Please advise: Firefox issue or MacBook Pro failure?

Discussion in 'Mac Basics and Help' started by Leia1912, Jun 25, 2011.

  1. Leia1912 macrumors member

    Jan 29, 2007
    Hi, all,

    I've done a forum search about this topic and I'm not sure I have found the precise issue, so here goes:

    I have an Intel Core i7 MacBook Pro
    8 GB memory
    Processor Speed: 2.66 GHz
    Graphics: Intel HD Graphics/NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M

    I'm running the most updated OS (10.6.8) and its elements. I religiously use Software Update.

    The computer's between a year and two years old, as I recall.

    Problem: My MBP's screen goes black intermittently (like every couple of days). The keys remain lit, as if the computer is on, and the only way to proceed from that point is to hold down the power button long enough to shut it down (which takes a while). When I start up, the computer asks me if I want to send a report to Apple.

    The reason I ask if this is software or hardware is because this happens ONLY when certain software is involved. Something similar happened when I ran The Sims Medieval about a month or two ago, but their company said my graphics card wasn't supported, so I got my money back. Since that time, until now, I had no problems.

    Then I downloaded FF 4 (I can't recall which version of FF4 it was, just that it was recent) and the random Black Screens began to happen again. I can't be 100% certain it's the same thing as the Sims Medieval failure, but it sure seems like the same thing--a black screen forcing you to shut down, requiring extended use of the powerbutton to get that shut-down to happen, and then all good when the computer starts back up.

    Suspecting a software issue again, I downgraded to FF 3 and was fine. I then saw FF 5 had been unleashed, and upgraded again, hoping the black screen was a bug with FF4. And...back to occasional Black Screen Syndrome--always when FF is open. (I tend to keep my web browsers open, so that's pretty much all the time.)

    I asked FF and their Twitter staff helped me go into my crash records, which show nothing, other than a single Quicktime issue once in the last month. Since what's happened has occured more than once, that isn't the same issue. Whatever's going on, seems not to be "crashing" FF--and so their logs are useless. They tend to think it is a graphics card/driver issue.

    I've looked on MR's forums and the black screen threads I see involve an issue with earlier NVDIA processors, are not specific to certain programs, and sometimes appear at start-up as well as a forced shut-down.

    Because this has happened only in two programs, though, I am tempted to think this is something related to software. Does anybody have any ideas? Am I doomed to go visit the Apple Genii again and lose my computer to a repair for a few days? *sigh*

    Any thoughts you might have would be very much appreciated!
  2. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    First, a question: If, when the screen goes black, you hit the volume up (or down) keys a few times, can you hear the clicks that indicate the volume changing?

    If you do hear the clicks, the computer hasn't crashed at all, the screen just isn't working. That's makes a difference in terms of what might be going on. If it's silent, then the computer really is completely hung. (You could also try hitting the keyboard backlight keys and see if the brightness changes, or leave iTunes playing in the background and see if the music continues.)

    The message about sending a report to Apple will, I believe, be generated whether the OS fully crashed or if you just hold the button down to do a forced reboot (although I could be remembering that wrong; OSX crashes are exceedingly rare in my experience).

    If it turns out that the computer is still running, just with a black screen, try one (or both) of two things: Take it into a completely dark room and see if the screen backlight is still on, and the screen itself is just black; if the backlight is still on, the black screen should glow faintly. That would indicate the computer is turning off the backlight and just blanking the screen, which is what I would expect with a graphics card flaking out. If the backlight isn't on, try holding the screen in a very bright indirect light (like sunlight), and see if you can still see a faint ghost image of whatever is on the screen--that would indicate that the graphics card is working fine, but the backlight is flaking out.

    I or someone else might have a better suggestion depending on the results of the above, but given that it seems to only be happening with a few programs, my guess is that your graphics card has problems, and only those programs are triggering it. Firefox is a weird one, given that it's not at all graphics-intensive, but if FF4 and 5 are doing some degree of hardware acceleration that FF3 didn't, that would explain it. Have you had any problems with 3D games (or programs) other than Sims? If you haven't tried any, you might try downloading a demo or free game that's graphics intensive, and see if it produces the same behavior.

    Do you have the computer set to switch GPUs automatically under Energy Saver? If so, it's entirely possible that whenever anything hits the GPU hard enough to convince the computer to switch over to the dedicated Nvidia card, it heats up (or just has an issue) and starts flaking out.

    If you want to completely rule out software as a problem, you would need to get a fresh, clean OS install and try running one of the problem programs and see if it still happens. This would be most easily done by installing the OS onto an external drive and booting from that temporarily, for testing.
  3. Leia1912 thread starter macrumors member

    Jan 29, 2007
    Thank you, Makosuke, for your speedy response!

    To answer your questions:

    --Whether I get any sound reaction after the black screen: I haven't been able to get it to make sound. Normally, I have my sound off to begin with, but I don't get the familiar quacks when I try to turn the volume on/up, and I don't see anything on the screen when I do brightness up/down. I will try both again when the next black screen hits, as well as the idea about trying to see if there's some kind of backlighting.

    --I haven't experienced any black screens in any other programs. It did happen one time when I was in Word, but I had FF open at the same time. I'm going to try to replicate the situation with more graphics-intensive games etc., as you suggest.

    --I do have Energy Saver set for automatic switching. (I checked just now.)

    --Per the suggestions I read on Apple's forums for black screens--none being program-specific, but I thought, what the heck--I've got smcFanControl on to request the fans run at least 5000 rpm.

    I will attempt your diagnostic suggestions and note any info I get out of the computer. Thank you for your response!
  4. Leia1912 thread starter macrumors member

    Jan 29, 2007

    Okay, so I just ran an experiment: I tried the Sims Medieval, to see if (as I suspect) it's the same kind of crash.

    TSM failed within opening of the welcome scene: Black screen and hang. I attempted to get volume from the computer--nada. I attempted to change the lighting of the keys--nothing. I attempted to move the brightness of the screen--zip. It was a total lock-up.

    I rebooted the computer and noted the temperature. Prior to loading the game, the temperature of the computer--according to smcFanControl--was in the high 30s. At the time of restart, it was in the 60s, and then dropped (within seconds) rapidly down into the 40s.

    The Energy Star panel has reverted to automatic graphic switching, but I suspect that's because the crash occurred in the same computing session as when I flipped it off automatic graphic switching.

    Should I assume the problem is then graphics card/logic board and head off to Apple? Thanks for any input you can provide.
  5. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    Just to note, 60C isn't in any way abnormally hot for relatively heavy use of the computer. It could theoretically have been a lot hotter when it locked up, but it seems a lot more likely to me that the problem is just with use of the dedicated GPU, not temperature--if it was just heat, I wouldn't expect Firefox to cause problems unless it was running some really intensive scripts on a page, or had a Flash movie going berserk (but if it was Flash causing the problem, the version of Firefox wouldn't make any difference).

    Regardless, it sounds like a hardware issue; software will usually just cause a kernel panic (grey screen of death, and the fans ramp up to full speed). You could spend more time narrowing it down to exactly what sort of hardware problem, but if it's still under warranty that's a waste of your time--just take it in and get Apple to fix it.

    The only thing you might do is booting from a clean OS and confirming that it still flakes out, just to save the Apple techs the time of asking if you've done that already. You could also run the Apple Hardware Test disc that came with the computer, but it won't always find intermittent problems, particularly with the GPU (though a lockup while running it is pretty much a guaranteed demonstration of a hardware problem).
  6. Leia1912 thread starter macrumors member

    Jan 29, 2007
    I didn't think the computer should've been under any strain at the time it crashed in TSM, so I'm not surprised the temperature was in the normal range. Curious and curiouser! I decided to make the appointment with Apple. (It's for Monday--I have plans tomorrow.) I'll try to update this thread with the resolution, in case somebody else has a similar issue in the future. Thanks again for your advice and input!
  7. Leia1912 thread starter macrumors member

    Jan 29, 2007

    Update: Apple can't find a hardware issue with the computer. They ran various tests on it through the day/overnight and the computer didn't fail. That's as far as I got with solving the problem. :( My next step is to do a maintenance re-install or possibly take it in to the Apple store for an erase/install. (I'm also going to look for a different web browser, so I can ditch FF and see if the computer functions properly still.)

    Thank you for advice through this all!
  8. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    Huh, that's pretty surprising.

    Doesn't completely rule out a hardware problem (when the mechanic is watching effect), but does seem to make it less likely. When you do the reinstall, I'd recommend making a full backup (clone or Time Machine) of your current install, then reformatting the drive, installing the OS, and rather than migrating your old data over immediately just create a fresh user, download Firefox (or a game), and run it to see if the problem happens. If it does, you've pretty much completely ruled out software.

    If not, then it was apparently something wrong with your previous install. Use Migration Assistant to bring over your users (you could also do apps, but I'd generally recommend using this as an opportunity to download and reinstall fresh copies, for the heck of it). If the problems happen once migrated, apparently it's user side--try going back to the temporary user and see if it's ok there. If not, time to start digging through prefs...

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