Dec 05

Apple Macbooks and Unexplainable LCD Screen Flicker

I had just received my brand new MacBook Pro a few days ago. Amazing machine. Probably the best laptop I have ever laid my hands upon. It was the early Feb 2011 model so I got a crazy good deal. But something caught my eye that I just had to investigate…

I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to small issues that I can’t resolve, and this is just still bothering me. I noticed that when I smooth scroll (trackpad or smooth wheel logitech mouse) on such content as webpages, or Mail, that there is a flicker in the display of text and context. It depends on the size and orientation of the content, whether it will flicker more or less. My eyes just couldn’t ignore it and I figured it couldn’t possibly be normal functionality. Thus, step one of my problem solving began: Google search.

My search turned up a number of similar complaints to both Macbook Pro and Air models, such as this discussion: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2645516?start=0&tstart=0
It seemed the problem was not just limited to my specific early 2011 Macbook Pro. Suggestions ranged from resetting the PRAM (holding cmd+option+p+r for a couple of reboot cycles), to toggling the screen through display resolutions, to adjusting brightness of the display. Nothing seemed to make much of a difference to me.

Inversion (pixel-walk)

Googling also turned up a reference to this site, which offers various types of LCD tests: http://www.lagom.nl/lcd-test/inversion.php

According to this site, its normal to have a slight flicker in one box. And heavier flickering suggests voltage alignment issues in the LCD display. Using this test, I tried it on a number of Apple product configurations. Here is a collection of my findings:

Device Display Scrolling Not Scrolling
Macbook Pro (early 2011) 15" 1440×900 Heavy multi-color flickering in all boxes At least 2 boxes always lightly flickering
Mac Pro MacPro4,1 (2009) 24" Cinema Display Light amount of flickering in all boxes No flicker
Mac Pro MacPro5,1 (2010) 27" LED Cinema Display No flicker Very light flicker in box 7a
Inversion (pixel-walk) test results on LCD displays

Apple Support

After speaking to support over the phone, they suggested that I go into the store for more help. When I got to the store and started speaking with a tech at the Genius Bar, he had never heard of this issue before. But once I showed him an example on both news.google.com, and in my Apple Mail, he definitely acknowledged that its noticeable. He then went off into the back to research the issue a bit.
When the tech came back he said that he had found no outstanding information from Apple about this issue. A second tech even came and looked at the issue, and had no explanation for it.
I went around the store and checked web page scrolling on 13″ MacBook Airs, and 13″, 15″, and 17″ MacBook Pro models, with and without the higher resolution LCD display options. All models exhibited the same flicker during scrolling. My final recommendation from the stumped Apple tech was that it could be an issue with Lion and its rendering of fonts, or whatever, and that I could either return my laptop, or hold out for some kind of fix from Apple. Basically, no idea.

My question is… Am I being overly sensitive to this display flicker? I figure I can’t be the only one, as per the discussion lists of other users that notice the problem. Some of my friends with the same laptop said they have never really noticed until I pointed it out. I just wonder why such a fantastic laptop would exhibit this visual artifact, and whether it is something I should just accept as being normal?

Do you have this problem and is it noticeable? Post your feedback!

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  1. Abhi Singh

    I just bought a Late 2011 13″ Macbook Pro and the display suffers from the same problem. I can see a very perceptible flicker in 1, 2b and 4b. The strongest being in 4b. Lots of discussion on the net about it being a LCD panel problem. Thanks for pointing this out on your website. I think I shall take mine to the Apple store to have it looked at.

  2. Justyna

    Hi did Apple sort the problem for you?? I’m having the same problems with my Macbook white late 2009. The screen just randomly flickers and freezes and it drives me crazy ;/ I went to the Apple genius bar and they said its logic board, so they’ve replaced it. Just got it back, an hour after I started using it, it does it again!! Need to call them tomorrow and see what they say. The problem is that the closest apple shop is in Glasgow and I live in Edinburgh which is a pain ;/

    1. Justin Israel

      Well it doesn’t freeze or glitch as if its just truly broken. It is more of a flicker when I scroll from how it draws, and it was present on every model they showed me at the Apple store. I have just accepted it.

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