As computers have become more compact and powerful simultaneously, dissipating all the heat generated by the processor and graphics chipset is a major challenge. Desktops generally have enough room for robust cooling systems which can stop the computer getting too hot under almost any conditions. Phones and tablets are so low powered that not much heat can be generated anyway. Laptops however can get the worst of both worlds — they can be powerful computers but are packed into such a tight form factor that they can overheat easily. This is especially true when it comes to MacBooks, which is what this article will focus on, due Apple’s design priority of sleek form factors. So read on to find out how to stop your MacBook overheating!
Download a temperature monitoring application to see how hot your MacBook really is
If you can hear your MacBook’s fans then chances are it’s overheating. To confirm the core temperature however you will need to download a third party application: iStat Menus or SMC Fan Control. The former should work on any modern Mac and has a very polished and powerful interface, however requires a license to be purchased after the 14 day free trial. SMC Fan Control is more basic and compatibility is hit-and-miss with newer Macs, however unlike iStat Menus it is freeware.
Once you have downloaded and installed either iStat Menus or SMC Fan Control, you will be able to see your MacBook’s core temperature in the menu bar. If the temperature is below about 70C then you should certainly not be hearing the fans spin. In the case that the fans are loud under sub-70C temperatures then there may be an issue with your Mac’s SMC. You can find Apple’s instructions here to reset the SMC for any type of Mac you may have.
If your MacBook’s core temperature is in the 80/90C to 100C range then you can expect the fan(s) to spin up to the point you can hear them. This is perfectly normal if you are performing intensive tasks such as video editing, emulation or gaming. However if you are not doing anything intensive on your Mac, or if the computer remains hot even when doing nothing at all, then there could be an application or process taxing system resources in the background.
Check if Spotlight indexing is heating up your Mac
Periodically Spotlight may perform an indexing on your Mac’s filesystem — although you may not notice anything this is intensive and can cause your Mac to heat up. Click on Spotlight in the menu bar and you will be able to see if it’s indexing. If this is the case then the heat issue should disappear after Spotlight finishes indexing. The time this takes depends on how much data you have stores on your Mac, however if you have waited a long time read this article for solutions to stop Spotlight from indexing
Check Activity Monitor to see what's consuming your Mac's resources
If Spotlight is not indexing then open the Activity Monitor application and check the system load at the bottom of the window. The largest proportion of the system resources should be idle if your Mac is not doing anything:
The idle proportion being low indicates there is a process consuming most of your Mac’s resources. Sort the processes in Activity Monitor by % CPU and you will be able to see which processes these are. Solving the problem may be as simple as closing an offending application or restarting your computer, however if it persists there may be a bigger issue.
Reset NVRAM or PRAM to fix your MacBook's fans always spinning up
If you’ve found that your MacBook’s fans are loud but the computer is not overheating then there could be an issue with the NVRAM or PRAM, which is used to store low-level system settings on your Mac. In this case resetting the NVRAM/PRAM may stop the computer’s fans from spinning up unnecessarily — read this guide from Apple to find out how to reset it.
Purchase a laptop cooling pad to cool your MacBook
Try placing your MacBook on a hard flat surface such as a desk and observe the core temperature. After a few minutes the fans should spin down as the temperature drops. Using your MacBook on cushions, carpet or in bed insulates the case and stops heat from escaping. If you are having overheating issues avoid these surfaces, and instead use hard flat surfaces. On your lap a hardcover book could be used to improve ventilation, however the best course of action is to improve your MacBook’s cooling system.
A laptop cooling pad effectively adds fans to your MacBook, drawing heat away much faster than the standard internal cooling system ever could. This means the computer will stay cool all the time, whether or not you are using it on your lap or on a desk, and whether you are web browsing or maxing out the system resources with intensive tasks.
See below some of the best laptop cooling pads we’ve selected to use with your Mac, available via Amazon:
✔ USB powered with pass-through, 2x fans to improve airflow and prevent overheating
✔ Suitable for smaller 13" MacBooks
✔ USB powered with pass-through, 5x fans to greatly improve airflow and prevent overheating
✔ Suitable for larger 15" and 16" MacBooks performing demanding tasks
(and feel free to use a keyboard protector)
Keyboard protectors are often said to block the airflow on MacBooks. However no Mac has ever vented air via the keyboard, so whether you use a keyboard protector or not will have little impact on the MacBook overheating.
Open up your MacBook and clean the dust out to prevent overheating
If it’s a year or more old your MacBook could be overheating because of dust trapped inside the case — this is especially likely if the computer has been used frequently on beds and carpet, as lint will get sucked in and trapped inside the cooling system, inhibiting airflow and causing heat issues. To check this you will need to remove the cover underneath your MacBook — how this is done depends on which model and year your Mac is. Some older MacBooks have the cover held on with regular Philips screws, while newer models require a special star screwdriver to remove them.
Check out the below YouTube videos to help you through the process:
Instructions for cleaning MacBook Air
Instructions for cleaning MacBook Pro
Tools you might need to effectively clean dust from your MacBook
✔ Star shaped screwdriver needed to open up modern MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros.
✔ Compressed air suitable to clean dust from your MacBook without damaging any components.