The dreaded MBP buzzing/whirring noise...

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by G-brick, Jan 14, 2010.

  1. G-brick macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2010
    Hi guys,

    Sorry to clog this forum with yet another newbie needing assistance. I'm another victim of the dreaded buzzy-whirry noise a lot of people have reported coming from their MBPs. My Google-fu seems to be failing me as I get older, as I've been unable to find anything other than reports of this issue, nothing that might be a possible cause or fix.

    My Macbook's fairly old now, probably about four or five years. I couldn't pinpoint exactly when the noise started, because it seems I just sat down one day and it started making this really weird sort of whirring sound whenever I turned it on or it woke up from sleep. It's noticeably different from the noise my computer usually makes when under strain/taking on a lot — I'm not entirely sure how to describe it. It seems slightly more high-pitched. It always stops after a little while, seemingly when it's fully awake; however, just today I noticed that it does seem to be connected to the brightness of the screen. If I turn it all the way down to one or two bars, the noise stops almost instantly.

    As I said, the noise usually stops on its own after a little while anyway, so I can eventually turn the brightness up as far as I need with nothing in addition to the regular sounds of my laptop.

    I really haven't the foggiest idea what could be causing it at all; most people reporting the issue have brand-new MBPs, whereas mine is significantly older. Based on some things I read, I'm wondering if there's a possibility it could be the fan (seems likely, based on its age) or just my machine showings its age. Other reading suggests it could also be the sign of impending hard drive failure, but I don't seem to be getting any of the clicking noises commonly associated with that. Other than the weird noise, my computer's working pretty much perfectly (albeit a little slower than it once was).

    I was just wondering if anybody here, who doubtlessly knows far more than I do about this sort of thing, had any advice on diagnosing the issue further? I'm unwilling to crack open my laptop and examine its innards without some sort of instruction - I'm really not too good with the anatomy of complex machinery!

    Thank you very much in advance,

  2. yayitsezekiel macrumors 6502a


    Aug 1, 2008
    Irvine, CA
    to me, it sounds like your hard drive is going bad. If you haven't already, i'd definitely make a time machine backup as soon as possible. Borrow a friend's external hard drive or something if you don't have one.
  3. extrachrispy macrumors regular


    Jul 29, 2009
    Austin, Texas
    Mine also makes a low-pitched noise, and I have an SSD ...

    I believe it's the fans (which is odd, as they're maglevs on the new MBPs), but the Genius claimed not to be able to detect a problem. Of course, he also told me, "Technically, it's a *portable*, not a *laptop*."

    Uhh ...
  4. G-brick thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2010
    Oh, damn — totally not what I need right now! I don't have an external drive, but I'll see if I can't get hold of one. I've been meaning to upgrade my laptop anyway, so maybe this is the kick I need. Would you happen to have any advice when it comes to replacing my drive? As I said before, I'm not confident with this sort of thing, so I'm not too clued-up on what would be compatible with my MBP. Once I know what I'm buying, I'll be fine, it's just that initial panic over getting it wrong.

    It's a 17", model number seems to be A1211. Are there any strictly hard-and-fast guidelines as to what would or would not be compatible?

    Edit:// Just saw the previous post. Thanks extrachrispy, I'm seriously hoping it is the fans, it would sure save me a lot of hassle.... and cash. I might pop it open later today and have a peek, but I can't say I'd be surprised if it is a sign of impending doom.
  5. G-brick thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2010
    Quick update; I'm trying to get my Mac to start making the noise again (of course, now that I want it to, it won't do it) so I can pinpoint exactly where it's coming from. In previous instances where it made the noise I must admit that the conditions it was exposed to have been considerably warmer than is probably healthy for the poor thing. I also noticed that the noise was worsened by tilting the machine, which makes me think more in terms of a fan problem. I've got a feeling that the noise was coming from the right-side of the computer, as opposed to the left (where the hd is located) so I'm honestly starting to wonder if it's just that the right fan is beginning to show its age. I've installed iStat so I can keep an eye on the temperature/fan rpm when it starts making the noise again, just to be sure that it isn't a slightly cheaper-to-solve problem :p

    It's currently making no noise whatsoever (other than regular Mac-type sounds), despite having been awoken from sleep mode a couple of times and tilted around a bit. I'm no expert, though, so I'm far more likely to trust the opinion of an entire forum full of people that have far more experience in fixing sick computers than I do :)

    I think I'll be buying that external hd and making a backup, though, just in case...
  6. fatire macrumors newbie

    Jan 12, 2010
    To get the fan to crank up to a speed you'll hear it you need to excercise the CPU. I always find that firefox browser with a few windows open on sites that have animated ads does the trick quite nicely. Good luck
  7. Eddyisgreat macrumors 601

    Oct 24, 2007
    Op it may be a separate problem but I had a really high pitched whine coming from the LEFT side of my mbp. Independant of the screen or the fans. I was able to reproduce it by merely changing the volume after bootup and making sure the system sounds were on. Apple looked at it and replaced the audio board (not sure what the specific word for it is) but I believe it's a separate component from the logic board.
  8. G-brick thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2010
    Managed to get it to make its noise again, but I wasn't able to figure out exactly where it was coming from. I'll have another look when it does it again and perhaps try covering the speakers on each side to see if it muffles at all. iStat didn't report anything out of the ordinary with the temperature or fans whilst it was happening, but I wouldn't have thought that necessarily means it's NOT the fans — they don't have to be spinning fast to mess up, right?

    I picked up an external drive this evening and am currently backing everything up; I left it doing its thing and just came back, only to find that the cpu temperature seemed obscenely high (between 75 - 90 degrees C) and the fans were going utterly insane — but they weren't making the weird noise. I had no additional applications aside from time machine and iStat open — I'm guessing, though, that transferring the entire contents of my hard drive is a pretty taxing job so I wouln't think it's terribly unusual for it to be a bit stressed.

    I'm really not entirely sure what to do. Aside from taking it in and paying some ridiculous amount of money for some guy to turn it on and determine that, yes, it's definitely making a noise, is there anything I can do to help diagnose the situation? I understand it's a little difficult to advise when the information I give is so gosh darn vague, so I do apologise. The prospect of a hd failure is a little less worrying now that I know all my stuff is safe, but it's a problem I'd like to be able to fix as soon as possible before anything goes up in smoke!

    If it helps any further, the noise isn't ear-splitting (though still quite noticeable) and it doesn't appear to be making any obnoxious clicking sounds that I can detect (like most of the videos of failing hard drives I've seen) — I'm afraid I really don't know how to describe it. I'd say it's more of a buzz, kind of like a small insect stuck in the cage of a desk fan. I'm not sure if I'm just not listening hard enough but it seems to be quite a difficult noise to pinpoint. It doesn't sound like it's coming specifically from the left or the right, it's just sort of... there.

    Really sorry for making so many massive posts. I do appreciate all the advice being given so far, you guys are great :D
  9. dizzymel macrumors newbie

    Jan 31, 2010
    Some success with the Bad Buzz

    G-Brick: I have had the same awful whirring from my MBP 3.5 years old. Last summer I took it to the Apple store to get checked out because it was insanely hot. They said the temps were normal.

    About 3 weeks ago, my drive wouldn't read DVDs. Last week this horribly loud noise from left back (which sounds sometimes like someone chanting gaiam, solem, mommy, never, holé, etc.) It was also running hot, and insanely slow. The first couple times I closed it and let it go to sleep and it would be OK when I woke it for a few hours then start the noise again.

    Yesterday, I closed all the programs (I run a lot as a designer) and began archiving. I also propped up the back end with a DVD case to get more air circulation. I did check the battery to see how much dust was accumulating, but none. Once all the RAM-sucking programs were off, the noise stopped and did not come back. The case was also much cooler. I also ran applejack which increased the speed.

    I hope this helps. It helped me to read your very detailed description. I think I have a fan going bad. But if anyone has other suggestions for what may be going on with my MBP, I'd appreciate hearing.

  10. chopper dave macrumors regular

    Jul 23, 2007
    This could be an issue with the very 1st gen MBPs, the core duos (I have one). The CPU actually makes noise as it switches to a more low power state, and many people can hear it as an unsteady, high-pitched whine. There is a fix for it, running a program that intentionally keeps the CPU in full-power mode, but that of course is kind of stupid since it will just heat up and kill your battery life. Almost every unit made with a core duo has this "feature" and it was solved with the introduction of the C2D models. Read more about it here:

    You can check to see if this is your problem by just running some really CPU intensive task, like converting a movie with handbrake. If it quiets things down, then you are stuck with the noise but at least it won't damage anything. If it doesn't help, get it serviced because it almost definitely means something important is getting ready to break and make your life miserable.

    As a precaution for HDD failure, make sure you make a backup RIGHT NOW. In the meantime, the genius bar should at least be able to tell you where the buzz is coming from for sure- it is either the screen backlight, fan(s), HDD, or CPU.
  11. sjinsjca macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2008
    +1. That's the way to bet, IMHO.

    We probably have MBPs of the same vintage, 1st-gen Core Duos. Nice machines, very solid. I notice a post on this thread about the CPU actually making noise but have never experienced that. Hard disks, on the other hand, will die as a matter of when not if. So it's probably time to refresh your hard disk before it dies utterly.

    It's not difficult, if you're reasonably handy and patient. Lots of little Torx screws and a couple of heart-stopping snap-apart moments, is all. is a good guide. A new disk will run you $100 or less. Get a 7200-RPM one, you'll be amazed at the new life it brings to your machine. Max out the RAM while you're at it.

    BUT: Back. Up. First.

    A free service you might appreciate is Dropbox, and you can sign up for free at (full disclosure, I get bonus points when you sign up at that link). It puts a folder on your machine's disk, and anything you put in that folder gets backed up onto their server automatically. You get 2GB for free and can buy more. If you have several machines associated with the same Dropbox account, anything you put on one machine's Dropbox folder is automatically copied to the Dropbox folders of all your other machines as well. So it's duplicative backup, and very handy for those of us who use more than one machine. I generally keep my work files in my Dropbox while I'm working on them, in case something should happen to my hard disk, etc. That way there's always a current backup, and I don't have to take my Time Machine disk with me when I travel. The files backed up to the Dropbox server are versioned, too, so if I screw up an edit it is easy to go back to a previous version. Recommended, and potentially very valuable in your current situation.
  12. sjinsjca macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2008
    By the way, while you're in there, check out the fans too. They can ingest stuff from your briefcase, or just accumulate bunny fur. (They can eventually wear out, too, and replacing them is a rather big deal.) So, vacuum them out and make sure they're clean of debris.
  13. sjinsjca macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2008
    Yah, sounds fan-ish in your case.

    But rather than "going bad" it might be a case of something stuck or accumulated in the fan. That's something to be fervently hoped-for, in fact... because new fan assemblies are spendy and complicated to install.

    Open it up (using the instructions I just posted a link to) and check out the situation. Clean everything up gently using a vacuum with natural bristles (no static). And frankly, if it were me, while you're in there you might consider upgrading your hard disk and RAM. Minor incremental cost and effort, once you've pulled everything apart.
  14. killerrobot macrumors 68020


    Jun 7, 2007
    The left fan was going out in my MBP. It would come and go randomly and I could never recreate it on purpose. Sometimes at high RPMs sometimes at low.

    Have you tried running the Apple Hardware Test? If it's hardware related, it will show up in the scan - if it is a fan you should see a code starting with something like 4MOT.

    All the same, if you haven't backed up lately, it's probably time to get and external and do so before you open it up to investigate.
  15. MikoB macrumors newbie

    Mar 1, 2011
    My whirring sound is more like leaves being raked...

    My fan went out about 3 weeks ago. My 13" MBP fell and there is a dent on the bottom where it looks like the fan is supposed to be. I ran the Apple Hardware test and it confirmed that the fan was not working. About a week ago I noticed an occasional whirring sound as well. It would happen more frequently when I would tilt the laptop vertical. I'm wondering if it's the fan? It just doesn't seem like it's coming from where the dent is though, but who knows, it could be and I just don't know. I hope it's not the harddrive! The best I can describe the sound is that it sounds like someone is raking leaves. Not one continuous raking motion but several motions as like when someone is truly raking leaves! I've heard 4 raking motions at best and then it'd quit. Aside from tilting the MBP, I've heard it when I'm just about to set it down and I've already closed the lid so it's in sleep mode. Can anyone relate?

    I'm going to order the toolkit from and then open up my MBP, to get a better look at it. Then I'll start replacing what needs to be replaced. I'm a novice but has some good guides in there. In the meantime, I've been blowing a fan on the bottom while using it. Any other ideas, anyone?

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