Are nVidia to Blame for the OS X ‘Superbug’ and BSOD?

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Fingers point to graphics card manufacturer nVidia as the OS X BSOD ‘superbug’ story develops.

Following further testing, we can confirm thus far, that the testing machine has had no more panics since implementing both our updated solution (that was released earlier today).  Which is good news!!  Except that we’re one graphics card down unfortunately, but that’s much better than repeated kernel panics!

The finger of blame is now pointing to nVidia, whose graphics card and / or drivers appear to be causing the OS X kernel to panic.

In the vast majority of crash reports released by users to the community, there is a common theme – NVDAResman – one of the processes that enables the nVidia graphics card to function.  Not only this, but the fact that our solution to the problem has so far proved reliable, this would also indicate the nVidea hardware / software as the problem – as a major aspect of preventing the kernel panics is cutting the nVidia hardware and software ‘out of the loop’.

So could this be entirely nVidia’s fault?  No, not in this case.  Apple still have many questions to answer on the issue.

Looking at Apple’s role in this, there are definitely a few questions to be answered.

1.  Why has this issue still not been rectified after 18 months since it first became acknowledged as a problem in the community?

2.  Why are Apple still charging people for repairs or not offering repairs at all when this is clearly a design fault (of either nVidia or Apple)?

3.  Why is there still no clear official advice on this major error?

Apple seem to be squirming around the issue wherever possible.  Slashdot.org have accused Apple of censoring their support forums, removing any instances in threads where words such as ‘complaint’, ‘boycott’ and ‘petition’ are used.  In addition, they also allege that Apple were aware of this issue prior to the release of Lion.  This allegation would appear to be backed up, with members of Apples Developer community stating that they had noticed this issue in the Lion Developer Preview and had reported it to the company.

The thread on the Apple forums, which currently spreads across a whopping 176 pages, has been active for 18 months, and seems no closer to finding a permanent, satisfactory solution than they were at the beginning.

In addition to this, users who have approached Apple for repairs have often been disappointed.  Apple runs standard hardware tests to determine if users are eligible for a free repair.  The only problem is, all of these users report that their Macs pass Apples hardware tests with flying colours.  This would strongly point to the culprit being the nVidia drivers that ship with the graphics card.  But where does this leave users?  Well as their Macs pass the hardware tests with flying colours, they’re not that keen on doing repairs, at all – as they say there is nothing to repair – and the chances of a free repair – well you can forget that!

But why did the issues not prevent themselves in Snow Leopard?  After all, all MacBook Pro mid-2010 model owners will have started with Snow Leopard and the problems didn’t arise then.  The answer probably lies in the fact that Lion was the first version of OS X to ship with new drivers for the nVidia graphics card.

So the blame at the moment is looking firmly at nVidia’s door, but the many reports of Apples behaviour in regard to this issue seem to call into question just how culpable they are in the issue.  If the problem is solely down to nVidia, surely Apple would be happy to help, after all they’d have a cast iron claim against nVidia to for footing the costs of any and all repairs caused by their faulty hardware / software.

Let’s continue and access nVidia in this situation:

Naturally, nVidia point the finger of blame straight back at Apple, but with very little explanation of the issue.  In fact, official statements, questions or support on nVidia site just doesn’t even mention the issue, let alone cover it directly.

We attempted to check the nVidia support forums – surely someone from the community must have mentioned it, even if the company would like to keep quiet about it.  Unfortunately, as you can see below, there forums are offline at the moment for a week to deal with a ‘system issue’:

nVidia Support Forums - 07-07-12

Now, I’ve got to admit, this doesn’t exactly look great for a graphics card company trying to convince us it’s not the fault of faulty hardware or software on their part!!  But, who knows, maybe we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, they might have buggy forums but perfect graphics hardware and software.  Or they might not.

In what we believe to be equally bad behaviour, nVidia say it’s not their problem, it’s most definitely Apple’s.  Well, there’s two way of looking at this statement. In the literal sense, nVidia are probably right.  It is Apple’s problem at the moment – because thats who everyone is directing their anger at.  But from a less literal, responsibility perspective, is it really reasonable to suggest that you have no blame when it is drivers, clearly identified as nVidia drivers, which only have one use, and that is to run nVidia graphics cards, are the main reason for the persistent kernel panics?  We don’t think so.

Still nVidia stand by the line that although its a nVidia hardware / software problem, it’s not there problem.  The reason?  Well that’s because nVidia have ‘given’ the drivers to Apple, so it’s there responsibility.  Apparently.  Plus, there are some reports that users contacting nVidia have been told that although it may seem like the nVidia drivers are the source of the panics, it’s actually Apple’s graphic switching software that is causing the problems.

This conclusion is woeful at best.  If Apple’s graphic switching software was the cause, why does the issue not occur every time the graphics switching software is used to switch between the onboard and external cards?  The kernel panics do not occur every time the graphics switching software runs…. however the nVidia driver seems to be the common link between all the kernel panics.

So, with nVidia, the bottom line is, they aren’t going to deal with it because it’s not there problem.  We’d tend to disagree – it seems very much a joint issue with nVidia and Apple.

So where does this leave affected users currently?  Well, of course, implementing our solution that ‘fixes’ the issue is obviously recommended as the first step.  But, what about a permanent fix?

Well, the latest is, Apple have acknowledged the issue and recently issued a recall on the affected MacBook Pros.  Great!  Well kind of.  We have two issues with this.  The first one being the time limit that has been imposed on the recalls.  Your MacBook Pro is eligible for a free of charge repair (if it is currently facing this issue) on one condition – that it is no more than 2 years after the date of purchase.

Call us cynical, but this condition seems to automatically disqualify most of the affected group from a free repair – i.e. MacBook Pro mid-2010 model users.  In addition, some users who have taken their MacBook Pro into an Apple store, demonstrated the problem and have done so with in two years of the purchase date as well as after the recall was issued, haven’t been offered the free of charge repair.  Instead, in this case, the user was once again told that they were not eligible for a free upgrade as there computer had passed the hardware tests.  However, apparently, the Apple store representative agreed to get the logic board changed for €800.  And remember, this story comes from after the recall was issued and matches the criteria.

In conclusion, there does seem to be fault on both sides, Apple and nVidia.  Exactly what proportion of the fault lies with which party remains to be seen.  However, after studying the crash reports, it does to us look like a nVidia driver issue and there is the possibility that the latest OS X release – Mountain Lion – could resolve the issue if it includes new nVidia drivers.  Apple is to release OS X Mountain Lion later this month priced at £13.99 in the UK and $19.99 in the US.  Once again, the main distribution channel for the new version of OS X will be the Mac App Store.

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