy put me on hold, chatted to someone more senior and came back with good news – the Mac was covered by a global repair program. After years of denials, Apple had finally admitted that there was a problem with the GPU in certain MacBook Pro models, as evidenced by this enormous 800+ page thread on the Apple Support site. I’d never heard of this issue before, but I became intimately acquainted with it in the months to follow.
I could apparently take my Mac to any Apple approved repairer, and they’d sort it out for me at no charge. The nearest facility was in Phuket Town. I could get there by bus because there was no way I way going to cough up the crazy prices for the local taxis. But I had visions of having to do the back and forth shuffle from Bang Tao to Phuket Town if they didn’t get it right first time. Also I called the repairer and they told me that it’d take a couple of weeks to get parts. We were leaving for Chiang Mai in two weeks, so the idea of having my Mac in pieces in Phuket Town while we climbed on the plane wasn’t exactly attractive.
I elected to wait. I had an Acer Netbook as a backup (the same god-awful, should never have been released to the public, designed by a sadist thing I mentioned in this post) so at least I could write.
Once we arrived in Chiang Mai, I was thrilled to learn that we’d picked an apartment that was only a few minutes bike ride away from the local Apple repairer. I popped in with my Mac, navigated the language barrier and they went to work. They knew all about the GPU issue, the Mac immediately failed Apple’s graphics test, and the serial number was in the repair program’s range. So off the Mac went into the back of the store.
A week later, I got a call to collect it. It had a brand new logic board – allegedly with a new spec or non-faulty or resoldered GPU – no one seems to know because Apple is being about as transparent as a 10-meter thick brick wall on this subject. A day later, the graphics went crazy again, so I rode back up to the repairer. This time, it passed the graphics test, so they were adamant that it was software related and wanted to format the drive and reinstall the OS. I was ready for this, and all my data was backed up.
The next day – I got it back with a brand new OSX Yosemite install and many assurances that things were now sweet. I spent two days reinstalling everything and setting it all up, only to have the display do its usual thing the minute I fired up Photoshop to do some actual work. All my previous testing hadn’t revealed a problem but the GPU hated work, much like me I guess. I shot videos of the problem and took photos in case the Mac was perfectly behaved when I took it in again.
This time, I was told by the ever-helpful staff that they needed to liaise with Singapore, or that the Mac needed to go to Singapore, or perhaps that Singapore was coming here. The language barrier didn’t make things easy but whatever was happening, it’d take one to two weeks. Back to the snail-like Acer I went.
Two weeks later, I called them and was told I could collect the Mac, complete with yet another new logic board – this time it was absolutely fixed (apparently). With some trepidation, I took it home and fired it up. I tried to push the GPU by hammering Photoshop but all seemed well. It’s been a week now, and there have been no hassles at all, so I’m slowly getting hopeful that this logic board is going to do the job. I could download some program to beat the GPU within an inch of its life to see if it’s prone to failure but all I need this computer to do is to run properly.
Format That Sucker
One benefit of this debacle was getting the drive wiped and the OS reinstalled. When I got the 15-inch, it was hyper-quick by the standards of 2011. Over the years, it became a slug, spinning the stupid beach ball of doom all the damn time. My lady’s cheap Dell laptop of similar vintage was like a Bugatti Veyron compared to my four times more expensive Mac.
I knew I needed to redo the OS but kept putting it off because I was busy and didn’t have my software with me. Being forced to put in a fresh install of the OS has given the 15-inch a new lease on life. Holy heck, this thing is quick when it’s running properly. When I get to Australia in June, I’ll drop in an SSD drive and maybe push the RAM up to 8 or 16Gb, assuming of course that the logic board is still reliably chugging away, and that’ll take it to another level entirely.
The moral of the story? There are a few:
1. If your computer is more than a few years old, you may as well do a fresh install of the OS. Back in the Stone Ages, a PC Magazine writer named John C Dvorak suggested that it was a good idea to reinstall Windows every six months to maintain the best possible performance. That might be a bit over the top these days, but even OSX isn’t immune to years of OS updates, dozens of programs being installed and removed and the general degradation of just being in use for so long. My Mac is an entirely different beast with a clean install, your computer might be too.
2. Apple’s products aren’t the ultra-reliable bastions of extended service that Apple fanboys (i.e. the old me) make them out to be. So don’t be fooled that all the loot that you’re spending is buying you peace of mind at a hardware level. Yes the OS gets updated regularly, which is a good thing, and OSX is so much better than Microsoft’s feeble offerings but look at it this way – would I buy a new NZ$3099 MacBook Pro, or would I be better off with a couple of PC notebooks (one as a backup) and enough change in my pocket to buy an airfare to Thailand? Hmmm, is that a silly question? I can learn to love Windows, can’t I?
3. Apple could seriously learn to be more transparent, and maybe to react to extensive and outraged customer complaints in good time, perhaps before the class action suits are looming.
4. Acer can go right to hell because as hard as I try to appreciate them and be grateful for just having one available, those netbooks are and were a disgrace. I’ve used three over the years and they were all different shades of too bloody slow to be truly useful. I really have been happy to have one here (delivered to Thailand for me by family) but even running a pared down word processor and a single browser window is too hard for it – maybe a reinstall of Windows Starter (ugh) would get this one back to scratch but I’ve used two from brand new – they’re not fast no matter what happens. You sure do get to appreciate a real computer like the Mac (when it works), so that’s been a good lesson. ASHLEY KRAMER