Little utility rescues a MacBook Pro with failing video

Little utility rescues a MacBook Pro with failing video

Summary: A small, donation-ware utility written to let MacBook Pro users monitor how their video cards can affect battery life can serve a dual purpose: rescue a laptop with an erratic video card.

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My Early 2011 MacBook Pro has been having some video issues. Bad ones. Black bars, fuzzy and shaking images, crazy resolutions. These are all the signs of a failing video card. But the symptoms didn't happen all the time, the machine would be solid one moment and then bonkers then next.

What is happening is the sign of a feature in action: automatic graphics switching between video subsystems. Most MacBook Pros since 2010 sport two GPUs: the integrated Intel video and the discrete GPU.  The switching technology examines the framework of the application being called upon and whether its performance will be improved by using the higher-performing GPU, then the system will switch to the better one for the document, app and content task at hand. 

Little utility rescues a MacBook Pro with failing video

Of course, this can mean a strain on battery life: The more-powerful GPU consumes more power. Apple admits this in a Support Note, since the switch may not reverse itself if the graphics programs are kept open.

On Mac computers that support automatic graphics switching between two graphics processors, some software using OpenGL technology may engage the discrete, higher performance graphics automatically. For best battery performance, consider quitting OpenGL-based applications when you finish using them.

However, an Ars Technica article about improving battery performance on Retina MacBook Pros, warns that many applications may call upon the better GPU. Some are not so obvious, even to the knowledgeable user.

But running the discrete GPU also consumes considerably more power. And seemingly innocuous apps, including Twitter, Reeder, Transmit, PathFinder, Skype, Delicious Library, Drive Genius, and NetNewsWire, among others, could cause the discrete GPU to power on and run as long as they are open. So instead of 7 hours of continuous operation, the Retina MacBook Pro running any of these apps might instead only last 6 to 6.5 hours under similar conditions.

Enter Cody Krieger and his gfxCardStatus application. It pops a Menu Bar icon that displays the status of the GPU being used: "I" for the integrated GPU and "D" for the discrete GPU. It's useful information.

But how does this help me with my MacBook Pro's problematic discrete GPU? After I mentioned my situation at the recent BMUGWest user group meeting, http://bmugwest.com moderator Lorca Hanns pointed out that there was another side to gfxCardStatus — it lets users force the more battery-friendly graphics GPU and disallows automatic switching. This lets me avoid the problem GPU altogether. This setting can only be invoked when there aren't any discrete GPU-dependent apps running.

I note a potential automatic graphics switching bug reported on Will Wiriawan's Portfoliography blog. It appears to affect the color lookup table.

There seems to be a little bug that affects a small number of MacBook Pro (with dual graphic card) machines; the display would turn blueish when the discreet graphic is in use by way of the Automatic Graphic Switching.

Wiriawan points to a fix. However, it also may be fixed with Krieger's little app.

Topics: Apple, Laptops, Operating Systems, Software Development

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12 comments
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  • Tip for all laptop users

    Clean the hidden dust that is hindering your laptop cooling. Check out the picture of dust that built up after only 3 years.
    http://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Laptop_dust.jpg

    And this laptop after only 2.5 years
    http://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Laptop_overheating_due_to_dust-clogged_internal_heatsinks_in_2.5_year_old_laptop.jpg

    Gl
    John238
  • Unable to use gfxCardStatus

    If the problem with the discrete GPU is not intermittent, then the computer doesn't finish booting, and gfxCardStatus cannot be used :-(
    ttrtilley
  • Many others have this problem

    David - thanks for the article. You appear to the victim of an issue that is plaguing many early 2011 macbook owners. The discrete GPUs are failing in large numbers of these machines. The problem appears to be occurring because the soldering on the chip is breaking possibly due to overheating. The sheer number of laptops that are failing suggests a systemic design or manufacturing flaw. These are $2k+ laptops that are lasting less than 2 years in some cases.

    Apple is trying to ignore the problem and their only consistent suggestion is that users replace their logic boards at a cost of many hundreds of $ or even more if you live outside the US. Almost the cost of buying new low end MBP.

    The solution you suggest is well know amongst those suffering from this problem, but is only a work around as the GPU still doesn't work which for many users make their MacBooks worthless.

    This 140 page (and rapidly growing) thread on Apple's own site shows the scale of the problem.
    https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4766577?start=0&tstart=0

    User action groups are forming around sites that Apple doesn't censor (such as http://www.mbp2011.com) and class action legal action is appearing increasingly likely. I think there is an interesting story here for ZD net on how Apple really treats the customers of its high end equipment.
    anduk2
    • Apple has a demonstrated history

      of replacing and repairing manufacturing defects well outside of warranty. Don't make the mistake of thinking two people with a bullhorn equals a huge crowd.
      baggins_z
  • somethings wrong here..

    Given that he's a journalist I'm sure he's done the research and not only know this issue is much bigger than the "small group" of users mentioned in that ridiculous link but he knows that gfxcardstatus only buy u time before total failure of the graphics card. He also knows that Apple has been ignoring this problem..it's only plausible that this journalist is a paid Apple..nice try Apple having the fraud try to play down this very serious issue. The above mentioned thread has over 150K view, more than 140 pages long..it's good to know that the wheels are in motion to hold Apple legal accountable for this. Trying to charge Premium prices for sub prime products is a no no Apple. The numbers are behind us and Apple will compensate us it's just a shame that we have force them to..
    odarellmc
  • This is a widespread issue affecting many MacBook Pros from 2011

    I can only assume David Morgenstern is a real journalist and wants to expose the truth. David, if you really “deliver critical news and penetrating analysis” as your bio indicates then you must investigate this story. We are not two with a bullhorn. We are thousands and all of our machines have been effected in the same way. You have to ask yourself why would your video card fail after only two years? And why would so many others?

    An authorized repair technician posted (on the thread mentioned above) that he has “seen 40 of these cases from as far as a year or so back, 1-3 cases trickling in every week” and that Apple asked him to provide data on these machines (https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4766577?start=1890&tstart=0).

    If you have seen Apple’s evolution over the years you would know that there were many authorized repair technicians before Apple began opening their own stores. In many countries there are no Apple stores and only authorized repair technicians. They are seeing a number of cases of failed graphics cards of 2011 models and more and more each week.

    So David, could this all be purely coincidence?? If you think so then I would agree with the person above that you are not a real journalist. But if you have even a little bit of doubt please investigate this issue that has effected all of us and that Apple will not acknowledge.
    sillykittysk
  • "…a strain on battery life."???

    As a 20+ year Mac devotee, I've gotten to know you David through your writings. Highly respected, to say the least. I'm afraid, however, that you've really missed the point on this one.

    Many, I am sure, are thankful that you have pointed out the graphics problem you have and undoubtedly continue to experience. A writer of your stature is important for those of us who wish to see Apple respond responsibly to a serious issue affecting so many people after such a short period of time. But after pointing the issue out by acknowledging "My Early 2011 MacBook Pro has been having some video issues. Bad ones.", you then take your experience to the horrible, 'stop-the-presses' issue of 'battery life'??? OMG, continuing to use discrete graphics might lessen battery life by 1/2 to 1 whole hour!!!

    Meanwhile, by using gfxCardStatus, I cannot use my external monitor, have had my MBP go bonkers in the middle of 3 important client presentations (so far) that were hooked up to a TV for projection when I HAD to use discrete graphics (costing me several $$$ in the end and untold # of hours searching for preemptive workarounds and temporary 'fixes', including using gfxCardStatus), and am now stuck with a totally unreliable machine that can (and does) go dark unpredictably. And I feel like I'm one of the 'lucky' ones as others' machines have essentially been turned into expensive paperweights.

    The REAL story here isn't about battery life…it's about Apple's inexplicable unresponsiveness in the face of hundreds (maybe thousands) of complaints over 142 pages…and those are only those who've reported their problem. (A ballpark guesstimate is that for every complaint verbalized, there are 50 others who have the same complaint that is not verbalized.) You, David, deserve some kind of 'fix' as well as everyone else who's paid thousands of $ for a machine which has lasted roughly 2 years before requiring disposal.
    ctnovice
  • Here we go again!

    Why do those who insist on making commentary, either as article writers or as comment responders, consistently refuse to address the primary issue? Could it be that that issue has been and continues to be suppressed by all powers that be, regardless of status as public or private being?

    The issue truly is not with the GPU directly nor is it with the software, again directly.

    The issue lies in the suppressed subject of the codec the video viewed is COmpressed/DECompressed with and no amount of exogenous fixes will remedy that. What Apple and the other MPEG-LA users (H.264) are experiencing is nothing short of poetic justice being delivered for their crimes of market manipulation.

    Regulatory and enforcement bodies, both public and private, have been actively involved in that cover-up going back to 2004. But the trail has already been captured, the guilty parties are known and in the relatively near future justice will be served--in full measure!
    As A. C. Doyle's character was oft known to say, "Every contact leaves a trace" so too in the market, "Every trade leaves a trail."

    The one thing that cannot be changed is the past. The perpetrators will be held accountable and their victims will be heard.

    Period.

    SPLF
    spixleatedlifeform
    • And you are wrong again!

      "The issue truly is not with the GPU directly nor is it with the software, again directly."

      The ONLY issue IS the GPU FAILING. Well, not the gpu itself but a bad solder alloy or soldering process.
      I'm not guessing, I do repair them.
      Worked in the pcb industrie, designed pcbs and did quality control in that industry in the past.
      One of the things I do now is rework (repair) these buggers.

      Over 300 pages of problems, all gpu related:
      https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4766577?start=2130&tstart=0
      https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2768351?start=2175&tstart=0
      https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4637833?start=210&tstart=0

      And you still think it's a codec problem?

      You are totally wrong!

      Period !!!
      D3us
  • help us!

    There is an on-line petition for an Apple recall / replacement for free. Here are the links:

    - Short: http://bit.ly/mbpe2011petition
    - Full: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Apple_Inc_Macbook_Pro_15_17_Early_2011_Replacement_Program

    Share, please.

    Thanks.
    lucas2104
  • SEC and potential fraud

    Disgruntled users should contact the SEC requesting a full investigation into:

    1. Apple suggested a solution that cost upwards of $700 knowlingly that it would not work.
    2. Apple has known about this widespread design or mfg'ing flaw for nearly 3 years infecting potentially 1.8 millon macbook pro's.
    3. Apple has intentionally done little or nothing to cure the problem.
    4. Apple's cash reserves are reportedly over $100 BILLION dollars.
    5. Somebody at Apple's executive management and/or board of directors level intentionallly either created and/or approved of thsi do nothing strategy and/or extract even more monies from its already damaged user base.

    All of which can equate to fraud and subsequent prosecution.
    Stehno
  • We are all having issue now....

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/2011mbp/
    saigonizer