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MacBook display artifacts (drop shadows)

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One of the few things that I'm very dissatisfied with on my new MacBook (yes, the one that arrived from the online Apple store just three days ago) is a weird problem that keeps occurring intermittently: the usual OS X smooth-gradient drop shadows around some of the windows sometimes turn into rows of solid lines, with a fuzzy mess of dots in each corner.

Drop shadow linesYou can click the thumbnail to see a full-size image of what it looks like. Very disconcerting.

Color barAnd sometimes I get this other effect, where a blue bar appears just below the menu bar, running all the way across the screen. (Again, click the thumbnail to see the full-size version.) That's rarer, though.

The good news is that these problems go away (temporarily) when I put the computer to sleep and then wake it up again, or when I restart. But not when I disconnect or reconnect an external monitor.

I haven't been able to reliably reproduce it; it happens anywhere from five minutes to a couple hours after I start using the computer, and there doesn't seem to be a common pattern for what triggers it. A few other people have run into the same problem; one Apple support forum thread suggests that it's a problem with Rosetta apps (apps that aren't yet converted to work natively with the Intel chip), and I had wondered if that was the common factor in my situation too, but I don't think it is. I'm pretty much always running at least a couple of Rosetta apps, but sometimes it takes hours before the problem occurs, and when it does occur sometimes it's only on a few windows. The image shows it happening on Terminal windows (when no other windows were affected); I've also seen it happen only to a single Finder window.

Another person had similar video artifact problems; his diagnosis is that they were due to the graphics chip overheating. Does the MacBook even have a graphics chip per se? It's possible that my problems have something to do with overheating, but given that they often occur on only some of the windows on the screen, I'm dubious.

My problem started after I had been running some OpenGL applications, but I've tried running OpenGL apps to reproduce it, to no avail.

Anyway, I called Apple support about this yesterday, and they told me to take it to the Genius Bar at my local Apple store. I did that today, and the guy there said he'd never seen anything like it before. (He showed it to the other Genius on duty, who glanced at it and said, "That's bad.")

The Genius guy recommended that I do an archive-and-reinstall of the operating system. He offered to do it for me, but even though I ran a full backup overnight, I had done some work this morning that I hadn't yet backed up. So he recommended that I go home, check out forums and such to see if anyone else had a solution, and then re-seat the RAM, and then if it was still happening, to do the OS reinstall and see if that worked. I can do that, but it's frustrating--this happened basically straight out of the box, so I don't think it's a software problem. (But I can't be sure, because I copied over my files and apps from my old machine as part of the OS X auto-setup process.)

I also asked the Genius about the fact that there's a little bit of slightly disturbing flexibility in the case, in the solid border to the right of the screen--I had accidentally discovered that there are a couple of places on that border where if I press in gently, the front panel pushes back slightly with a pop/click. It's probably nothing bad, but I'd rather it not happen. And the Genius agreed that it was an issue, but said that since I'd done a build-to-order, I would have to send it back to Apple to get it fixed, and that it might take 10-14 days. Argh.

At this point, I'm really wishing I had bought the stock model from the in-person Apple Store and just added memory and disk myself. That way I could return it and get it replaced immediately. I would just return this one and buy a new one, except that you can't return build-to-order Macs. Gah.

So it's looking like I'll probably end up copying all my files back to my old machine and using that for a couple weeks while Apple repairs my brand-new computer. Very frustrating.

Added later:

Aha--it turns out this is actually a fairly widespread issue, both on the MacBook and the Mini.

See the following Apple discussion forum threads:

Various of those threads suggest possible solutions:

  1. Turn off secure virtual memory in the Security preferences panel.
  2. Don't let the machine overheat.
  3. Re-seat the existing RAM.
  4. Reinstall the OS.
  5. Get more RAM.

I'll try most of those, in roughly that order, and see if any of it helps.

See also a related Ars Technica thread.

6 Comments

Sounds to me like it's probably some kind of graphics driver problem. If you can live with it for a little while, I'm sure Apple will fix it.


I've pretty solidly talked myself into waiting till Xmas or beyond to see what Merom Macbooks might be like, while I limp along on the 256M 800 MHz Pentium III my employer has provided.

On behalf of late-adopters everywhere, I salute you, and thank you for taking the arrows in your back.


Hey,

I recently bought a stock MacBook (So that buying stock, doesn't change the screen problems) and I have the same issues as yourself. In addition to the shadow problems I have a similar problem with the bottom right hand corner of the display. When you pinch the front and back of the case it clicks (supposedly into the correct position) and then pops out. I thought that his was just a minor defect on my machine, but now that I see that you have a similar problem to myself, I feel a bit happier that it's not just mine.

I'll have to try the 'Disable the secure memory' thing to see if that helps... but you never know! Could you email me any resolutions to the problem if you find any on your scout around the net for an answer, that'd be great! THANKS


I keep forgetting to mention here that I turned off secure VM and the problem went away entirely; it hasn't happened at all since I made the change. I've seen postings from other people who've tried that and it hasn't worked, but it worked for me. It's possible that amount of memory is also an issue; I have 1GB, so maybe some people with less memory see the problem even with secure VM off? Not sure.

Let me know whether it works for you!

The screen-frame clicking/popping thing is still happening for me, of course, and still annoying, but I think I don't want to send the computer back just for that, especially with no guarantee it can be fixed.


Jed!! You're the first hit on Google that came back with the same issue I'm experiencing. The black artifacts around the window borders appear intermittently, and I haven't figured out what the trigger is. It happens fairly infrequently, though.

I am using a Black Macbook with 1GB of Apple-supplied RAM. I beleive Secure VM is enabled, but I'll go back and check it.

If that cures the issue, I'll report back. It is intermittent enough, however, that I may not see it again for weeks.

Bill


I haven't seen the artifacts in a long time. Secure VM is on. Not sure, perhaps they snuck a fix in.


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