MacBook Pro Suffers from Defective NVidia Chip

If you've been following me on Twitter, you may have heard that my MacBook Pro is dead in the water. It was working fine this morning but when got to the office and opened the lid, the screen remained black. I tired a hard reboot but no matter what I did it wouldn't come back on.

After a short meeting at the office, I headed back home to see if I could restore from a backup. (My latest backup is a few weeks old, so I was really hoping the drive itself was fine.) When I got home I took the laptop apart, removed the drive, and installed it in an external USB enclosure to check if it was OK. Much to my relief, when I plugged it into a spare Mac Mini the drive showed up fine. I quickly rsync'ed the original drive with my backup drive to make sure I had an up-to-date copy. With a 320GB drive and only 6GB free, the backup took some time.

While waiting for the backup to finish, I did some research to see if anyone else had this blank screen problem. I quickly discovered that I was most definitely not alone. Thousands of people have experienced this same issue. (I vaguely remembered hearing news about this issue, but didn't pay attention.) The Apple Support article on this problem describes the symptoms:

In July 2008, NVIDIA publicly acknowledged a higher than normal failure rate for some of their graphics processors due to a packaging defect. At that same time, NVIDIA assured Apple that Mac computers with these graphics processors were not affected. However, after an Apple-led investigation, Apple has determined that some MacBook Pro computers with the NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics processor may be affected. If the NVIDIA graphics processor in your MacBook Pro has failed, or fails within two years of the original date of purchase, a repair will be done free of charge, even if your MacBook Pro is out of warranty.

So I brought the laptop to the local Apple store and, after running some tests, the technician confirmed the problem was indeed the NVidia chipset. My MBP is 6 months past the 1 year warranty, which means only 6 months remain before Apple would make me pay $1,200+ for this repair. I'm just happy it happened sooner rather than later and that I don't have to pay a dime, even if it does mean trying to survive without it for a few days.

Boston FU: Retractable Earbud Hack

The first Boston Freehacker's Union meeting was tonight at Trident Cafe. FU rule #3 states,

Everyone who attends has to eventually show something they did. Not something someone else did. This is your time to give a performance, not to teach people how to use something so you get a book deal.

I didn't really have anything to show, but I wanted to show something. Tangled earbuds are one of the things that have been bugging me for, literally, years. (I prefer real headphones, but sometimes size matters.)

Every time I take the earbuds out of my bag, they're all tangled and I have to spend 30 seconds or so untangling them. I wanted something like the retractable cables in my Belkin 7-in-1 Retractable Cable Travel Pack, but for my Apple earbuds. Well, here's my 30 minute retractable earbud hack:

Retractable Earbud Hack

The most interesting part about this hack was what I learned about the locking mechanism. The recoil system was very simple; a twisted metal coil that increases tension as it is twisted. However, as you pull the wire out of the coil, something stops the device from retracting.

Retractable Earbud Hack - Ball Bearing Track

That something turned out to be a tiny metal ball bearing, sitting inside the funny looking track on top of the spinning center coil. The single straight track on the top stationary cover sandwiches the ball bearing inside the track and keeps the ball bearing in place. I actually lost the ball bearing twice and ended up taking apart all three of the retractable cables that came with the Belkin kit.

There's definitely lots of room for improvement. A removable retractable device would be much nicer and the size and weight is also an issue. The guys I met at the FU meeting seemed to like it and I'm definitely going to keep using it whenever I use the earbuds. I'll add any further observations to the bottom of this post.

PowerBook G4 vs MacBook Pro

First of all, this isn't so much a review as it is a very simple comparison. My old PowerBook G4 laptop was nice -- even with only a 1.5ghz PowerPC processor it was quite snappy once it managed to get past the startup process. I'm sure the 1280MB RAM helped with the speed though, as Mac's seem to benefit a lot from extra memory.

My new MacBook Pro is blazing fast, and bumping the RAM to 4GB really made it fly. Now my laptop has 4x more memory, a much better CPU, and a much better graphics card than my desktop! I'm starting to wonder why I even have a desktop...

Despite their huge differences under the hood, these two laptops looked very similar side by side (the MacBook Pro is on the right):

Although almost everything else is smaller on the MacBook Pro, the battery and power supply are much bigger. Thankfully, the new MacBook Pro's don't seem to suffer from the annoying warped/bowed lid, as is partially visible on the picture up top (PowerBook is on the left).

I sold the PowerBook to my brothers' girlfriend and I'm writing most of this review from memory. Because of this I'm unable to honestly compare things like weight and differences between the keyboard/trackpad. But I can tell you one thing for sure: At the price you can pick up a used PowerBook for (dirt cheap), they're nice little laptops.

The PowerBook is as stable as any Mac and it's great for doing basic things. If you're a techie who needs a cheap but elegant *nix based system or if you're just wanting to explore the world of OS X, a used PowerBook is a great way to go. Keep in mind though, if it doesn't have an Intel processor (the PowerBooks have G4 PowerPC processors) you won't be able to run Microsoft Windows using VMWare or Parallels.

Logitech VX Nano Wireless Mouse

$70 @ MicroCenter

Pros: Small portable mouse with a tiny receiver that doesn't get in the way. The receiver has a storage spot underneath the battery cover of the mouse which is also really nice. It's a laser mouse, not optical, so it can be used on practically any surface. The mouse wheel can switch from smooth (faster scrolling speed) to the more common click type. To switch between the two types, you press down on the wheel (what would normally be a middle click). It has a very comfortable shape that helps fool your hand into believing you're using a bigger mouse (even if only temporarily). The two little buttons near the left mouse button didn't get in the way at all.

Cons: Due to its size, the mouse started cramping my hand after gaming with it for a few hours. Since I bought this mouse specifically for gaming with my laptop, that was a deal breaker and I had to return it. Also, the wheel doesn't have a middle click. The little button above the wheel is your middle click button, which is just annoying.

Bottom Line: Great little mouse, but too small for gaming. Lack of a middle click using the wheel, and the hefty price tag, make other mice seem more attractive.

Independent Thoughts
Trend of using pda is increasing day by day, especially if we talk about pdas come with navigation system. Now days it is very convenient to get pda accessories like pda battery, as these accessories are available online as well. A large variety of pda keyboard is also available online. If you want to protect your new pda from scratches and shocks, go ahead and look for cool pda cases.

Cold MacBook Pro

I'm always afraid to use my laptop when it's cold. I always fear that condensation will develop inside the laptop and short circuit something. It hasn't happened yet.

According to Apple, the MacBook Pro has the following specs:

Operating temperature: 50° to 95° F (10° to 35° C)
Storage temperature: -13° to 113° F (-24° to 45° C)
Relative humidity: 0% to 90% noncondensing

I wonder what the storage temperature range is for a hibernating MacBook Pro, since I always leave it sleeping.

My MacBook Pro

Last update: 2011-12-13

Raam's MacBook Pro Specifications

Operating System
Mac OS X v10.4 Tiger

Motherboard and CPU
2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4MB on-chip shared L2 cache running 1:1 with processor speed

2GB 4GB of PC2-5300 (667MHz) DDR2 memory; two SO-DIMM slots support up to 4GB

800MHz frontside bus

60-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery (with integrated charge indicator LEDs) providing up to 6 hours of battery life

Built-in 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector)

Built-in AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi wireless networking (based on an IEEE 802.11n draft specification); IEEE 802.11a/b/g compatible

15.4-inch (diagonal) TFT LED backlit display with support for millions of colors; glossy widescreen version

NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics processor with dual-link DVI support, 256MB of GDDR3 SDRAM

Dual display and video mirroring: Simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display and up to 2560x1600 pixels on an external display, both at millions of colors

DVI output port

VGA output using included DVI to VGA adapter

Built-in iSight camera

160GB 5400-rpm Serial ATA hard drive

8x slot-loading SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)

When work offered to buy me a new laptop, I had the option of getting a Mac or a PC. My co-worker had recently switched from a Windows-based laptop to a new MacBook Pro and although I already had a PowerBook G4, something urged me to opt for a new Mac. There were a couple of things driving my decision, namely the fact that Apple switched to Intel CPU's (instead of PowerPC) and NVidia Video controller's (instead of ATI). I'm a strong follower of Intel and NVidia, so having both packaged together with a Unix-based operating system was a hard thing to pass up.

It was arguably the best computing decision I've ever made.

I purchased an older PowerBook G4 from a friend a few years ago specifically to become more familiar with the OS X operating system. More and more people were beginning to ask me for help with OS X issues and since I had basically no experience with OS X, I wasn't very much help. The PowerBook was nice, but it still left me hanging when I really needed to use Windows. When Apple switched to Intel CPU's, everything changed.

Windows XP on Mac OS X

Now I can use VMWare Fusion to run Windows XP on my Mac while I'm running OS X. I can seamlessly switch between the two -- it's like having two computers in front of me. Files can be dragged between the OS X and Windows XP, with VMWare automatically handling the transfer between operating systems.

With BootCamp, I created a separate partition on my hard drive, inserted the Windows XP CD, rebooted the MacBook, and the Windows XP installation started as if I was installing on any other computer. Now I can hold down the 'Option' button on my keyboard during boot-up and select the Windows partition to boot my computer right into Windows -- OS X never even starts and Windows has full system resources, including full control of the NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT video controller, which allows for GAMING!

Gaming on the MacBook is not only possible, it's better than any other solution!

The excitement that followed my discovery of how well gaming works on my Mac is what finally drove me to finish writing this post. With BootCamp, Windows is given full system resources. This means you're running a Windows machine with an Intel 2.4ghz Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT video card with 256MB of GDDR3 SDRAM. And yes, any game you install won't know the difference between your Mac and your desktop PC gaming rig!

OK, so you probably think my excitement is a little overdone. I've been looking for a good balance between stability, performance, and entertainment for a long time. With a MacBook, you can setup a partition for Windows and install your games on that partition (Update 2007-11-28: Due to the large space requirements for some games (World In Conflict requires 8gb!), I've started installing games on an external USB 2.0 drive. They still run awesome!). Then for general use, including work, you'll boot into OS X and feel safe and secure about your game-free environment (and less distracted!). When you're ready for some entertainment, simply reboot into Windows XP and start your favorite game.

I believe this separation makes gaming on the MacBook better than any other solution. I have played two of Valve's new games (Portal and Team Fortress 2) and they run awesome. Here are some other games that are known to work (there are bigger lists, but I'm trying to save space):

* Age of Empires III (1440x900)
* America's Army 2.6 (1440x900) (1680x1050)
* Battlefield 2 (small artifacting)
* Battlefield 2: Euro Force (small artifacting)
* Call of Duty 2 (1440x900) (1680x1050)
* Civilization IV (1440x900)
* Counter-Strike: Source (1440x900)
* Doom 3 (Enter this into the console: r_mode -1 r_customwidth 1680 r_customheight 1050 vid_restart. This will enable 1680x1050 resolution. Replace with 1440 and 900 to enable 1440x900 resolution)
* F.E.A.R. (1440x900)
* Far Cry (1440x900)
* Flight Simulator 2000
* Flight Sim 2004 - Century of Flight
* Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (1440x900)
* Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
* Half-Life 2 (1440x900)
* Portal
* Team Fortress 2
* Quake 3
* Quake 4 (1440x900 and 1680x1050)
* Return to Castle Wolfenstein
* Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
* Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
* UT2004
* World of Warcraft (1440x900)

For a long time, my thought-process was "Linux is good for servers, Windows is good for gaming and general use, and OS X is good for video and graphics design artists". I've been using my MacBook Pro for a couple of months now and my thought-process has changed to "Linux is good for servers, Windows is good for gaming, and OS X is good for everything else including general use".

Screenshot 2007-10-31

A list of some applications I've installed:

Firefox or Chrome (web browser)
Thunderbird or GMail (email)
Cyberduck (FTP, SFTP, etc.)
iTerm (an awesome tabbed terminal I use)
OpenOffice (Office for Mac)
GeekTool (used to add stuff to your desktop, such as the IP info and server monitoring in my screenshot, very cool!)
Quicksilver (application launcher, and more!)
XCode (from Mac OS X Install Disc 1)
Fink (Debian package management tools)
wget, rsync (using Fink)
VMWare Fusion (for Windows XP, Linux, whatever!)
Macromedia Dreamweaver 8 (Web design, *cough* BitTorrent)
Eclipse (programming IDE)
TextWrangler (I recently switched to TextMate) (nice quick code editor)
VLC (video/media player)
Skype (Chat, Phone, SMS, Video Conference)
Transmission (BitTorrent client)
Adobe Photoshop CS3 (photo editing on your Mac, *cough* BitTorrent)
Audacity (lightweight audio editor)
Witch (awesome application switcher)
InsomniaX (used to prevent MacBook from sleeping when I close the lid)
USB Overdrive (a must have if you use an external USB mouse!)

Some tips and other things I've done:

Added set term=linux to my ~/.exrc file to fix the Usage: [[ problem when using arrow keys in vim with iTerm (thanks Isaac)

Changed my OS X Hostname to eris (thanks bcrow):
sudo scutil --set HostName eris

Replaced the default OS X Command+Tab application switcher with Witch.

Changed the default Utility Lock background to this picture with this quote as my password prompt: "Linux is what you get when a bunch of PC hackers try to port UNIX to the PC. BSD is what you get when a bunch of UNIX hackers try to port UNIX to the PC."

BSD Ascii

There are lots of good post-installation tips here too.

And here is a good list of apps on LifeHacker.

The Model M Keyboard

I bought a couple of Model M keyboards on eBay a few years ago, however I haven't been using them simply because they are very loud! Now that I'm living in the basement, alone, in Cambridge, the loud noise isn't an issue. I actually like the fact that I can clearly hear an audible response for each and every key that I press. It also sounds pretty cool when I'm typing fast and all you hear is non-stop clicking. 🙂

My specific model is rather rare and hard to find -- one of the original keyboards, part number 1391401. I'm a huge fan of durable things so it's awesome to be typing on a keyboard that was made when computers, like the one I'm using right now, cost over $1,000,000 (if they even existed). How's that for cool!

Sony Ericsson GC89 Network Card & T-Mobile GPRS

Now that I have a new apartment in Cambridge, I obviously need Internet access. I figured I would be able to find an open wireless network, however there were only two networks accessible and both were protected with WEP encryption. I could set my laptop up, let it sniff the WEP keys, and crack the encryption, but that would be a short term solution. My friend Sarith suggested I look into a T-Mobile GRPS network card, the Sony Ericsson GC89.

The service plan costs $50 per month for unlimited data, and the card itself is $200, unless you sign a 2-year contract at which point they will drop the price to $150. I decided that it's going to cost me $50 per month for DSL or Cable Internet, so why not get a mobile solution that would allow me to take my Internet connection with me if I have to travel. Additionally, the data plan comes with unlimited use of T-Mobile WiFi hotspots, like the ones in Starbucks.

T-Mobile also offers a $30 a month plan for customers that already have a T-Mobile phone. I switched to T-Mobile a few months ago, so I figured this would work perfectly. It costs me $30 per month for a network card that gives me Internet connectivity and I can bring the Internet connection wherever I want; even outside in the middle of a field. But as usual, I knew it was too good to be true. I learned from one of the T-Mobile rep's that when you purchase the add-on Internet plan, you have to take the SIM card out of your phone and place it in the network card whenever you want to use it. This means that you cannot use your phone and the network card at the same time. What's the point of that!?

David suggested that I may be able to clone my SIM card and get both working at the same time, but after a little research on Google, I learned that T-Mobile SIM cards are very difficult to clone because they have hidden areas which are encrypted and usually not readable by standard SIM card readers. In addition, having two GRPS devices (Blackberry and Network Card) attempting to connect to the same GPRS network at the same time with the same SIM information, would simply cause neither to register on the network.

So I decided to go purchase the network card, and the $50 data plan. Last night I brought the card home and spent a few hours testing it.

The case they provide for the network card is nice, but it doesn't feel very strong. Under heavy use it would probably crush quite easily.

I first attempted to install the network card on my Mac PowerBook using the Mobile HighSpeed application for OSX. After 15 minutes I couldn't get it working. I then installed the CD on my Thinkpad T41. The software warned me that my existing WiFi software (IBM Connections and related WiFi stuff) would possibly conflict with T-Mobile Connection Manager. It gave me the option of fixing the problem or leaving it alone. I choose to leave it alone, because I still want to use the builtin WiFi on my laptop.

The software installation was a breeze. When prompted, I inserted the network card and watched as several drivers were installed. A minute later I was online. I swapped out the SIM card and put the SIM card from my Blackberry in the network card. I assumed it would work, since the Blackberry uses the same GPRS network. However, when authenticating I received this error: Error 679: The system could not detect the carrier. I googled the error, tried renaming a file as suggested on a forum, and then inserted the SIM from my Blackberry again. This time I got another error: Error 734: The PPP link control protocol was terminated. I tried a couple of other things suggested on forums, such as connecting to the T-Mobile VPN instead of just GRPS, but nothing seemed to work. I eventually gave up and concluded that T-Mobile must be tying the SIM ID and the IMEI of the network card together, and only allowing that pair to connect.

I first tried browsing without the antenna, since my GRPS Blackberry had 75% signal strength. I went straight to Heres what I got on the first run:

Download Speed: 37 kbps (4.6 KB/sec transfer rate)
Upload Speed: 24 kbps (3 KB/sec transfer rate)

That's bad. So I plugged in the antenna and watched the signal strength jump to about 50%. I ran the speed test again and this time got much better results:

Download Speed: 191 kbps (23.9 KB/sec transfer rate)
Upload Speed: 74 kbps (9.2 KB/sec transfer rate)

Keep in mind I was doing all this from the basement, so I never got full signal strength. Whenever the signal dropped to one or two bars, the connection seemed to slow down considerably, to 56k Dialup speeds. But when the signal hit 3 or 4 bars (50% - 70%) browsing the web felt almost like broadband. I concluded that the speed changed in direct relation to the signal strength.

However, the next morning I tried using the card from my office. I had 3 or 4 bars of signal strength, and here's what the speed test returned:

Download Speed: 30 kbps (3.9 KB/sec transfer rate)
Upload Speed: 15 kbps (2.1 KB/sec transfer rate)

So maybe it has nothing to do with the signal strength, or maybe its a combination of signal strength and current network traffic. I'm sure the GRPS network is a lot more busy in the morning on a weekday, than it is at 2am in the morning. When I plugged my laptop into the docking station at work and started browsing the web at real broadband speeds, I knew it would be very difficult to deal with the fluctuating connectivity speeds of the GRPS card on a daily basis.

Last night I found out that Aerva is going to need extra space for a big upcoming deployment, so I offered the use of my nearly empty apartment. A good Internet connection will be crucial, so I called Comcast and setup an appointment to have them install cable Internet service in the apartment. Surprisingly, its actually $2 cheaper if I bundle the cable Internet with cable TV; about $55 a month (as opposed to $57 a month with cable Internet only). Even more suprising is the fact that they were able to schedule someone to come out today. So I should have broadband Internet at home tonight.

I have 14 days to return the T-Mobile network card, and I'm almost positive that's what I'm going to do. The GPRS card is nice to have, but as my primary Internet connection it simply won't work.

Update: Be sure to check out my review of the Sprint EX720 EV-DO ExpressCard. Comparing the GPRS network to the EV-DO network is like comparing a snail to an F-14 fighter jet.

Independent Thoughts
Cell phone industry grew very rapidly with in couple of years. Due to high demand of cell phones, a large variety is available in market. In this competitive market nextel cell phones are still struggling to get position among the highly demanding brands. While on the other hand motorola mobile phone is rocking in market because of their high tech functions and variety in models.

A Free Mac Mini and Bad 3rd Party Memory

I now have two Mac mini's sitting on my desk. David (at Aerva) gave me the broken Mac mini that was sitting in the office unused. Here are the specs:

  • Mac mini G4 1.25ghz
  • 1GB RAM
  • 40GB HD
  • ATI Radeon 9200 32MB graphics card

I brought it home, turned it on, and sure enough it wouldn't boot. So I went to MacEdge in Nashua, NH and gave it to them for repair, only to have the problem incorrectly diagnosed as bad 3rd party memory; or so I thought. Here's the letter I wrote to the Mac technician the second time I brought the computer in:

Dear Mac Technician:

I originally brought this Mac mini in for repair because it would not boot. I have the care plan on it, so I should be covered for another 2 years (purchased in Jun of 2005). A few days ago, a Mac tech called and informed me the problem was bad 3rd party memory. This being the case, it was not covered under warranty. So the Mac tech reinstalled the software, stuck the old memory back in the Mac and I paid $75 when I picked it up.

When I arrived home, I plugged the Mac in, fully expecting it not to work. However, it booted with the new software, asked for my registration information, and finally booted into the OS. I was then prompted to download updates, which I did, and then went to bed.

The next morning the Mac mini was still running. It had finished installing updates and asked me to reboot, so I did. After rebooting however, I received the following message:

“You need to restart your computer. Hold down the Power button for several seconds of press the Restart button.”

I tried both warm and cold boots, and still receive that same message. I have another Mac mini (also a G4 but 1.42ghz instead of the 1.2ghz ) which has been running flawlessly since I purchased it over a year ago. I removed the RAM from the broken Mac mini and put it in my original working Mac mini. It booted fine. I tried restarting it, installing updates, and using the software, and it works perfectly. Keep in mind this is while using the “bad 3rd party memory”.

Puzzled, I took the RAM from my original Mac and put it in the broken one. After booting, I received the same message asking me to restart.

So it appears as though the problem is not bad 3rd party memory, but rather another issue, possibly a bad motherboard, which would be covered by the care plan.

Raam Dev


The second time I brought in the computer, it did not have the "bad 3rd party memory", it had my known good memory inside. About a week later, I picked up the Mac mini again and the tech's notes said that there was nothing wrong with the computer. He reinstalled the software, rebooted several times, left it running for over 48 hours, ran a couple of CPU and memory intensive applications, and never once did anything go wrong. Luckily, I did not have to pay anything the second time, since they did not discover any problem.

The tech's notes also gave me a very helpful clue: He said that installing the OS with bad memory could corrupt the Kernel of the OS. That means that replacing the bad memory with working memory would not fix the problem because the kernel itself is corrupt. So I concluded that I should be OK to use the memory, as long as I don't install the OS using that memory.

I tested my theory by attempting to upgrade my original Mac mini (1.42ghz) from Panther to Tiger, using the Tiger upgrade CD I accidentally found in my Mac mini box yesterday and the "bad" memory. Sure enough, I couldn't even get the install to start. It kept giving me weird errors and would not allow me to proceed with the upgrade. As soon as I took out the bad memory and added my original memory, the install worked flawlessly.

I'm a bit nervous using the "bad" memory in my other working system, only because I don't feel confident that it will continue working forever. The system could one day decide to crash out of the blue. Since I don't use the Mac mini for anything besides becoming familiar with the OS, this shouldn't be a problem. However, I do plan to use my other Mac mini (the slower 1.25ghz one) as a Debian Linux server, so I'll have to make sure it has the good memory inside.

Review: Belkin Wireless PDA Keyboard

I wrote this review awhile ago, when I was trying several differnet PDA's and attempting to choose between a PDA and a smart phone. I finally decided on a smart phone (a Blackberry 7520 from Nextel (now Sprint)). The Blackberry is awesome. Now that I think of it, maybe I'll get around to writing a review for it. Anyway, enjoy the review. Continue reading