It's so beautifully arranged on the plate — you know someone's fingers have been all over it.

— Julia Childs on nouvelle cuisine

By , on May 2, 2011


For months my MBP 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (running Mac OS X 10.6.x) has been locking up under high CPU load. It happened most often when playing adobe flash video, or Silverlight video, but generally most anything that put high load on the CPU would eventually result in WindowServer locking up. For awhile I thought the video card was failing or maybe I had some bad RAM, but none of the research on those topics, or related to WindowServer choking produced any results.

UPDATE: I finally got to the bottom of this issue. It’s another defective GPU/video card in Mac laptops (actually, I think the ATIRadeon x1600 was used in other models which exhibit the same problems). There’s plenty of complaints and details to be found with this Google search: ATIRadeon x1600 Failures in Macs

Last night I tried searching the web for “Adobe Flash overheating macbook pro” and found discussions which mentioned a bad battery and removing the battery to fix the problem. I tried it, took out the battery which has for a year or more displayed “Service Battery” in the menubar battery menu. I proceeded to watch two hours of TV shows streamed with Flash player and NO overheating, no screen freezes! At this point I’m hopefully optimistic that this was the issue, and I now it’s time to fork out for a new battery.

While I don’t have a technical explanation yet for how the interaction of high CPU load and defective battery caused my problems, I’ll mention that in my case it was always WindowServer which would lock up. The machine would usually still be reachable through ssh, and often I could login from a different computer and run “sudo shutdown -r now” (which attempts to do a graceful restart immediately), but I would check using the unix ‘top’ command to see where the cpu was going. It always showed WindowServer in the “stuck” state. There was never any recovery from this short of restart (forced or graceful). I would often see a lines of garbled pixels running the length of one or another application window (including at times, the desktop display).

I never would have considered the battery the culprit, so if you’re experiencing any of these problems, try running without the battery when performing actions that previously caused your MBP to overheat and/or freeze.

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