Early 2011 MacBook Pros Are Dropping Like Flies, Heat Issues To Blame

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If you have a 2011 MacBook Pro that is wonking out like it was haunted by a Japanese ghost, you’re not the only one. It appears that a massive number of early-2011 MacBook Pro owners with AMD graphics are having issues with system crashes and hardware problems, with failure rates reaching a critical mass in recent weeks.

According to an enormous, 157-page thread on the Apple Support Communities, a number of early-2011 MacBook Pro owners began having problems with the AMD discrete graphics cards inside their laptops. The troubles began appear to have begun in February 2013, but activity in the support thread has really escalated over the last few weeks.

The problem seems to first exhibit itself during graphics-intensive tasks like playing games or high-definition video, or running the CPU hot. The display ends up distorting, or going entirely blank, and while reboots make the problems go away for a short period of time, they almost always return later. After the graphical glitches start, things get worse, with many users reporting inevitable gray and blue screens of death.

It’s a bad situation, and frankly, the issue seems obvious: It’s a heating issue, to which Macs have always been susceptible. It seems, however, that early-2011 MacBook Pros are particularly prone to this issue. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done about it, unless Apple institutes a replacement program: The only way to fix the issue right now is to swap the logic board on your machine, which is an extremely expensive upgrade.

We’re keeping an eye on this, and if Apple responds to the issue, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, if you’re affected, know that you aren’t alone.

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  • Ben_Graves

    Arrgh the spelling errors! But thanks for the info, now I’m all paranoid and have to go check mine!

  • iamnikb

    Any chance this replacement program would include reimbursement for repairs? I just spent $611 replacing the logic board on my early-2011 17″ for this exact problem.

  • Steffen Jobbs

    It’s already 2014 so those MacBook Pros have already been around for quite a while. At least my 2006 MacBook Pro is running just fine. I had installed software to speed up the fans which works quite well to keep temperatures under control. If it dies tomorrow, I’ll certainly have gotten my money’s worth.

  • Adrayven

    They make it sound like Heating issues are exclusively an issue with Apple and MacBooks.

    As long as I can remember, any intensive gaming generally is not a good thing on laptops, unless they are designed to be gaming machines. I burned through 2 HP laptops that way. They may have discrete graphics, but the CPU always spikes way high (200+ degrees f)..

    Alienware is the only one I know thats truly designed to take it. There are a few others I’m sure.. but any heavy gaming like Guild Wars 2, Halo, Crisis, etc. Expect to be shortening your laptops lifespan.. Seriously..

  • ctnovice

    It’s really nice to see those making comments that either don’t own these machines affected or relate this huge, widespread problem to age (It’s already 2014 after all!) or “intense gaming”. These comments don’t help those of us inflicted with this VERY REAL issue whatsoever…they are only speculations from the ignorant.

    I purchased my ‘early 2011′ MBP in September 2011 which makes it roughly 2 1/4 years old (wanted to continue running Snow Leopard for some PPC apps that required Rosetta) but my graphics issues began roughly March of 2012. They have only gotten worse since. Today, I am limited to running only the Intel 3000 graphics (via gfxCardStatus) which means I cannot use this machine for presentations to clients because doing so requires using an external monitor which requires the AMD graphics chip). This REALLY burns me up, having paid extra for a higher-resolution screen and other enhancements that are now crippled…yet, judging by what I read daily on the 150+ page Apple forum pages on this issue, I am one of the lucky ones because at least my machine still ‘works’ (though in a crippled state), so far.

    A very wide swath of 2011 MBP purchasers are very, very angry with Apple, at this point, who has essentially remained silent of this issue. Many of us LOVE Apple’s products, including the 2011 MBP…but Apple’s silence is totally, totally unacceptable.

  • 360jwilker

    Had to replace my logic board in October or so. Adrayven it’s not related to heavy load. I don’t play games, at all, don’t watch full screen youtube videos, use much flash, etc. From what most users in the forum can guess it’s bad solder, some have had moderate success rebelling. I lucked out (used loosely) and Apple offered a flat $300 depot repair.

    Based on the forum posts, it’s not just early 2011, but most of 2011. Basically any machine with that GPU model.

    If my machine was 4 years old I might be less irritated, but it was just over 2 when the board died, and from reading the forum, the rate of failure is increasing lately. If it was just me, sure things happen, but clearly there’s something larger at play, and i really do hope apple addresses it.

  • jhaile

    My machine is only about 2.5 years old and has started to experience these issues. The screen randomly goes black and freezes. Sometimes the screen turns blue. Sometimes it gets distorted.

    I’ve taken it into an Apple Store, but they (and I) were unable to reproduce the issue in store, so they couldn’t make a diagnosis. But reading the massive thread of problems, it’s obvious to me that my symptoms reflect the GPU/logic board heat issues that so many others are having diagnosed.

    This is a design flaw in the computer, and Apple should extend the warranty to cover their customers, just like they did on previous year models that had similar issues. Don’t leave your customers out in the cold Apple!

  • TheFameFeed

    We have been dealing with this issue for about a year without any solutions from Apple (save for paying them $600 for a new board that also fails). This defect has cost our company thousands of dollars. Unless Apple offers a solution to honour their product right now, our parent company and its subsidiaries will no longer use Apple products.

  • sbrionez

    This is interesting. My Early 2011 MBP had these issues early last year. I was running an external monitor and I’m guessing that was part of the issue. Started with some kernel panics, then the horizontal lines, finally it was unable to boot. Had Apple send it to the depot and $300 later I had a new logic board. I believe it was replaced in March of last year. It’s been fine since then, but glad/sad to see there are other people who have the same problems.

  • w1lujeng

    Sounds eerily familiar. Mine started having problems last summer. I found it extremely useful to video the issues as they happened. This made for fast diagnosis. 3 trips to the genius bar and they finally GAVE me an new retina mac. Manhattan Beach Apple store ROCKS!! I have never regretted Apple Care

  • AndrewRoazen

    Apple produced a line of iMacs at the same time using the same Radeon GPUs. The problems Apple reports are identical to those in the MBPs. The iMacs were covered by a GPU replacement program, but all it took to repair those was replacing a daughtercard. Actual repair of the MBPs requires reballing the chips (~$150US repair) but instead Apple’s drawn no correlation between the 2011 iMacs and the 2011 MBPs, so owners out of warranty have been told to pay for replacement logic boards ($600US) which routinely fail because they were manufactured to the same spec.

    It’s not overheating, it’s rapid heating/cooling cycles like sleep mode which cause the brittle lead-free solder to crack and fail a few years after manufacture. Either Apple has to tell the EU that the RoHS regs on solder aren’t viable, or find another way of attaching GPUs to logic boards.

    Interestingly all but one of the MBPs available from Apple’s site do not have discrete graphics of any kind, only Intel Iris integrated.

    If the stores started routinely replacing the MBPs with new ones, I imagine Apple would take notice.

  • _yayan24

    Late 2011 MacBook Pros are also having this problem.

  • ptesone

    I have a Early MacBook Pro 13-inch, Early 2011 with an Intel HD Graphics 3000 512 MB, it does get hot when I render videos and the fan is always on in those cases, other than that it’s been pretty solid. My iMac 21.5-inch, Mid 2011 with an AMD Radeon HD 6750M 512 MB is a different story, I use a Pref Pane called Fan Control to up the speed up the 3 fans when I need to , and I really like by DVD drives in both machines- use them quite a bit. . .

  • rockofonzo

    It figures… The EXACT same thing happened to my Late 2006 20″ iMac; The AMD Radeon X1600 256MB graphics gave up it’s ghost and I had to part it out as Apple wouldn’t fix it. At least I got five years out of it. I replaced it with a 15″ Early 2011 MBP with the high rez screen & AMD Radeon HD 6750M 1GB. I’ve got AppleCare until this August, if this machine pukes on me like my last one, I hope it has the decency to at least self immolate before then. BTW; My PowerBook 170 and TiBook DVI run just fine.

  • Paul Burt

    I lucked out (used loosely) and Apple offered a flat $300 depot repair.

    That’s Apple’s typical, flat-rate fee for logic board replacement.

  • Paul Burt

    (save for paying them $600 for a new board that also fails)

    Last I checked, logic board replacement was a flat-rate $300 fee. I would know because I’ve had it comped 3 times on my late 2008 MBP!

  • francescocy

    I own a 2011 15″ MBP and have sometimes noticed glitches in Mail, iPhoto, iMovie… But I also used the dedicated card under Windows 7 to play games such as Mass Effect 3 and Crysis 2 and never once had an issue there. I hope the GPU will not die soon, that would be bad (not covered by Apple Care anymore BTW).

  • redolcas

    There is an on-line petition for an Apple recall / replacement for free. Here are the links:

    - Short: http://bit.ly/mbpe2011petition
    - Full: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Apple_Inc_Macbook_Pro_15_17_Early_2011_Replacement_Program

    Share, please.

    Thanks.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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