Do the New MacBook Pros Have Faulty Nvidia Graphics Cards?

We already know the new MacBook Pros have video problems, so when the Inquirer says their Nvidia GeForce 9600 GTs use the same faulty material that killed earlier graphics cards, it doesn't look good.

So a quick recap on the original issue and the back and forth between Nvidia and the Inquirer: Nvidia admitted back in July "significant quantities" of notebooks are defective, built and packaged with "weak" materials that are leading to them to overheat and fail at a "higher-than-normal" rate, but declined to state which cards specifically.

The Inquirer said every single G84 and G86 card was affected, and a GPU apocalypse was coming, and indeed, more and more models from different manufacturers came to light with the problem. The previous-gen MacBook Pro was actually the last one revealed to be smitten by the plague, like the final Cylon or something, since Nvidia was reportedly less-than-honest about the problem to Apple. Nvidia continued to reiterate most chips are just peachy.

Nvidia says that its current chips don't use the weak materials, which produce what are called "bad bumps." Obviously, the Inquirer thought they were lying, so they took a new MacBook Pro to a lab, cracked it open, sliced apart the G96 GPU and checked it out under a scanning electron microscope with an X-ray microanalysis system.

Do the New MacBook Pros Have Faulty Nvidia Graphics Cards?

The result? The Inq says the same old bad bumps, which were composed mostly of lead, are there in the GeForce 9600 vs. the new, good eutectic bumps that are in the GeForce 9400M (the MacBook and MacBook Pro's chipset/integrated graphics). Or more straight up, "The 9600 is unquestionably using 'bad bumps', directly contradicting the statements from Nvidia...It suggests that there are 15-inch Macbook Pros being sold with 'bad bumps', the same materials that brought down so many HP, Dell and Apple parts, both laptop and desktop."

Do the New MacBook Pros Have Faulty Nvidia Graphics Cards?

Naturally, I asked Nvidia for their reaction to Charlie's Inq piece, and a spokesperson reiterated that the GeForce 9600 GT graphics cards in the MacBook Pros "don't have bad bumps at all." He said that, "yes, they're lead bumps" but "hundreds of millions of chips have lead bumps." And it's "a different material set [from the faulty one], one they transferred to earlier" that's used in the 9400, 9600 and 9800.

Of course, the Inquirer's whole point is that Nvidia is lying. So, who to believe? Well, here's what we know for sure. When I talked to Nvidia about the original run of faulty chips, and why we saw it some systems and not others, they told me it was largely a thermal issue, which, in combination with the weak materials, would cause the kiss-of-death cracking—so you'd see it in systems that ran hot, in other words, like some notebooks or slimline desktops with poor circulation. (Which is why the "fix" for the problem were firmware updates that cranked the card's fans sooner.)

We further know that the 9600 GT cards in the MacBook Pro are currently having problems that appear to be heat-related, causing them to lock up and launch into the "black screen of death." Also, Nvidia pointed out that there aren't a whole lot of labs properly equipped to do the kind of analysis the Inquirer commissioned—you can't just walk down to your local Discovery Channel store—though they left it at that.

And that's about as definitive as we can get, for now. Two things bother us: We would've liked a slice and dice of one of the previous-gen bad chips to directly compare to the new, supposedly bad one. And Nvidia's subtle implication that the people with labs equipped to perform this kind of analysis have a vested interest in the outcome also has the magical effect of shielding them from the results.

You can believe Nvidia. You can believe the Inquirer. I just know that given the thermal problems that already clearly exist, I really hope the Inquirer is wrong. If you know something about this you wanna share, email me.