Apple products are rather popular these days, and by popular I mean they have more fans than a billionaire throwing his money on the streets. There’s good reason for Apple products to be popular: they look good and they are extremely well manufactured. Or at least, they should be, considering the price you pay for them.
My “late 2008” MacBook is not behaving anything like a well manufactured product, yet I did pay a well manufactured price for it, no more than two years ago. I’m one out of many thousands of Apple users out there that have the so called Macbook Pro Screen Flicker Problem. Search on Google for those terms and you’ll find countless forums where users are complaining about the same issue over and over again.
Here’s a short video someone has taken which clearly demonstrates the issue:
Even on the Apple.com MBP forums, the number one most viewed and replied to post is the one about this issue. Since 2007 already there have been posts about this issue, yet Apple itself doesn’t seem to care about the problem at all.
Normally I don’t use my blog to post about problems I’m experiencing - I use my Twitter account for that - nor do I write my posts in English most of the time. Perhaps this is my way to try to focus some attention on the problem and ventilate my Mac frustrations here.
To make this post more than just a rant about how Apple is failing in delivering great experiences to me and many others, here are findings and so called “fixes” I found surfing the web in search of a solution:
Screen flickering doesn’t happen on the Nvidia 9600 GPU
The screen flicker problem only seems to happen when running on the nvidia 9400 GPU, not on the 9600 GPU. You can choose to use the 9600 GPU by selecting “Higher Performance” in your “Energy Saver” preferences. This will log you out of MacOS and then the system will use the newly selected GPU.
This may sound like good news, but the truth is that the 9600 GPU heats up your machine more than the 9400. Also, it will drain your battery considerably faster.
One way to automatically switch to the 9400 when running on battery and back to the 9600 when plugged into the power net is to use a tool called gfxCardStatus. It’s free and on top of that it allows you to switch GPU’s without logging out. Very convenient indeed.
This all sounds great except for the battery life but I have another problem which only occurs when I’m using the 9600 GPU. The screen flickering problem goes away but my system tends to freeze up completely at random when running in “higher performance” mode.
I teach web design to students in college and it’s a real pain in the ass to have your system crash multiple times during a class. Only a hard reboot will help and getting into my flow again takes up a lot of valuable time, which of course is very annoying for my students as well.
Failed “Solution #1”: Hardware Test
Some people suggest that you run a hardware test. I ran mine from the MacOS installation disk and nothing wrong was found on my system. Also, verifying disk permissions and scanning for hard drive errors didn’t solve a thing.
Failed “Solution #2”: Clean Install
While I haven’t done a clean install myself, others have confirmed that this didn’t help solve the problem.
Failed “Solution #3”: Logic Board Replacement
A decent number of people on the Apple.com forums went to the Genius bar to get their Mac “fixed”. They received one or multiple logic board replacements, hard drive replacements, screen replacements, all without solving the screen flickering problem.
Failed “Solution #4”: Resetting the SMC/PRAM
I’ve tried pulling the battery out and pushing the power button to clear all current from the macbook. After that I also tried to reset the PRAM by pressing option+cmd+P+R simultaneously while booting. Both suggestions have no effect.
Is it a hardware failure then?
If it’s a hardware failure, Apple should take responsibility by posting at least an official statement about the issue. If they can’t release a firmware update which fixes the problem, in my opinion they should do some sort of a re-call to get any faulty chip replaced.
Then again, perhaps Apple products are so popular these days that it isn’t necessary anymore to keep all users happy. For every one user they loose, there are probably 10 in line to spend four digits on new hardware.
What’s your opinion about this? Am I overreacting or do you feel the same. Let me know in the comments.
If anyone has the same problem as described above, please contact apple on their public feedback form so at least we can put some pressure on them, even when it’s only a little.
PS: this post was written on my 5 year old Windows desktop computer, which has never failed me before
Here are some updates taken from the comments below:
- the issue occurs on macOs Snow Leopard 10.6.6
- the issue occurs on macOs 10.5.8 (Thanks Bill Spears)
- Apple again removed all links to this and other blog posts from their support forums
More links reporting the late 2008 Macbook screen flicker problem
About the author
Hi there! I'm a freelancer who can help you build a great application or website - yes, also for mobile devices. If you speak Dutch, check out my eBooks.
Hire me, whether it's to help you build your next project or to organize a workshop. I teach about web design + development in college and I'd be happy to put a workshop together for you.