Apple Admits Nvidia GPU Defect in MacBook Pros

The bruhaha over defective Nvidia mobile graphics chips keeps rolling along, even months after the initial headlines have faded. Despite Nvidia's promises to Apple that its Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT-based MacBook Pros had dodged the bullet and were immune from the defect, Apple now counters that it wasn't, in fact, so lucky:

"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."

 Credit: Apple
Potentially affected units are 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro notebooks with Nvidia GeFroce 8600M GT GPUs, built between May 2007 and September 2008. Apple advises it customers to look for "distorted or scrambled video on the computer screen," or "no video on the computer screen (or external display) even though the computer is on." Apple is instructing those who are affected by the defect to take their notebooks to Apple stores or authorized service providers. Apple also stated that it will issue refunds to those customers who have already "paid for repairs related to this issue."

As we reported back in August, it was starting to become apparent from the flood of comments on Apple's own user forums that MacBook Pros were in fact suffering from the same problems as notebooks from other manufacturers using Nvidia mobile GPUs. Whether the problem was more difficult to detect on Apple notebooks or Apple just spent more time doing due diligence, we will probably never know. Owners of affected units will gain at least some solace in Apple finally admitting that there is a problem and putting a system in place to deal with it; but owners who have already had to dish out cash to fix the problem will be grumbling "I told you so," as they seek refunds from Apple.

Nvidia publicly admitted on July 2 that "certain notebook configurations with GPUs and MCPs manufactured with a certain die/packaging material set are failing in the field at higher than normal rates." As a result, the company announced that it would "take a one-time charge from $150 million to $200 million against cost of revenue for the second quarter to cover anticipated warranty, repair, return, replacement and other costs and expenses, arising from a weak die/packaging material set in certain versions of its previous generation GPU and MCP products used in notebook systems." There was little surprise then that Nvidia's stock took a nosedive the next day on July 3.  Other notebooks manufactures also impacted by the Nvidia chip defects include Dell and  HP/Compaq.

Next Tuesday (October 14), Apple will hold a special media event titled, "The spotlight turns to notebooks," where the company is expected to announce new notebook models. Rumors and speculation point to less-expensive notebook models (in the sub-$1,000 range) and new MacBook Pros with more advanced GPUs from either ATI or Nvidia that will be capable of running modern 3D games. If the new models use Nvidia GPUs it will be a sign that either Apple and Nvidia kissed and made up, or the new designs were too far into production for Apple to pull the plug. Either way, if the new notebooks use Nvidia GPUs, let's hope that the problems that are plaguing the existing models don't show up in the new ones.