The Bug That Can Wreck a MacBook Pro’s Hardware

December 2nd, 2016

We all know about software bugs that can cause creates, the failure of apps to launch, and sometimes booting problems. Eventually the developer or the hardware company will, one hopes, come out with a fix that will set things right. Well, more or less, because bug fixes sometimes make things worse, or do not fix the problem they were supposed to fix.

You would assume — or hope — that the bug itself is not going to damage your hardware. But that may not be quite true when it comes to the Late 2016 MacBook Pro. And therein lies a tale.

So shortly after the product began shipping in reasonable quantities, some users reported problems with the enhanced stereo speakers. So one or both speakers would suddenly produce a crackling or distorted sound. The previously high volume level was not so high. Not good, and once it started, it wouldn’t go away. You actually needed to have Apple replace the unit. It’s not that you can easily swap out the speakers.

That’s what the story says.

So what’s going on? Well, evidently this problem was triggered by defective audio drivers in Apple’s Boot Camp. That’s the software that allows you to run Windows natively on a Mac, and it evidently occurs after you install and start to use Windows 10 with Boot Camp. It doesn’t seem to happen when you use a virtual machine under macOS Sierra, such as Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion. It’s all about the software that allows you to listen to something on those speakers under Boot Camp.

According to published reports, Apple has released new drivers that supposedly fix the problem. They are available under Apple Software Update when you’re Mac is in Boot Camp mode running Windows. So it’s possible to get the fix, although it may be a good idea to turn the volume down real low on your new MacBook Pro until the drivers are updated. Or just use headphones.

Now it’s not that Apple is refusing to fix the problem. But once it happens, once you hear the loud crackling noise that triggers the damage, the speakers are essentially toast. You have to bring or send your MacBook Pro back to Apple for a replacement. It’s not that Apple appears to be refusing to admit the problem or replace your broken notebook.

But with supplies of the MacBook Pro highly constrained, you may return it only to wait a few weeks for the replacement. Or just get a set of headphones — or use external speakers — and put up with it until Apple has a replacement in stock for you.

Without direct exposure, I can only speculate on what might cause the problem. According to iFixit’s Kyle Wiens, during his recent appearance on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the new speakers have tiny tweeters in them, which might make them sensitive to high energy audio spikes. I’m just guessing here. Perhaps one of those audio spikes is generated by the defective audio driver, and it’s sufficient to damage the tweeters, which probably accounts for the distorted and crackling sound, which is probably more prominent. or totally present, at the higher frequencies of the audio spectrum.

Now this isn’t the first time that Apple has released a new product that has bugs. Over the years, you’ll find various and sundry hardware defects. So there are some versions of the 27-inch iMac that have hinges that can break, which means you can’t tilt the display upward and have it stay there. Apple is fixing the problem on the affected units.

Over the years, power supplies on some Macs have been known to fail, and Apple has set up a number of Exchange and Repair Extension Programs to address serious defects. I found it with a Google search, though I suppose Apple could make the page easier to locate. Since Apple usually has contact information, in the form of an email address or telephone number, for registered users of a product, I’d think they could reach out to you directly if the serial number of one of these defective products comes up.

It’s a whole lot better if you own a car in the U.S., where the manufacturer has a list of registered owners and will contact them in the event of a recall. However, if the car has been sold or traded, the information might not be up to date, which means it doesn’t hurt to make sure the manufacturer knows that you exist when you acquire a used car. I still receive occasional recall notices about cars I haven’t owned for years.

As for Apple: The list of repair programs may not even be complete. There are supposedly products that are not listed, and it may take a while to determine if an occasional problem happens often enough to warrant a special repair/replacement program. So if you end up paying to repair or replace something from Apple due to a hardware defect of some sort, keep the receipt just in case. Apple is known to issue refunds once the repair or exchange program goes into effect.

So while the Boot Camp audio driver bug is downright annoying, it is not the first time — or the last time — that such things might occur. Indeed, when I consulted the list, I saw one or two of my Apple products listed there. But when I read through the listings, the exact models and/or serial numbers didn’t apply. Call me lucky, or maybe one of those special programs will be added later on.

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