Everything you need to know about MacBooks & Heat
What is this page about?
This page, as the title implies, contains everything you need to know about MacBooks and heat. It may seem an unusual topic, but being very compact, MacBooks (MacBook Pros & MacBook Airs) can get extremely hot. Sometimes the heat produced is normal, however sometimes it is damaging to both the components of your Mac and your health. On this page you can find out where on your Mac to expect heat, how hot is too hot, how to keep your Mac cool and how to protect yourself from heat radiation.
-------------Places on your Macintosh laptop where you should expect heat--------------
----Should you use your MacBook on the lap or the desk?----
You may have been told by various people that having a laptop in direct contact with your lap is dangerous, that over a long period of time can cause cancer in the genital region or can render you infertile. While preforming basic tasks on your Mac while it's on your lap will be ok, preforming intensive tasks (those that make your Mac hot) on a regular basis while it's on your lap is not good for your health. On the lighter end it can cause fungal infections like thrush, over a long period of time it can render you infertile, and on the heavy end genital cancer can come of it. [For more information about the health effects of using a hot MacBook on your lap, visit Is it Harmful to use a Hot MacBook on your Lap?]
To protect yourself from this dangerous heat radiation you should put something between you and your Mac, such as a cushion. Although soft objects like cushions protect you from heat radiation, they also act as an insulator for your MacBook, making it even hotter, shortening it's lifespan and causing you discomfort. The best way to stay safe from 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).
NOTE: A little radiation comes from your Mac's screen, however it is a very small amount compared to CRT (these) displays. Modern LCD (these) displays emit a very low amount of radiation and it's not a threat.
Laptop cooling pads
For those of you who don't know what they are, laptop cooling pads are plastic or aluminium pads that can either sit between your MacBook and your lap, or your MacBook and a desk/table - Their purpose is to keep your MacBook running cooler, by both lifting the computer up to allow it 'breathing space', and sucking the hot air away from it with one or more fans. In addition to keeping your Mac cool, laptop cooling pads also keep you cool, as they separate you from your MacBook, and the heat it generates. So this does not only benefit your laptop's health, but also your own.
Laptop cooling pads are generally powered by your MacBook's USB ports, and modern ones contain quiet but powerful fans that you shouldn't notice under everyday use. They are very cost effective, starting at only $2-$3 on Amazon, before shipping. Of course if you want a higher quality one, you'll have to pay a bit more - However even the high end cooling pads are affordable, their prices sitting at around $25-$30 US dollars. Below are three cooling pads available for purchase via Amazon in the US & Canada - The best one from each price range ($2, $10 & $30) has been selected, so check them out if you're looking at getting one!
Laptop cooling pads ($2-$30)
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!
This cooling pad is quite affordable at only $18, and includes something that separates it from other cooling pads: Instead of sucking the hot air away from a laptop, it blows cool air at it. This concept hasn't been used before, but is apparently more efficient. Visit it's amazon page for more info.
Note: This cooling pad can be used on the lap in addition to the desk!
This laptop cooling pad is designed for use on the lap, so you you don't need to keep your MacBook tied to a desk to keep it cool. No external power is required; simply plug the cooling pad into a USB port on your laptop and enjoy the quiet by efficient cooling!
Note: This cooling pad can be used on the lap in addition to the desk!
Do laptop cooling pads actually work? What do you recommend?
The Poor Man's Laptop Cooling Pad
If you cannot buy a laptop cooling pad, either because you cannot afford one or because they are difficult to come by in your geographical area, there is an alternative. Desk fans, although they obviously won't work as well as a cooling pad, can be used as a substitute. Simply aim the desk fan at you & your MacBook, so that there is air flowing over the computer. This applies the same principal as a laptop cooling pad does, as it blows the hot air lingering around the laptop's case away, replacing it with fresh, cooler air. The breeze from a desk fan unfortunately cannot reach the underside of your MacBook, which is what makes it less effective than a cooling pad - However it can still cool your MacBook down significantly, so give it a try.
-------------------------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.
---------------------Free applications that can help 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 charge here.
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 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 for Macs. 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 powered by flash, 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.
If you stream videos using video-streaming websites (for example, wtso.net, animefreak.tv etc) you may notice that your Mac heats up and becomes noisy while the videos are playing. This is because the online player used to play them is powered by Adobe Flash, which as we now know is not-good for your Mac in terms of heat and battery life. Fortunately however, it is possible to download videos off of almost any free streaming website to your MacBook's hard drive. It is completely free and legal to do so, and all you need to be able to carry it out is a modern version of Google Chrome (which can be freely downloaded here if you don't already have it).
Once you have Google Chrome installed visit How to Download Online Videos to your Mac for a step-by-step tutorial on exactly how to do this.
If you notice that your MacBook is getting up to temperatures of about 80C 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 mainly after you have installed a new hard drive, reinstalled or upgraded the OS or have added a large volume of data to your hard drive.
Indexing usually lasts several hours, and is preformed so that your hard disk can be searched more efficiently. 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.
Heat whilst using external displays?
You may notice that your MacBook heats up when you connect it to an external display (especially a large one). 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 is important that you know where the vents are on your MacBook, as it's easy to unintentionally obstruct the vents of laptops, leading to overheating and all of the issues that come with it.
On Classic MacBook Pros (these and these), MacBook Airs and the older white MacBooks the air vents are located in-between the screen and the body of the laptop. In the hinge, you could say. The Retina MacBook Pro line also has intake vent on the bottom-edges of the computer, here. 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 malfunctioning. 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 and set the fans to a high speed when not needed - An issue which can easily be resolved by resetting the SMC:
Steps to rest the SMC on 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.
-----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 Retina MacBook Pro's 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 else who can, remove your MacBook's heatsink before following these steps
Have you noticed that your MacBook is running cooler after re-applying thermal paste?
Do SSD's run cooler than regular hard disks?
After faster speeds and lower power consumption, another advantage of SSDs are that they supposedly run cooler than regular Hard Drives with spinning platters - It makes logical sense, as electric motors generate heat, and motion generates friction, which also generates heat. However while SSDs do technically run cooler than HDDs, the effect it would have on keeping your MacBook cool would be minimal. This is because your MacBook's hard drive is not one of the critical components (CPU, GPU & Battery) that gets excessively hot easily, and thus it does not matter if it gets a bit hot, and more importantly, it won't get hot enough to pose any problems. If you're buying a SSD anyway, due to the speed or battery life increases (for more info about getting a SSD for your Mac click here), or you're getting a new MacBook Pro or MacBook Air that has one, by all means enjoy the side benefit of the drive running a little cooler - However do not buy one just for the sake of cooling your Mac down, as there are many ways, much less expensive and far more effective, that you can take to cool it down.
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 you'll be glad to know that this page has a 'sister site' which specializes in battery life problems in Macs rather than heat problems: How to Improve your MacBook's Battery Life. For further information about MacBooks & Battery Life you could also check out Everything you need to know about Macs and Battery Life.
Does your *iPhone* have a Short Battery Life?
If your battery life issues don't stop with your Mac, then you'll be glad to know that the 'Everything you need to know about Macs and Battery Life' page has a 'sister' page, who deals specifically with iPhone battery life issues. Being even more of a mobile device than the MacBook, it is important that your iPhone lasts as long as possible on a single charge. There are numerous things that you can do to improve your iPhone's battery life quickly and easily - So if you're interested, pay a visit to the Improve your iPhone's Battery Life page.
Learn how to Download Online Videos to your Mac!
Most of you probably know how to download videos from sites like YouTube - However not many know how to download videos off of ANY website. If you stream videos off of free streaming sites, such as wtso.net and animefreak.tv, you may be interested to know that you can easily, freely and legally download the videos off those sites to your Mac's hard drive. All you need is a Macintosh computer running Snow Leopard or later, and and an up-to-date version of Google Chrome. Then Click here to learn more about How to Download Online Videos to your Mac.
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One last thing...
What sort of Mac do you own?
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Note: Please state temperatures in Celsius, not Fahrenheit. Thank you.