Woes of MacBook Pro Unibody Owner

A little more on my MacBook Pro woes

Since I’ve had this machine, a MBP Unibody 2.6 Ghz / 4 GB RAM purchased in September of 2009, I’ve had to back it up, completely wipe the internal HD, and restore 5 times. Two of those times, I’ve completely zeroed the drive for extra measure. I even tried starting entirely from scratch once hoping that would finally fix my issues to no avail. In that time I’ve ended up with a “keys out of order” error more times than I can remember. Running a single user “fsck” at boot usually cannot fix the problem. I had to lay out $100 for DiskWarrior to finally resolve that. Still, through all of that, I seem to keep coming up with issues on this unit. I’ve never had this much trouble with any Mac I’ve owned–ever.

Here are the symptoms that eventually lead up to the disk to going bad: When putting the machine to sleep for more than an hour by closing the clamshell, upon waking by re-opening it, the MBP will spontaneously log itself out, sometimes only once, other times it will happen multiple times in a row (I think I counted 5 logouts once). Usually, after all that excitement, any app that I try to launch will immediately crash. I do not keep any apps running when putting the unit to sleep anymore. I’ve lost too much work because of it. Twice I’ve gotten kernel panics instead of spontaneous log outs. It is far more likely that this machine will wake with an issue than not.

Logs allude to crashed threads in windowserver, CoreGraphics, as well as a video driver (not sure which right now). I’ve tried removing every single system add-on that I’ve ever installed, but still have problems. I’ve also cleared every single cache I can get my hands on and then some, but still have problems.

Right now, I’m testing the memory using Memtest. When I left for work this morning, it had not found any problems yet. If it were as simple as a bad memory module I’d be thrilled — but to be honest, I’m thinking the problem lies in the 7200 RPM drive I had installed as a BTO option when I ordered it from Apple. It’s always seemed to be a little finicky.

Because of this lemon fresh Mac, I’ve lost countless hours, and have fallen way behind schedule on a project that I promised would be delivered a month ago. I’m finally giving up and visiting the Genius Bar at my local Apple store tomorrow. So far, I’ve had pretty good luck with them helping me solve issues with other machines. Hopefully they can with this one too. I just hope I don’t have to send it back to China to get fixed. That would put me another month (or more) behind schedule.

More to follow, I’m sure…

  • http://www.macmanx.com/blog/ James

    There were problems with the Western Digital 7200 RPM drives with the original run of Macbook Pros. When brought in for repairs, they were replaced with Seagate drives. I suppose this could be a “repeat” of the same issue from long ago. If you launch Disk Utility, the “Disk Description” field should name the manufacturer.

    Also, if you purchased AppleCare, it should have come with TechTool Deluxe, which has a few drive mechanism tests. If not, the Apple Hardware Test (used by booting from the install disk while holding ‘D’) may help to pin-point the problem.

    Overall, it sounds like you’ve eliminated all of the user-servicable options, so the Genius Bar is definitely a good choice. I had a lemon iMac G5, so I know what it’s like to lose several weeks diagnosing a problem that can eventually only be solved by Apple. At least you have a computer that’s easy to carry into the store.

    • http://jimmitchell.org Jim Mitchell

      My Genius Bar visit left the Genius somewhat perplexed. He and I both agree it seems like a software issue, but I’ve eliminated nearly everything I could think of, and that he rattled off his list of “did you’s” and then some.

      The drive in my unit is the Seagate ST9500420ASG with the latest firmware update. Lots of people had troubles with this drive before the firmware updater came out. Not so much afterwards. I’ve never had the “beeping” & “clicking” that others reported myself.

      I have one more thing to try before I completely wipe the machine and start over. I’ve trashed the “ByHost” preferences in my user account, which contained a monitor plist file due to hooking up my external 3rd party monitor I have. I’m wondering if that plist (looking for an earlier driver) could be the culprit. Only time will tell.

      If that doesn’t do it, I’ll create another user account with no add-ons to work in. If that doesn’t do it, it’s a zero of the drive, and reinstall fresh with a minimal system (no add-ons). If THAT doesn’t do it, well then it’s gotta be hardware and I’ll turn the unit over to Apple to try to fix. I’m hoping it doesn’t have to go that far.

      • http://www.macmanx.com/blog/ James

        I hate software issues. After years of professionally fixing Macs, mostly with software issues, I now follow a simple kill/fix-all mantra.

        1. Verify with Disk Utility. If it finds a problem, repair it and rejoice.
        2. Run Yasu with everything checked. If that solves the problem, rejoice.
        3. Create a new admin account. If the problem does not exist under the new account, start fresh or move everything over piece by piece until you find what caused the problem.
        4. Re-format and restore from a backup. If that solves the problem, rejoice.
        5. Re-format and re-install OS X. If the problem does not exist, start fresh or move everything over piece by piece until you find what caused the problem.

        Believe it or not, if you’re short on time, I recommend proceeding directly to step 5. It works every time, unless it’s actually a hardware issue.

  • http://jimmitchell.org Jim Mitchell

    Well I’m happy to say the simplest of all fixes did the trick. It was a bad preference file causing my headaches, and nothing more. It’s been so long since I’ve had to really focus on Mac support that I forgot that was one of the Apple recommended troubleshooting steps.

    After 3 days of a clean set of user prefs, not a single spontaneous logout on wake. The Apple Genius didn’t even think of that as a fix — maybe he thought I’d been so thorough in everything else, I must have trashed my prefs too. I dunno…

    At any rate, as a reminder to all — if you’re having funky issues try moving the contents of your user prefs folder aside & creating them all new.

    I am now rejoicing…

    • http://www.macmanx.com/blog/ James

      Thanks for letting us know how you fixed it! I guess I’ll be adding “move the Preferences folder” to my short list of troubleshooting steps.

  • http://jimmitchell.org Jim Mitchell

    As a follow-up to this, after trashing prefs, the machine ran okay for about a week. Then late last week, it started acting up again, and wound up with all sorts of disk errors Sunday morning.

    I took the MBP to my local Apple store that afternoon, and they replaced the HD on the spot (very surprised, and very pleased w/ the service — thanks to genius Gary). Though I cloned my entire system back in hopes it was entirely hardware, I woke the unit this morning & got a kernel panic. Fortunately, this time it did not cause disk errors as others have in the past — so some progress was made with a new drive.

    I have one more sneaking hunch as to the culprit, and will know by tomorrow morning. If it’s not fixed when I wake the machine from sleep then, I plan to clone again, wipe the HD, install fresh and then move work over, but start with fresh installs of all apps & such.

    A major pain, but I think I’m close to having it solved (I hope). More to follow…