Through The Looking Glass, Or How My Great Macbook Adventure Was All Too Brief

I had heard of it before. I had even seen the wonder for myself. The 15” unibody Macbook Pro. Cut from a single piece of aluminum, ornamented with unicorn horn and cooled only by dodo tears. It was a one of a kind machine, and no other laptop in the world could compare. If I had to buy a laptop, this was the one. So I decided to follow the white rabbit and experience it for myself. As it turns out, not all was well in Wonderland.

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I bought a 15” Macbook, and for a time, it was good. The hardware was as good as they said it was. It was sturdy, nice looking, minimalistic and the details were impressively polished. Things like the the keyboard, the power adapter, the trackpad and so on, everything bore the mark of continuous tweaking, polish and iterative improvement. This was in stark contrast to most other hardware whose motto to this day can still almost be heard from the flexing and creaking of keyboards, from the bending of screens and from the unwrapping of taped-in rechargers. If you listen closely you’ll hear it chant: “good enough, good enough, good enough”. Which it isn’t.

As it sometimes is with good things, they come to an end. Not long after I had received the singularity engine, this most expensivest of dream machines, the troubles started. A freeze was coming.

Doing computer intensive things and computer un-intensive things alike, the screen would randomly freeze. Every pixel on the screen would lock their position and time itself would stop. This would happen to the eerie ambiance of the last half second of sound or music, which would repeat itself like a record skipping. This would go on until you held down the power button for 5 consecutive seconds, forcing the unibody power-station to turn off. The freezes would happen randomly, but most often when crazy multimedia was involved; multimedia such as gorgous 3D graphics flowing through the dedicated graphics card, or simply multimedia such as the web-based video of a prepubescant teenager getting kicked in the groin. But it was not the teenager that was kicked in the groin. It was me. And my wallet.

Suddenly things were propelled into perspective. Instead of splurging on a Macbook, I could have bought a used Toyota Camry 1990. Or perhaps a Dell Vostro, a Dell Studio Hybrid, a Playstation 3, Rockband and instruments. Or perhaps the collected works of Carl Barks, and an EEE PC. Or perhaps I could sponsor a child in Africa for 8 years. What had I done? I had paid more than three times what a laptop should cost, for something that didn’t work.

In all fairness, the freeze problems are probably very common in laptops. It’s probably a problem with Dells, Lenovos, Acers and all the others. There was no problem returning the system. Instead of returning the unit, I could undoubtedly have exchanged it for a new one wherein the problem didn’t appear, no questions asked. It was probably just a bad batch of Apples, probably due to bad bump material under the Nvidia GPU, which went soft after the computer temperature rose above 60° Celcius, starting the string of random freezes.

However, when you pay the price of a used car for a laptop, you expect it to be served with champagne and strawberries, not a side of headache and backups and data migrations.

During the course of my 13 days of Macbook Adventure, I scoured web forums searching for solutions. I learned that this is a huge problem experienced by, well at least hundreds of registered Apple forum posters. I heard things you wouldn’t believe. I heard horror stories of entire advertising agencies where all their 15” unibody Macbooks were bad. I heard stories of odd screetching noises and fans that either didn’t kick in, or kicked way too much in. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain. Because I returned the unit, and I’m not sure I’m getting another one.

It’s not that I didn’t like my time in Wonderland; things were indeed strange and marvelous. But I learned that Wonderland is a club, a closed circle of stone-cutters who all adhere to the belief that this hardware is the only right hardware and for a while, I was part of that circle. But I couldn’t deal with the shroud of secrecy that veiled everything, and without knowing if my real-world problems would eventually be fixed by the mothership, it was a club I couldn’t afford to be part of.

11 thoughts on “Through The Looking Glass, Or How My Great Macbook Adventure Was All Too Brief”

  1. Kirk says:

    Hello

    I am a recent mac convert and I went and purchased the 15 in Macbook Pro and fell in love and entered in geek heaven -three days later that heaven was snatched away. I took it back due to a display issue after I plugged in third party thumb drive. I think but not sure. Anyway I took it back in the Apple Store where I purchased it. They took it in the back after I described to them what happened . They came back out and told me that it was an hardware issue. and supposedly thought it was fixed . Oh no when I got back home the same thing happened and I then went back and told them what happened. Through some discussion they decided to make a exchange for a brand new one. I am glad so far it is working fine and I am back in geek heaven I bought in February so I am happy. God forbid I have to go back to PC’s yikes i am geek hell when I was dealing with some PC software. I am done with being angry with what Microsoft is doing-Some of their products are not very good hence the problems I had with crashes BSOD’s and errors abound . That was a typical day on a 7 year old Compaq laptop. Thanks for the input it is good to hear stories regarding Macbook Pro although yours was not so great and i am sorry you had a bad experience.

    Take care

    Kirk

  2. Brendan says:

    It’s funny – I recently got beaten down for asking why the Apple Macbook and Macbook Pro were so expensive. As if it’s treason to question.

    I don’t care if Cthulhu himself carved the first unibody shell from solid happiness, using a blade made from pure joy – they should be able to be held accountable to the standard they purport to provide – if they are just better than a PC, then they shouldn’t break just as easily.

    The reality, however, is that Apple continues to have QA issues with some of their hardware. And for the price they charge, that’s something that just shouldn’t happen. Regular occurances of bad batches is something you expect from Dell, or Lenovo, not the worlds supposed greatest hardware builder.

    A premium is levied to proffer a quality system, you pay more, for a better solution. The reality is, that it isn’t always a better solution. Sometimes it’s far worse. And that’s something that Apple (and her supporters) should genuinely recognise, and resolve. Not silence or ignore.

    1. Joen says:

      Brendan: The reality, however, is that Apple continues to have QA issues with some of their hardware. And for the price they charge, that’s something that just shouldn’t happen. Regular occurances of bad batches is something you expect from Dell, or Lenovo, not the worlds supposed greatest hardware builder.

      That was exactly the impression I got from my limited time with the Mac (as a sidenote, the girlfriend still has a lastgen macbook, so I’m not completely out of the realm).

      On one hand there are all the friends whom I respect, who said “damn, what are the odds that you got a bad apple, it’s never happened to me in ten years”. On the other hand there are the posts on the internet, the videos from Youtube, all complaining at the secrecy of Apple and their unwillingness to admit mistakes or give ETAs on fixes. I think the truth possibly lies between these two poles.

  3. Jenny-fa says:

    I admit, Apple is becoming a bit like Microsoft now that their market shares are increasing and the iPods and iPhones have made them the new King of Cool and such. But you have to admit that, compared to Microsoft’s and other PC vendors’ odious spawn, Apple’s products are by far the superior choice. Just look at those ugly, black PC laptops, that UAC abomination, the worthless, good-for-nothing crap that is Internet Explorer, the hard drives full of spyware and other malware, and the scores of security holes and zero-day attacks. Even though I’ve encountered a number of problems with my own Mac that required some tweaking and troubleshooting, the level of maintenance compared to the overall level of satisfaction still trumps Windows any day of the week. To this day I still have not found one iota of malware on my MacBook. The vast majority of Windows formats are compatible with Mac applications. The multimedia suite is top-notch. And it looks gorgeous as heck. That your own Mac experience has been less than utopic is regrettable but not surprising considering your continued reliance on Windows and the unlikelihood of any product/service being able to deliver on its promise of 100% perfection. That being said, though the copious scorn in your article was somewhat saddening (why did you have to bring African children into this? TT_____TT), your derisive humor still makes for a good read.

    At any rate, PC hardware also costs a bundle if you’re going for quality. The university I’m currently considering requires all undergraduates to purchase a laptop, and the ThinkPad that they recommend costs over $2000 USD. My 13″ MacBook only cost about $1200, and I even got a student discount on it. In the light of this atrocity, and for the reasons I described above, I consider my MacBook a bargain.

    1. Joen says:

      Jenny-fa: But you have to admit that, compared to Microsoft’s and other PC vendors’ odious spawn, Apple’s products are by far the superior choice. Just look at those ugly, black PC laptops, that UAC abomination, the worthless, good-for-nothing crap that is Internet Explorer, the hard drives full of spyware and other malware, and the scores of security holes and zero-day attacks.

      Mostly yes. Yes, I admit that the Apple hardware is gorgeious, and (when it works), sturdy and delicious. I admit that quite a few aspects of the OSX grew on me, and that the overall impression of the operating system, was far more impressive than Windows were.

      Jenny-fa: That being said, though the copious scorn in your article was somewhat saddening (why did you have to bring African children into this? TT_____TT), your derisive humor still makes for a good read.

      I’m not trying to get anyone to feel bad, though, I’m just trying to put things into perspective. Also, I’m not trying to pin the fate of the forgotten continent on Apple solely, clearly that’s completely unfair. What I am saying is, that if I can afford to splurge on a Macbook pro, I can afford to set aside 20 bucks a month for a good cause 🙂

      Jenny-fa: At any rate, PC hardware also costs a bundle if you’re going for quality.

      That is generally true, but the range of quality is far greater in the vast PC market. I’m convinced you can get a very decent laptop for much less than the price of even the entry level Macbook. It wouldn’t be gorgeous, it wouldn’t be as sturdy, and it might break sooner. But it would be as fast, and I’m quite sure it’d do the job.

    2. Simon says:

      There’s more spy and malware on the PC platform because there’s simply alot more users. If I was to write a piece of spyware and I had to choose between hitting 90% of the market and 10% of the market, that would be a nobrainer.

      Internet Explorer is crap, so noone sane uses it. I don’t particularly like Vista, but those arguments are stupid.

      Stop being fanboys, it makes baby jesus cry.

  4. James says:

    I’m sorry that your Macbook adventure was so disappointing.

    I have to agree with you that Apple’s attention to quality has dropped a little bit in the past few years, but where as my previous iMac needed to be repaired twice and my iPhone was returned for a line of dead pixels, my current Macbook Pro has never once needed service. I think it’s more like luck of the draw.

    I hope some day that you choose to return to Apple hardware, and if you do, make sure that you don’t buy anything on its first run.

    1. Joen says:

      James: I think it’s more like luck of the draw.

      I’m inclined to agree.

      A sub-point of this article is that for 2000+ bucks, an error as blatant as the freezes I experienced should have been weeded out in mandatory tests. Meaning: if Apple had turned on the machine I got, let it run for 6 hours doing a suite of tests (or even nothing), the chances of invoking a freeze would be 99%. Clearly they didn’t run such a test, and they should have, for the price they’re asking.

      I’m getting some distance to the whole experience now, tho, so I know that I was probably extremely unlucky in this venture (what are the odds, the first machine I ever bought??).

      James: I hope some day that you choose to return to Apple hardware, and if you do, make sure that you don’t buy anything on its first run.

      Don’t worry. I am a grown up. And I still love my 2g iPod Shuffle, even so much as to use iTunes. This is not the end of my Apple adventure. But it is the end of it for the foreseeable future. The decision so far is to repair and upgrade the old PC I have, buy a flat screen, and a Netbook for the home usage. This’ll keep me going for a long time. As it turns out, it was not time for me to replace my desktop computer with a laptop.

  5. I got my first mac in 1996, ’98 or so. A PowerMac G4… Awesome machine. Worked well for years, then I sold it for a good price.

    These last 3-5 years or so, quality control has gone way down at Apple. It seems like they are being run by shareholders and the board, in a way like this:

    We have these suppliers in China to choose from … Let’s take the cheapest, that will increase our profits.

    Me and my girlfriend has had so many issues it’s not at all funny. Now we feel anxious when buying Apple stuff, maybe there will be trouble, and one may not know for months! Often it happens after 13 months, and then they refuse to repair it free of charge even though in Denmark there is 2 years of limited warranty. Arrogant, and it hurts their brand.

    I have friends who feel the exact same way like we do. And they used to be as big fanboys as I did.

    Maybe it has something to do with Steve being sick? Maybe it has to do with Apple focusing all their energy on the iPhone development for several years?

    Maybe they just think we are suckers? Who knows…

    After all it is annoying to use an OS that is tied to Apple machines, with no choice. If the MacBook Pro I’m writing this on fails tomorrow, I have no other choice to get me another Mac.

  6. After my comments last week, guess what – yesterday my iPhone 3G turned itself off and now won’t turn back on. Off to the store I go. It’s getting SO FUCKING annoying being an Apple user.

    I get the feeling they sit there at the top discussing “should we aim for better production standards from our manufacturers?” Tim Cook replying: “Nah, if its out of warranty the sheep will have to buy a new machine, which means we will meet our profit estimate for next quarter – whohoo!”

    When shit happenswith my Apple stuff, I get this creeping feeling of saying FUCK IT and installing Ubuntu. It lacks a lot of the polish, the UI goodness, many pro level apps, but at least it is free, stable, and lets me buy hardware from who the fuck ever I want.

    Sorry, I normally never say the F word, but I am so pissed about this. I feel like a total bend-over retard.

  7. Tristan says:

    Mine was served with champagne and strawberries… shrug. To each his own. There are definitely better values to be had. I’d go with a nice Lenovo plus an eee if I didn’t already have the unibody MBP working well for me (guess I got lucky).

    I think part of the surprise with Apple is that the expectations are so high, and that’s mostly appropriate given the price premium. Everything is held to such a higher standard and is advertised and hyped as being so much better that when something goes wrong, we are simply let down. Whereas with PC’s, we’ve come to expect things to just go wrong every once in a while and we’ve learned to deal with it and work around the quirks. They’re predictable, familiar, and expected at that price point. But, I do not believe the defect rate or issues are any worse or more frequent with Apple in general; it’s simply the expectations people have about them.

    But hey, if someone sells you magic beans, they better be magic. Good call.

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