Tech Adventures

Most of the time, my computers are a delight to use: reliable, fast, clean, effective. But every so often, bad things happen, for inexplicable reasons. Case in point: my MacBook Pro. The machine has had its issues for a long time, as it’s a revision A, purchased 5 minutes after the keynote that they were first announced at, and as most techies will attest, you take your chances to be at the bleeding edge. I had heat issues, battery issues, logic board issues, pretty much the full gamut of problems that people have listed with the early releases. But, by and large, it’s been a good computer, and I’m happy with the purchase regardless.

A few days ago, the video abruptly started to have issues. Text became nearly illegible, colors were completely off (and in some — but not all — cases, inverted), with bizarre technicolor dithering happening where smooth gradients once lay. As some of you are aware, I’m broke, so I REALLY can’t afford to have my machines fail on me right now, because I simply can’t pay the money necessary to repair them in the case of hardware issues, as my warranty has expired. These symptoms reek of a video card failure, so I was concerned to say the least, and turned the machine off for the rest of the week, until I’d have the weekend to work on it.

My first step was to think about what I’d been doing when this first appeared: I’d just installed the Audio Update from Apple via Software Update, and when it restarted, that’s when these issues cropped up. So, maybe an issue with that? Quick check of known issues (Macintouch and MacFixit are both handy for their user reports for this) revealed nothing. I tried rebooting a few times, and it didn’t go away. I then tried booting into my Windows partion, and while there I was still having issues, when I booted back into OS X, the problems went away until I next rebooted. This gave me hope that it’s not actually a hardware problem, as I was able to reproduce this every time.

It then occurred to me that I’d been doing the phone flashing and modding in the Windows partition, then booted back to the Mac side, then did the Audio update… so it’s entirely possible that something done during that had caused an issue, and I simply hadn’t created circumstances for it to show up until then… so I wiped my Boot Camp partition. Still happening… hmm. So, I put the laptop into target disk mode and backed up my user directory to the desktop, and did a clean install, complete with zeroing data.

The display was still screwy. Well… shit. At least I’d been meaning to clear out and reorganize my laptop anyway. The next step (and probably should have been an earlier step) was to start ticking through different hardware reset methods, things like reseting the NVRAM and the SMC. So, powered down, took out the battery, held the power button for a few seconds (reset the SMC). Reset the VNRAM (option, command, p, r) while booting up, and suddenly no more issues, including across another half dozen test reboots.

I still don’t know what caused the initial problem, and likely never will — I certainly hope it doesn’t come back! Mostly I wanted to share what I’ve been doing all day, and hopefully provide some helpful information for the next poor schmoe who has something like this happen and is Googling for Mac video issues. Tomorrow, I’ll likely be spending the day sifting through my old user directory, and deciding which things I want to put back onto the laptop. Not exactly how I would have liked to spend a gorgeous summer weekend, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.