Tag Archives: unibody

“Late 2008” unibody MacBook Pro screen flicker problem

After Apple announced the unibody MacBook Pro about a year ago, I walked into the San Francisco Apple Store that night just to “check them out”, of course, I walked out with one. I’d owned a large number of Apple products and I kindda knew getting one of the first batch of a brand new design was probably not the best idea, but the unibody construction was just too cool to pass up at the time. Plus, Apple did the right thing in the past when our “dual-USB” iBook G3 failed.

The first batch of the “Late 2008” unibody MacBook Pros, and I think MacBooks as well, have a fairly common screen flicker problem. If you google “macbook pro screen flicker” you will find a ton of information at various forums about this issue. It bothered me some, but it wasn’t really that bad. However, after upgarding to Snow Leopard, the problem got MUCH worse. So bad that I made an appointment at the Genius Bar to get it looked at. The flickering happens pretty often, and even though I am usually plugged into an external monitor and only use the MBP’s display as an “extended desktop” display, the flickers bothered the hell out of me even in my peripheral vision.

When I got to the genius bar this morning, of course the machine wasn’t flickering at all, I explained that it had been widely reported online, and told him the facts like it does not happen with the discrete video card, and only happens on the built-in display, not external monitor. The genius then said since it didn’t happen on the external display it must not be the graphics card, I was like, well, I’m not sure about that and probably wouldn’t rule out the graphics card because of that. He was being pretty helpful and offered to take the machine in and have someone research the knowledge base and see if there was a fix for it. I agreed and said I’d leave the machine there for the day and would pick it up before they close.

At around 6pm a guy from the store called, and told me that he had seen the problem before on the early unibody laptops, but there isn’t a known fix for it. He said he had submitted the information to engineering and he was hopeful that there will be some kindda fix later, and if after a couple of months there was still not one then I could bring it back and talk to a manager and see what he would be able to do for me. He said since I reported this problem now, even if I don’t get AppleCare they would still be able to take care of it after the 1-year mark. I thought that was pretty reasonable so that’s what I’ll do with that machine. (I haven’t had the best luck with genius bar or Apple products lately, btw)

After my genius appointment this morning I went and looked at the antiglare MacBook Pros, the glossy screen had always bothered me, it pretty much renders the machine unusable in a lot of conditions, and it’s pretty scary when you have to do things like edit color photos. I work from coffeeshops pretty often and the glossy screen absolutely sucks when there are windows or just when using the machine any time except at night. After thinking about it for half a day and checking out resale values of my other macs on eBay, I decided to get another 15″ with the antiglare display, and I’ll keep the glossy one around in hope for a fix later, and I’ll sell my older (10/2008 rev) MacBook Pro. That machine is in really good shape, but we just don’t need 3 macs. It’s pretty cool how the MacBook Pros got so much cheaper now, I remember my first PowerBook was close to $3k, my first MBP was $2k but I got the “lowend” version, my first unibody was $2.5k, now you can get a 17″ for under that! Pretty amazing.

Anyway, the main reason I felt like blogging about this was that while I was migrating data between machines, I found some information I can add to the screen flicker issue:

  • the screen flickered when I had the machine in Target Disk Mode, this means the problem is most likely not software related, when in TDM the OS isn’t even loaded
  • the flickering happened during Snow Leopard clean install, again, the full OS X was not loaded when I booted to the install DVD directly (by holding option key when machine starts up and choosing the DVD)

So I can pretty much eliminate any user or even OS software from plausible causes. I really hope a EFI/firmware upgrade would fix it, there might be a loose connection somewhere, but I highly doubt that. Worst case it will be a faulty graphics chipset (it’s not uncommon to have yield problems), that would require a logicboard replacement, but a few people posted that the issue remained after they had their logicboards replaced. If Apple doesn’t acknowledge this problem and come up with an official fix, a class action lawsuit for something like this is not unheard of (right? @seoulfully I’m looking at you).

In case you’re wondering, no, I have not seen any screen flicker on my new MBP. If I ever see one I will be very upset. btw, I really like the silver bezel around the matte display:

matte screen ftw