updated 10:15 am EST, Tue December 9, 2008
MacBook Pro NVIDIA Risk
Apple's latest-generation MacBook Pro systems may face the same material defect in their dedicated graphics hardware as encountered by earlier models, according to an investigation by the Inquirer. A dissection of the GeForce 9600M chip shows the part using the same non-eutectic (higher melting point) soldered contact bumps as the GeForce 8600M, suggesting the graphics hardware is prone to the same long-term heat damage risk as the GeForce 8400M and 8600M series chips, producing the blank screens and other video errors that have triggered recalls of previous MacBook Pro revisions as well as wider-still recalls by Dell, HP and others.
The integrated GeForce 9400M chipset, which is used across all of Apple's new MacBooks as well as a handful of newer Windows systems, is shown to use proper eutectic (low melting point) bumps and so shouldn't be prone to the same issues. The related 9300M and the low-end 6400 lineup should also be reliable.
It's unclear whether the issue affects all MacBook Pros, though the sample used to reach the findings was a retail example from just after the official launch in mid-October. Numerous reports have surfaced in Apple's support forums of screens going black in graphics-intensive games and of excessive heat in other conditions, though NVIDIA is already understood to be transitioning over to the true eutectic bumps for all its video hardware.
The discovery contradicts statements by NVIDIA investor relations head Michael Hara, who told the investigators in October that the 9600M was using the newer material. Presented with the newer findings, he now says the particular material mix is different and thus that the dedicated part still shouldn't be prone to the same failures as the earlier 8M hardware, though he doesn't explicitly deny the use of non-eutectic content.
If consistent, the revelation would suggest continued problems for NVIDIA, which posted a $120 million loss earlier this year related specifically to the graphics defects and which has been repeatedly pushed to acknowledge that more of its video chipsets have been affected by the choice of non-eutectic material. At first, the company only acknowledged that a small number of HP notebooks were affected.