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Overheating Mac Solutions

Updated on December 2, 2013

Solutions to your Mac's Overheating Problems

This page contains everything you need to know to solve your Mac's overheating problems. It may seem a strange topic, but being very compact, Macs (especially MacBooks) can get very hot very easily. Sometimes the heat produced is normal, however sometimes it can damaging to both the components of your Mac and yourself. On this page you can find out where in your Mac to expect heat, how hot is too hot, how to keep your Mac cool and how to protect yourself from heat radiation.


-------------Where abouts on your Mac to expect Heat-----------------


--------------Is it safe to use your MacBook on your lap?---------------

You may have heard from various people that having a laptop in direct contact with your lap is dangerous, that over a long period of time can cause cancer or can render you infertile. While preforming non-intensive tasks on your MacBook while it's on your lap isn't outright hazardous, preforming intensive tasks (those that make your MacBook hot) on a regular basis while it's on your lap is not good for you. On the lighter end it can cause things like thrush, but over a long period of time it can render you infertile, and on the heavy end genital cancer can come of it.

To protect yourself from this hazardous heat radiation you should put something between you and your MacBook, such as a cushion. Although soft objects like cushions protect you from heat radiation, they also act as an insulator for you MacBook, making it even hotter, shortening it's lifespan and causing you discomfort. The best way to stay safe from heat radiation while still being able to use your Mac on your lap is to use a laptop cooling pad (for more information about laptop cooling pads see below).

A small amount of radiation comes from your Mac's screen, however it is a minuscule amount compared to CRT (these) displays. Modern LCD (these) displays emit a very low amount of radiation and it's not a threat to humans.

What do you put between your laptop and your lap?

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Laptop Cooling Pads

Laptop cooling pads are a cheap and effective way of keeping your Mac cool. Historically their main disadvantage is that you must be using your laptop on a desk to use a cooling pad, which you might say largely defeats the purpose of a laptop. However recently companies have acknowledged this problem and have started making laptop cooling pads that are designed to be used on the lap as well as the desk (see laptop cooling pads listed below).

If you find that your MacBook is running at more than 80C on a regular basis, it is advisable that you acquire a laptop cooling pad. Laptop cooling pads are not expensive - In fact, you can purchase one below for literally a couple of dollars. And even if you need/want one that you can use on your lap, they are still affordable at under $50.

Laptop Notebook Cool Pad w/ 3 Fans
Laptop Notebook Cool Pad w/ 3 Fans

This laptop cooling pad is great value - For only $2 you can get a stylish cooling pad with three fans integrated. The normal price for this is $20, but amazon is currently selling it for only $2. You probably won't see such a good cooling pad for such a low price ever again, so if you want a cooling pad, buy this now!



------------------------------How Hot is too Hot?------------------------------


MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros can get up to 105 degrees C (depending on the processor) before they automatically shut down. They shut down at that temperature to protect the processor from seriously damaging itself. It is recommend you keep your MacBook at 85C max if you want to extend its life as long as possible. If you're not too worried about that, but don't want to cause any serious damage, keep your MacBook under 100C. Running any computer processor above 90C will slowly damage it and shorten the life of the processor and possibly other components as well.

Has the heat of your MacBook ever made your uncomfortable?

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Applications to help your keep your Mac cool

SMC Fan Control displays your Mac's CPU temperature in real time on the top menu bar and allows you to adjust the internal fan speeds accordingly. SMC Fan Control should work with any intel Macintosh, and can be downloaded free of chargehere.

iStat Pro is another application, similar to SMC Fan Control, that allows you to monitor your Mac's temperature. And although iStat Pro doesn't allow you to change the speed of your Mac's fans, it shows much more detailed heat readings, such as the CPU heat, the hard disk(s) heat, the heat-sink heat and even the heat of your Mac's enclosure! iStat Pro can be downloaded free of charge here.


---------------------------------Flash Content-----------------------------------


Flash content is the most common generator of intense heat in Macintosh computers by a long shot, as it unnecessarily taxes the CPUs, heating them up. Coupled with lazy developers and over-use on the internet, flash is by far the worst multimedia platform. Avoid it when possible.

In-Browser FlashBlockers provide a simple but effective solution to flash's unavoidability on the internet: Every piece of flash content is replaced with a button that says Flash. If you want to view the content, simply click the button. However if you don't want to view that particular piece of flash content then the FlashBlocker will prevent the applet from running, thus saving CPU power.

For Safari download Click2Flash here.

For Google Chrome download FlashBlock here.

For FireFox download FlashBlocker here.

For many people YouTube is the main source of flash usage, and therefore heat, on their Mac. Up until recently all of YouTube's videos were flash based, however YouTube is now running a HTML5 BETA that anyone can opt into, wether they have a YouTube account or not. HTML5 is a modern alternative to flash, and while not yet developed enough to be able to play all of YouTube's videos, can play a large amount of them. So when you visit YouTube and watch a video, it will play in HTML5 if possible. While HTML5 still uses a significant amount of resources on your Mac, it preforms much more efficiently than Flash, thus reducing heat.

You can opt into the YouTube HTML5 BETA here.

Is Flash a Dying Platform (what do you think)?

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All about Spotlight Indexing

If you notice that your Mac is getting up to temperatures of about 80C (may be less for desktops) for seemingly no reason, it may be because spotlight is indexing. A spotlight index is a task that your Mac preforms from time to time, and occurs especially after you have got a new boot drive, reinstalled or upgraded the OS or have added a large volume of data to your boot disk.

Indexing usually lasts several hours, and is preformed so that your drive can be searched better. Have a look at the spotlight icon (upper right hand corner of the screen). If there is a pulsating dot in the middle of the magnifying glass (as shown in screenshot above) spotlight is indexing on your Mac. Click on the spotlight icon to see how much longer the indexing is going to take. You should avoid performing intensive tasks on your Mac while spotlight is indexing, because performance will suffer and the computer will be prone to overheating. There are no known ways to stop spotlight from indexing.

Note: If you have experiencing abnormal heat after upgrading to Mac OSX Lion, and spotlight is not or has finished indexing, refer to thispage.


-------------------Heat while using External Displays?--------------------


You may notice that your MacBook heats up when you connect it to an external thunderbolt display (especially the large ones). This is perfectly normal, and is a result of the GPU (graphics processing unit) in your Mac having to drive a much bigger and therefore more graphically intensive display. If you wish to curb this heat you could purchase a laptop cooling pad (see the laptop cooling pad section near the top of this page) and/or use the many other tips detailed here. Please be aware that it does not make a difference if your Mac laptop is open or closed - The computer will be able to vent it's heat just as well if it is closed than if it is open.


Where are the vents on your Mac?

It isn't so much of a problem with Mac desktops, but it is easy to cover a laptop's vent(s), especially if you're using the computer on your lap.

On iMacs the vents are located on the bottom of the computer and the upper back of it. There isn't too much you should or could do to free up iMac air vents. One thing you should do however is keep the computer 30cm away from the wall at least. Doing this will stop the same warm air from re-circulating throughout the system.

The air vents on the Mac Mini are located in one place: The back. As with the iMac, keep the machine 30cm from the wall and you should be fine.

On MacBook Pro/Airs, the air vents are all located in-between the screen and the body of the laptop. In the hinge, you could say. The best way to stop your Mac laptop from the overheating is to avoid covering these vents. This is not a problem when you are using the computer on a desk, but if you're using it on your lap you may need to be a bit more careful.

A common myth is that the MacBook family vent heat via the keyboard. This is false. No Mac laptop has ever vented heat through the keyboard. Therefore you are free to purchase and use a keyboard protector without worrying about it interfering with your MacBook's cooling system.


---------------------------All Noise and No Heat?-----------------------------

-----Why your fans might be running fast even though your Mac isn't hot-----

If your Mac's fans are unjustifiably loud, chances are the System Management Controller (SMC for short) is a bit messed up. The SMC controls many of the most basic, low level functions on your Mac, which includes operating the fans. It is not uncommon however for the SMC to mess up, an issue which can easily be resolved by resetting the SMC:

For a Macintosh laptop:

1. Shut down the computer.
2. Plug your Mac in, if not already plugged in.
3. Press (left side) Shift-Control-Option & the power button at the same time.
4. Release all the keys and the power button at the same time.
5. Press the power button to turn on the computer.

For a Macintosh desktop:

1. Shut down the computer.
2. Unplug the computer's power cord.
3. Wait fifteen seconds.
4. Attach the computer's power cord.
5. Wait five seconds, then press the power button to turn on the computer.


----------Internal Cleaning & Maintenance of your MacBook----------


Laptops tend to collect dust & lint in various places on the inside, and the MacBook family is no exception. Any computer will build up a fair amount of dust over a period of several years, however laptops also collect lint from your clothes, carpet, bed, couches and anywhere else they rest while your using them. Significant amounts of dust and lint in the heat sink of your MacBook prevents hot air from escaping, which causes the computer to run hotter, causes the fans to spin up more and makes the computer more vulnerable to overheating. In extreme cases there is a chance of the built up material catching fire, damaging components.

It is recommended that you clean out your MacBook at least once a year. If your not sure how to go about it, this video will explain it to you:

If your MacBook is relatively old, overheating may be caused by the fact that the thermal paste on the top of the processor and heatsink has gotten old and hard. But even if your MacBook is new this can be a problem, as it is not uncommon for thermal paste to be applied too thickly at the factory. So if you have tried all of the advice on this page and your MacBook is still abnormally hot, it might pay to reapply the thermal paste.

Be warned that reapplying thermal paste is a fairly complex procedure, especially in MacBook Airs and some of the latest MacBook Pros that aren't supposed to be opened up by the user. However if you are confident you can do it, or if you know someone who can do it, remove your MacBook's heatsink before following these steps.


Does your Mac have a Short Battery Life?

Most of the time battery life issues and heat issues go hand in hand with laptops - If you figure out a way to solve one then that same method solves the other. However if your Mac has battery issues even after you've solved it's heat problems check out How to Improve your Mac's Battery Life.


What sort of Mac do you own?

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One last thing...

For more information about How to Prevent your MacBook from Overheating, check out Everything you need to know about Macs and Heat and How to Prevent your MacBook from Overheating.

Please leave your Comments, Questions & Feedback below

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    • profile image

      Dabberdog 3 years ago

      Flash makes Macs overheat. It doesn't make my PC laptop or desktop overheat, and, most importantly, it isn't the main cause of heat on my Macs. Your disdain for this excellent platform is indicative of the current hate that's been heaped upon it.

      My macs go up in the 90c zone when there is auto-playing video in a browser, and this video is sometimes Flash based, but, more often lately, NOT Flash. This excessive heat is also reached:

      when editing or rendering video

      when editing or rendering 3D

      when watching a video DVD

      when using video conferencing (skype, facetime, etc)

      when making music in GarageBand

      notably, while GarageBand causes overheating with only a few tracks of music at a time playing or one recording, MOTU Digital Performer can be playing multiple tracks and recording at the same time and Doesn't Overheat! Strange that. Why can't Apple achieve this with their own sofware/hardware combination? That seems suspect to me.

      I could list quite a few more things that cause excessive heat on a mac here... but ultimately the problem is this:

      Anything that is resource intensive is going to make a Mac heat up past acceptable levels. Either it is planned obsolescence, or it is simply bad design. I am going to go with the latter.

      They want it to be pretty. The OS is awesome. I use macs 90% of the time. That being said, it's a big problem, and it isn't Flash's fault, nor is it the fault of any other software or resource intensive activity. Computers are made to do amazing things. I am not buying a $2000 laptop to do word processing, so why is it apparently only capable of such mundane activities?

      I place the blame squarely on Apple. They dropped their initial base (creative professionals like me) when they figured out how to appeal to the masses, and now that's all they care about. Steve Jobs was in on it. He didn't care about heat, only that the laptop ran silent. Well it sure runs silent when it is bricked by heat.

      Apple replaced my motherboard when my laptop died from it. That was nice, but now I don't have the option that I paid for of using my amazing macbook pro for real production work for fear of another meltdown. It has been relegated to web surfing and music playing. Pathetic. If it wasn't for Microsoft OSs being so unbelievably terrible and hackable I would drop Macs.

    • profile image

      anon 4 years ago

      Thanks! Shift-Control-Option + power button worked like a charm!

    • tyelford profile image

      tyelford 5 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Good tips. My Mac Book Pro gets really hot when using Skype as well