Strong Issues with MacOS BigSur on MacBook Pro M1

Hagen Hübel
3 min readAug 5, 2021

After switching from my Intel-based MacBook Pro from 2019 with I9 to the MacBook Pro M1, the fun didn’t last very long. Since then, I spend a lot of time maintaining and analyzing Mac problems and don’t get to work.

I don’t know what has happened to Apple lately and why they are shipping new hardware with an OS that brings serious problems to the point of total unusability. Maybe it’s a feature rather than a bug. However, I can no longer use my Macbook with external devices and am thinking about returning to Hewlett Packard notebooks (or DELL or whatever) with Ubuntu as operating system (which I did for many years before I switched to Apple almost 10 years ago).

My Setup:

  • MacBook Pro M1 with 13inch and 16 GB RAM
  • MacOS BigSur Version 11.4 (20F71)
  • External Display LG 5K (the Model that was shipped in Apple Stores 2017–2018)

The most annoying bugs:

After wakeup from Sleep, and even sometimes after a Reboot, things like this will happen:

The problem is a constant flickering of the internal display and sometimes also the external display. In addition, the dock is no longer visible. I simply can’t do anything then! I can neither open a settings dialog nor anything else!

Turning off external screens can sometimes help, but leads to other problems, which I’ll cover below.

The best option here is to reboot again, as many times as necessary to get a boot that properly accepts the external device and lets MacOS work the way I was used to years ago.

The second option is to remove the external Display forever and only work with the MacBook Pro itself. You can do that when you’re traveling. Or when you’re sitting in a meeting with a customer. We probably agree that the use of external screens was a pretty good achievement. To refrain from that now is probably out of the question.

Another wired behaviour is this one, where a simple Drag’n’Drop gesture will end up in a Window flickering that is like an Grow-and-Shrink-Gesture, that can’t get stopped anymore unless I cancel the entire Drag’n’Drop-operation by releasing the mouse:

What else will happen:

As I pointed out above, to plug off the external device will return to normal behaviour, at least a little. The devil is in the details:

  1. When I open a submenu in Apple’s top menu bar, it sometimes opens far away in a completely different part of the screen. Also, opening a context menu within an application window (e.g. after selecting a text in the browser and right-clicking to copy/paste/lookup) opens the context menu far away in the south of the screen.
  2. Taking a screenshot with the built-in tool of macOS (like Command-Shift-3 and -4) will not work then either. It only works again after disconnecting the external screen, but it no longer creates screenshots as long as the external screen is connected.

SMC-Reset? NVRAM-Reset?

Normally, die-hard Mac users are used to resetting their computers with a so-called SMC reset or NVRAM reset. This resets the “on-chip memory” of any Mac and most likely solves problems that have occurred over time in connection with external devices.

However, M1 based Macs don’t have a SMC anymore. Unlike SMC, which no longer exists on M1 Macs, NVRAM exists, but it works differently. It is supposed to get cleared if some magic behind detects issues automatically.

There are sources that describe how to reset the NVRAM, but unfortunately this does not work on my machine and results in an error message saying that due to missing permissions the NVRAM cannot be written to (even though I booted in recovery mode).

Apple Support

I have contacted Apple support via Twitter and got some questionaries from them. One question is if this behaviour will happen also after booting in safe mode. The other one was about detail descriptions what is going on actually.

So I decided to document all of this with pictures and videos to reach more people, supporters, Apple developers and anyone else who might be able to fix this really serious problem.

To be continued.