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Thursday, November 06, 2008, 11:45 am PT (02:45 pm ET)

New MacBook Pros, recent iMacs grappling with flaky wireless

An erratic yet ongoing problem has seen recent iMacs, and now Apple's late 2008 MacBook Pros, affected by frequent Wi-Fi dropouts with no clear solution.

Some owners of Apple's new unibody, 15-inch MacBook Pro are reporting in Apple's support forums (1, 2) that their connections to wireless access points often lose signal strength or drop their links altogether.

The problem echoes a similar one witnessed by owners of aluminum iMac owners since mid-year that has created similar difficulties.

What conditions are exactly necessary to trigger the problem are unknown. Connections to some access points work properly, while others create severe connection problems. Network and security settings don't appear to matter, nor do devices attached to the systems.

A collection of the MacBook Pro owners have partly diagnosed the problem and have discovered that the latency between their Macs and their Wi-Fi hotspots can fluctuate wildly, shifting from normal response times of under 10ms to as high as 39,290ms — or more than 39 seconds between signals. These extreme variances result in the data packet loss that ultimately interrupts the signal.

Those who've been dealing with the problem since before the MacBook Pro release share a common trait, however, of having installed one of Apple's more recent updates. Some report the problems having began after installing Mac OS X 10.5.3 or 10.5.4 updates; others actually report problems with Apple's recent AirPort Extreme patches, which themselves were paradoxically meant to resolve connection woes.

This includes AirPort Extreme update 2008-004, which was released late last month. It replaced AirPort Extreme update 2008-003, which was released just days earlier but abruptly pulled by Apple for undisclosed reasons.

Of those who've spoken to Apple technicians to address the matter, at least some report recognition of a more widespread problem, though none have said how soon Apple may fix the intermittent wireless behavior. Users are regardless told they may have to wait awhile for more thorough software updates: the most recent AirPort Extreme patches update the firmware for the Wi-Fi chipset itself and so prevent an easy rollback if it's the patch itself that sets the glitch in motion.