Update 9/6/2013 6:00PM: I visited the Annapolis Genius Bar again this afternoon to pick up my laptop and speak with the technicians about the testing and diagnosis. After extensive discussion, they agreed to ship my laptop off for repair at an Apple depot facility at a reduced cost. I am very grateful for their understanding and hope that this repair restores full functionality to my 2011 MacBook Pro – it’s a great computer and I look forward to getting a few more years of use out of it. I’ll update again when I have something new to report.
Dear Mr. Cook,
I am writing to follow up on my email on June 29 regarding persistent issues with graphics processing on early 2011 MacBook Pros, to which I have received no reply. My early 2011 15″ 2.0 GHz MacBook Pro has been suffering from graphics-related issues since May 2013. Even though I have already spent over $500 on repairs, these problems have not yet been resolved and I am being asked again to spend hundreds of dollars on yet another repair. The laptop is still within the 90-day warranty from the last round of repairs, so any additional repairs should be covered under this warranty until the original issues have been resolved.
My laptop was purchased in June 2011 and was a very reliable computer until this spring. Suddenly it would freeze up and crash at random and inopportune times – such as at boot, during video playback, or when effects were activated in Photo Booth. The Genius Bar in Danbury, CT, repaired it on June 3, 2013, at a cost of $526.50 for a replacement logic board and labor. It was immediately apparent that this hadn’t resolved the problem, as it began freezing once again after it came back home. It went back to the Danbury Genius Bar on June 7, where the logic board was replaced again at no cost, and a few days later it came home again and initially seemed to be fine.
The graphics freezes took a few weeks to reappear this time, but they were back and worse than ever – I could only get the machine to boot about 50% of the time, and it froze and crashed when I ran programs that were graphics-intensive. I wiped my hard drive and restored everything from the RAM to the OS to the original settings, hoping to also restore the functionality to the level I’d experienced for nearly two years prior to the onset of the issues. Nothing helped.
I turned to the Apple Support Communities for advice, and that’s when I discovered I was far from alone – at least three threads on the site document the experiences of hundreds of users (from 2011 to present) with similar graphics freezes on their early 2011 MacBook Pros:
I ran through the troubleshooting that other users suggested, and it became increasingly apparent that the issues were only appearing at times when the computer fired up the discrete GPU, the AMD Radeon HD 6490M chip. If I ran the program gfxCardStatus and disabled the chip, my freezes and crashes magically ceased. I attempted to make that fix more persistent by disabling the kernel extension that controls that AMD GPU, and this also prevented the graphics issues from occurring. Unfortunately, this also limited the functionality of the computer in several ways, as it is designed to run with both GPUs and many programs and features (such as proper operation of the FaceTime camera, or the laptop’s sleep mode) were affected by the unavailability of both GPU chips. I restored the system settings and the problems immediately returned when the discrete GPU was activated once again. It was also possible to operate the computer without any issues if it was booted in Safe Mode (where the discrete GPU was also disabled), but that also compromises the functionality of the machine and provides no long-term solution.
Seeing no other alternative, I brought the laptop to the Genius Bar in Annapolis, MD, on August 31, 2013 in order to have it serviced again before the 90-day repair warranty runs out from my June logic board replacements. I explained the history of these issues, repairs, and troubleshooting that I’d done. One of the most frustrating things about this situation is that the freezes and crashes are somewhat unpredictable and hard to duplicate – sometimes the laptop will boot perfectly 10 times in a row, and then fail to boot 10 times in a row. Sometimes Photo Booth or FaceTime runs perfectly for a week, and then crashes the computer consistently for a week. So it has also been difficult to produce the breadth of freezes and crashes (and all of the amazing striped, jagged, and colorful screens that come with them) when the laptop is at the Genius Bar. But they quickly saw that it booted to a blue striped screen when they tried to run their diagnostic program, and accepted the laptop for service with a quote for a $0 logic board replacement (my third one) covered by the warranty from my previous repairs.
I received a call from the Annapolis Genius Bar today about the status of my latest repair. Due to the sporadic, unpredictable, and GPU-specific nature of the problems, the techs had been unable to reproduce the graphics issues during their more extensive testing. They didn’t find anything wrong with the logic board or GPU in their diagnostics (nor did the Danbury techs seem to find any detectable issues prior to the previous logic board replacements), so they refused to replace the logic board again under warranty. Instead, they claimed that a subtle external dent near my hard drive (which occurred many months before the problems began or the original repairs were done) could have affected the hard drive and caused the graphics problems. The techs “confirmed” this diagnosis by booting successfully a few times off of another hard drive. They quoted me $541 to $841 to send the laptop out for repair, ostensibly to replace the hard drive and dented case (but not the logic board).
This diagnosis is completely inconsistent with the symptoms that I have experienced and the extensive troubleshooting that I did prior to bringing my laptop back to the Genius Bar. At the time of drop-off, the tech who initially examined my laptop pulled up the SMART status of my hard drive and confirmed that it was in excellent condition with no errors. The laptop has had crashes and freezes regardless of what media I’ve booted from – during troubleshooting, I booted from both the internal drive and the hard drive from my 2010 MacBook Pro. I experienced crashes when running the laptop from either drive, which definitively disproves the notion that replacing the hard drive will fix the problems. Due to the unpredictable and usage-specific onset of these freezes and crashes, it would also take more long-term and in-depth stress testing of the machine to determine whether any specific measure (such as replacing the hard drive) actually resolved the problems permanently. They’ve disappeared for a day or two on multiple occasions, only to return with a vengeance.
In addition, it is abundantly clear from my experiences with gfxCardStatus, temporarily disabling the appropriate ATI kernel extension, and running the laptop in Safe Mode that disabling the discrete GPU resolved the problems efficiently and consistently. This experience is echoed by many other members of the Apple Support Communities who have experienced the same issues – their crashes and freezes were only resolved through replacement of their logic boards with ones whose AMD Radeon 6490M chips functioned properly.
The two logic board replacements performed back in June, at an out-of-warranty cost of $526.50 were done to remedy these issues. It is unreasonable to be asked to pay another $541 to $841 on further repairs to resolve the same issues that were not corrected by the original repairs, especially when the 90-day warranty on those original repairs is still in effect. I spoke at length with a representative of the Annapolis Genius Bar about this situation, especially about the amount already spent on repairs for the same issues, and while they were apologetic they were unwilling to offer me anything besides paying another several hundred dollars for additional repairs or taking the still-broken laptop home.
The 90-day warranty from the original repairs expires in just a few days (by my estimate it expires on September 10, but the Annapolis Genius Bar was unable to confirm this date) and I am very upset and concerned about the situation I am in. I believe firmly that this warranty should guarantee that my still-dysfunctional MacBook Pro will be repaired again at no cost to me until it is free of the problems with its logic board and GPU that the Genius Bar was paid $526.50 in June to resolve – I already paid the money, but haven’t seen the results.
As I stated in my original email to you, I have been a dedicated Apple user for over two-thirds of my life – I have used over a dozen Macs since 1990 and never been disappointed with the computers or Apple service until now. However, this experience has definitely shaken my faith in Apple’s products, repairs, and customer service.
I am writing this email in hope that Apple will honor the still-valid warranty, replace my logic board at no cost, and resolve the freezes and crashes that I am still experiencing even after spending hundreds of dollars. Please have someone on your team call me or respond to this email with information about how we can resolve this situation quickly and positively. If I do not hear back from someone at Apple by Monday, September 9, I will attempt a call to customer relations, as the warranty ends only a day or two later and I fear that my options may become far more limited at that point.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Are you having graphics problems with your early 2011 MacBook Pro? If so, please fill out this quick unofficial survey about the issues you’ve experienced. And if you haven’t already, also submit your comments via Apple’s own MacBook Pro feedback form so that your experiences are added formally to their records.