The Dark Side of MacBooks

I’ve been dealing with a thorn in my side for the last three weeks: My MacBook does not run at its rated (2.0 GHz) speed, except under the rarest of conditions. (Namely: the first five minutes of use after it has been turned off for a few hours.) After calling and arguing with AppleCare, I’ve been informed that Apple’s engineers believe that this is normal behavior.

Never mind that there are people out there who have machines that can maintain their rated speed under load.

My only recourse, at this time, is to find a MacBook that I can hold in my hands and demonstrate that it does not throttle. At that point, Apple will gladly glomp onto that MacBook to learn its secrets—and, ostensibly, exchange mine.

I love how the burden of proof—to prove that Apple isn’t perpetuating false advertising—falls on me. To do so conclusively, I need to set up an external hard drive with the OS and applications I need, and go around to local Mac shops (i.e. the local Mac shop—singular—and the campus reseller) and beg them to let me test their computers. While I have a hard drive that’s sitting around, it’s an internal one; I’ve been forced to order a case for it, so I can go on this bizarre quest.

Of course, most models on display are going to be from the earlier production runs, and the later runs are the ones that seem to most successfully run at full speed. Even though I’m buying a case and will get to go around begging for favors, odds are that I’ll still be sunk.

If/when that fails, I’m stuck either accepting my sub-performing computer or exchanging it for a 10% restocking fee (because nothing’s wrong with it, right?). I suppose I could also order a second MacBook and hope to hell that it actually performs as advertised… but, at that point, that’s stupidly throwing good money after bad.

Good game, Apple. You suck.

Incidentally, if you have a MacBook, and want to see how it holds up, just do the following:

1) Plug it in, and make sure your energy saving preference is set to “maximize performance.”

2) Download CoreDuoTemp, and open it up. In its preferences, tell it to update every one or two seconds. You’ll be paying attention to the “current frequency” value that CoreDuoTemp reports.

NOTE: MacBooks throttle their processor to 1.5 GHz when they aren’t being taxed, as a way to conserve battery life. Don’t worry about that, until you actually do something with your machine.

3) Quit all other open programs, and do one of the following things to put your machine at 100% load:

a) Copy the Chess application twice, and open all three copies. Start a new game in each, having the computer play against itself.

b) Run “yes > /dev/null” in each of two Terminal windows (one for each processor)

c) Run “openssl speed” in each of two Terminal windows (one for each processor)

(If you choose to run one of the terminal commands, you can stop it later by pressing control-z.)

4) Watch what CoreDuoTemp tells you as time passes (this should be no more than 5-10 minutes). Your temperature should rise, and your current frequency should rise and remain at your computer’s rated speed (e.g. 2000 MHz for a 2.0 GHz machine).

If it doesn’t do that—if your computer’s current frequency perpetually stays lower than its rated speed (or perpetually drops temporarily below its rated speed), once the temperature has risen… you have an underperforming MacBook. Welcome to my hell.

If your MacBook does maintain its speed… wanna trade?


2 Responses to The Dark Side of MacBooks

  1. Tiffany

    That’s really odd. The guys at Tyler’s work who picked up the new MacBook haven’t had any problems and absolutely love them. Sounds like something’s wonky to me.

  2. Brent

    I’d have ’em test their machine(s), to make sure they really got what they paid for. My machine appears to run fine when doing basic tasks (e.g. surfing the web and checking email); it only bogs down when asked to do something demanding.
    A non-scientific, not-terribly-large-return poll on a Mac forum had nine responses (not including mine): three throttled, six did not. Not great odds, if those results is anywhere near accurate.


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