Is Apple Going Doing An HP?

The MacBook Pro is still giving its users serious problems, pointing to lousy pre-release testing. Good computer companies don’t make that mistake, so maybe Apple has the HP disease.

There’s a list of current MBP problems here, together with workarounds. I’ve developed PCs, and IMHO all the problems should have been picked up in the testing of the final preproduction batch.

So either Apple’s engineering didn’t test properly, or it did and management decided to ship anyway.

The most troubling problem is the overheating, since it prevents the MBP being used as a laptop (unless you have a special thermal pad to put under it). I’ve taken a look at this with my evaluation Mac Mini, and it’s possible the problem is systemic to the new Intel Mac range.

Here’s why. My aging Tecra sometimes has to operate at ambient temperatures above 90 degrees (common in summer in the Southern Med when the aircon quits), and that invariably causes Firefox to crash. So when it’s hot, I use Opera and IE, which work fine. I’m guessing Firefox’s fancy rendering uses Intel functions the other two don’t.

I’ve found that in much cooler environments (low 70s), Firefox on the Mac Mini also crashes repeatedly, as does iPhoto. That’s on a Core Duo, several generations ahead of the Pentium in my Tecra. But the instruction sets will be the same (strictly the Core Duo supersets the Tecra’s Pentium ).

So it’s possible the Apple designers have made a mess of the cooling of the Core Duo processor, at least on the Mac Mini and MBP. That wouldn’t be entirely surprising, since the processor was new to Apple.

But what is dismaying is that Apple released these systems with these defects. I used to work with Apple, and it had good engineers who were obsessive about quality. So either they’ve all gone, or their management has adopted HP-board-style practices.

Before Apple fanboys start strafing runs on DU, an alternative explanation is the Curse Of Gandalf. Of the four candidates for my next laptop, Apple has crashed and, er, burned; HP has hit the rocks; Fujitsu distribution is MIA; and IBM is Chinese. If it’s my fault, I’m so sorree.

UPDATE: Sept 12

In view of the interest/intense irritation caused to some by this post, here’s my data (it’s a tidied up and slightly expanded version of my Comment).

On my old Tecra 8200, the Firefox Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) is (temperatures degrees F):

* Ambient less than 85: infinity – never crashes
* Ambient 86 to 90: about 4 hours
* Ambient over 90: about 20 minutes.

This is a heavily loaded FireFox – 18 tabs, 3 of which run active refreshes. By comparison, Opera with the same tab load never crashes at any temperature, and IE without tabs never crashes at any temperature.

The Mac Mini Firefox running identical tabs to the Tecra in ambient that was always under under 80 degrees had an MTBF of about 30 minutes. Safari never crashed, although I didn’t run it a lot.

The Tecra and Mac Mini could be different effects, but – so far as I can make out – the FF code base and hence executed Intel instruction sets are the same.

So we may have a temperature-related fault here that’s common to the old Pentium and new Core Duo.

An additional data point is Apple’s fix for the heat problems – they run the two fans more. That’s a kludge, symptomatic of a design error.

Running the fans more intensely makes the rig noisier (so less cool, pun intended), drives the fans more quickly to the end of their duty cycles (so users will get more fan problems), and drains the battery faster (bad for road warriors). That adds to my suspicion their heat handling guys messed up.

On this analysis, I’d expect user experiences to vary depending on the ambient temperature they run their Intel macs at and the code they run. If they stay cool and/or don’t run FireFox, they’ll be fine. Otherwise not.

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