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Monday, September 08, 2008, 03:40 pm PT (06:40 pm ET)

MacBook Air owners find latest Apple fix producing mixed results

Users of Apple's ultraportable Mac are increasingly reporting that a firmware update might be taming processor usage, but is still leaving many of their systems too hot to use and prone to software freezes.

While a number of owners at Apple's discussion forums say the hardware patch solved a problem that would force a core to shut down entirely and ramp up the internal temperature, others still note the slim system continues to overheat and in some cases will bog down as the MacBook Air is unable to cope with a given application's demand, particularly an OS component known as kernel_task.

This happens regardless of whether any peripherals are attached that might ask more of the system.

Others also notice that their systems are simply slowing down in different ways: instead of switching off a single core, a handful report their systems keeping both cores active under most temperatures but lowering the clock speed, producing much the same result.

"This 'update' is a farce - all that it does is step the processor down to 800MHz as soon as the [temperature] rises to some ridiculously low [level]," one Air user explains.

Common troubleshooting steps appear to rule out software as the cause, even with complete operating system reinstalls. A number of less cautious owners have taken to installing the unofficial third-party app CoolBook to adjust system voltages and force the system to run at full speed but at lower voltages and thus lower heat.

For those determined to get an official solution, Apple's frontline technicians have had little success. More than one customer bringing his MacBook Air to the Genius Bar was told that a hardware repair was unlikely to help and to hope for "a software update or some other word" from Apple to provide a more permanent remedy.

While candid, the response comes with no public Apple response and is described as little consolation to customers who feel the system either too hot or too slow to be workable in real conditions.

"How long am I expected to wait? Currently, my computer isn't fit for the purpose for which it was built and sold," an affected owner says.