Graphics issues force Apple to delay iMac orders, resellers report

Shipments of 27-in. model delayed after users complain of flickering screens, other problems

Apple has delayed shipping new 27-in. iMacs until it can figure out the cause of flickering screens and other display problems, according to reports from authorized resellers.

The move came just days after a Web designer created a site that tallied issues with the 27-in. iMacs , including screens broken in shipment, on-again-off-again flickering displays and screens that showed a jaundice-yellow tint.

Two Apple resellers -- independent dealers approved by Apple to sell Macs -- contacted the Apple iMac (Fall 2009) Issues site to report that all shipments of iMacs had been pushed back at least two weeks as Apple replaces the machines' graphics cards.

Canadian Web designer Scott Pronych built the tracking site after he received a 27-in. iMac with a shattered screen, saying he wanted to document the display problems. By digging through Apple's support forum and taking reports directly from others via a form on his site, Pronych has identified more than 600 users who have had issues with their new machines.

A thread on Apple's support forum dedicated to the flickering screen problem boasts nearly 1,200 separate messages and has a view count of over 173,000, making it easily the most-read of those on the iMac forum.

The resellers who contacted Pronych are in Europe. "I think they are feeling a bit frustrated as a lot of customers are blaming them for slow delivery, and likely they see my Web site as proof that there are some real problems with the graphics system of the new iMacs," Pronych said in an e-mail Friday.

On Saturday Pronych reached out to the resellers on Computerworld 's behalf, but both declined to comment on the record. "I don't want to hurt my ties with the Mac community," one of the resellers said in an e-mail to Pronych that he forwarded in part to Computerworld . "As you may or may not know, Apple is strong-arming resellers since opening their own Apple Stores," the reseller continued.

Earlier this week, Apple changed the shipping status on its online store for both 27-in. iMac models from "Ships: 5-7 days" or "Ships 7-10 days" to "Ships: 2 weeks." Although high volume sales could account for the change, Pronych said he had been told by some users that Apple had pushed back the projected ship dates for their already-ordered iMacs.

Some U.S. resellers were out of stock. A Mac Connection sales representative, for instance, said that the e-tailer's next shipment of 27-in. iMacs was expected Dec. 18. "I don't have any information regarding a reason for the delay," the representative said in a live chat Saturday. Amazon.com reported that a new 27-in. iMac would ship "within 1 to 2 months." ClubMac.com , meanwhile, said it wouldn't have 27-in. models until the end of the month. A sales representative from the California-based e-tailer said only that "Apple is not able to get us our shipments."

Both the dual-core and quad-core iMacs are affected by the flickering screen issue, according to reports filed with Pronych's site. Those models use AMD's ATI Radeon HD 4670 and Radeon HD 4850 graphics cards, respectively.

The 27-in iMacs were introduced in late October , when Apple refreshed its desktop lines. According to Pronych's data, fewer than 10% of the total reports are from users of the less-expensive 21.-5-in. iMacs. The entry-level $1,199 machine uses the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chipset rather than an ATI graphics card.

If the problem is, in fact, traced back to the ATI graphics cards, it won't be the first time that AMD's hardware has been blamed for iMac troubles. More than two years ago, Apple began investigating screen lockup problems with the then-new iMac line that sported ATI graphics cards. Several weeks later, Apple issued a firmware update that seemed to solve the problem for most users.

This year's new iMacs have also been plagued with performance issues. Within days of their Oct. 20 introduction, users complained about extremely sluggish playback of Flash video. A Nov. 9 update to Mac OS X 10.6.2 targeted the problem, which was resolved for some, but not all, users.

Apple has not responded to multiple e-mails asking for comment on the 27-in. iMac screen issues, including one Friday requesting information about the two-week shipping delay. Apple typically refuses to comment on hardware issues, preferring instead to quietly publish a support document to its site.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)

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