WARNING: An overheating MacBook could be the sign of a virus or malware infection. Check out our article on how to clean your computer and keep it safe from viruses and adware by clicking below.
Being very compact and quiet, MacBooks tend to suffer from overheating problems more than their Windows PC counterparts. However it is often difficult to differentiate between a MacBook that is simply running hot, which they are designed to do, and one that is genuinely overheating.
If a MacBook is genuinely overheating, the cause could be a number of things, most of which are easy to fix, but unfortunately are often left untreated. To find out how to diagnose and solve your MacBook's overheating problems, not only ensuring your MacBook a long life but protecting your body from potentially harmful heat radiation, read the rest of this article. This is the ultimate guide to preventing your Mac from overheating!
We've added a comprehensive breakdown of our favorite laptop cooling pads. If you're interested in our reviews and ratings of each one, check out our overview below or click here for the full article.
If you are confident that your MacBook is overheating you can download an application that allows you to see your Mac's internal temperatures. All modern Macs have several internal temperature gauges, however, the ability to see those temperature readings is not built into the OS. To do this download SMC Fan Control or iStat Menus below.
Do note that this article is for the Macbooks modelled before 2016. However, even if you want to stick around for some good reading, carry on!
Table of Contents
Download SMC Fan Control
SMC Fan Control is an application that allows you to monitor the temperature of your Mac and adjust the fan speeds accordingly. Once you have downloaded SMC Fan Control, read on for instructions regarding how to use the application.
After installing the app you will be able to see your MacBook's temperature readings - SMC Fan Control displays your Mac's CPU temp in the menu bar. Depending on the processor, MacBooks automatically shut down when the processor reaches 105C (220F) to avoid serious heat damage from occurring.
However, while this prevents heat damage short term if a MacBook is regularly running at an excess of 85-90C (185-195F), the long term life of vital components such as the processor, the graphics card and even the battery can be stunted. If you plan on keeping your MacBook for a more long term period (4-6 years) rather than a shorter-term period (1-3 years) keep reading to find out how to keep your Mac cool.
SMC Fan Control can do more than just display your Mac's internal temperatures, it can actually control the fan speed of your MacBook. This can be rather helpful when you're performing intensive tasks on the computer, as MacBooks don't tend to crank up the fans until the CPU gets up to 90-100C (195-215F), and even then, only barely enough to keep it below 100C (215F). Not cool enough to stop the laptop from becoming permanently damaged or to keep yourself completely safe.
Adjust Fan Speed
To adjust the speed of your Mac's fans click on the SMC Fan Control temperature reading on the menu bar and choose the preferences option from the drop-down menu. From there simply move the slider to the desired fan speed (there may be more than one slider if your Mac has more than one fan) and click the save button. Note that the minimum fan speed that SMC Fan Control allows you to select is the normal, default fan setting. Sliding the slider higher will simply set a higher minimum fan speed.
Spinning your MacBook's fans up is desirable when the computer becomes very hot, as speeding up the fans will escalate the rate at which the hot air leaves the computer. Be sure to leave the vents well clear of any obstructions when doing this, as if the vents are obstructed the hot air will hang around the computer and no good will be done.
Unfortunately, since SMC Fan Control is a relatively old application it doesn't work properly on many modern Macs, such as the MacBook Airs made in 2013 or later. The application may install successfully, however if your Mac is not compatible the temperature will read as 0 degrees. So what can you do?
Fortunately, there is another application called iStat Menus that will allow you to do the same things as SMC Fan Control and much more. The downside is that iStat Menus costs approximately $15 as opposed to SMC Fan Control which is free. If you would like to give iStat a try, click here to download the application from the developer's website. There is a free trial available before buying, so you can check it out first to see if it's worth buying. Once you have installed the application read on below for instructions if you need them.
Once iStat Pro is installed you will be able to see the temperature of your Mac just like in iStat Pro (see left). By default, the reading in the menu bar is the Core CPU temp, but if you click on it a drop-down will open displaying the temperatures of many different parts of your Mac -- these include the battery, wireless equipment, trackpad, inlet and many more. While these can be interesting however it is the core CPU temp that is the most useful.
To adjust the fan speed of your Mac simply open the iStat Menus application, select the "Sensors" option on the left-hand menu, then click the "Edit Fan Rules" button. In the window that comes up you will be able to set the fan speed in much the same way as SMC Fan Control (see below).
The only vents on your MacBook (with the exception of the Retina MacBook Pro) are located in the hinge. ir both enters and exits your MacBook through the vents on the hinge, so it is very important not to cover them up. Using your MacBook on the floor, on a cushion, pillow, in bed or even on your lap can obstruct the vents, causing overheating. Not to mention it can clog your MacBook with lint and dust.
To maximize airflow you should use your MacBook on hard surfaces, such as books, tables or laptop cooling pads (for more information about the latter see the laptop cooling pad section of this page below).
Causes Of A Hot Mac
Watching YouTube videos is something that almost everyone does on their computers these days, and is, unfortunately, the cause of the bulk of overheating problems MacBooks face. While processing videos is a fairly intensive task for any computer, playing low a quality (480P) YouTube video on a Mac is actually more processor-intensive than playing a higher quality (720P) MP4 video using QuickTime. What's more, Windows-based computers don't experience anywhere near the stress from playing YouTube videos as Macs do.
Turns out that Adobe Flash is the culprit. Adobe Flash has never run well on Macintosh computers, with improvement over the years minimal at best. What's more, you'd be surprised by the amount of Flash content there is on the internet - many online videos, almost all online games and many interactive features found on websites are displayed in Flash.
It seems that the ideal solution would be to simply stop using flash, and it is. However, most people want/need the content that is displayed using Flash. Fortunately, some of the most popular Flash content can be displayed in other formats that are friendlier towards Macs, with only a little effort on the user's part. YouTube's HTML5 format, for example.
HTML5 is a modern, versatile version of HTML that can largely replace Flash when it comes to online videos. You and your MacBook can take advantage of HTML5 as long as you are using the latest version of either Safari or Google Chrome to browse the web. Unlike Flash, HTML5 runs productively and efficiently on Mac computers, using significantly less system resources and therefore keeping your MacBook cooler and extending its battery life.
Flash content is not just present in online videos and games, but also online advertisements. Many of the moving, interactive banner ads you see on the internet are powered by Flash and just like Flash video, Flash advertisements will use up significant system resources and therefore cause your Mac to heat up. To combat this various Flash-blocking browser plugins have been created, and if you want to keep your MacBook running as cool as possible it is recommended that you install one.
Such plugins can be found for Safari, Chrome and Firefox. Note that Flash blocking plugins do not straight up block you from being able to view Flash content, but allow you to choose what Flash content you want to load by displaying a white box where theFlash content was and allowing you to simply click it once to load it up.
Have a look at the upper right-hand corner of your screen, does the magnifying glass icon (spotlight) have a small dot pulsating in it? If so, spotlight is indexing, which will probably cause your MacBook to get up to around 80C (176F). Spotlight indexing basically organizes the content of your hard drive so it is easier to find via the spotlight feature. However the task is quite intensive, so you will probably find that your MacBook will heat up. Indexing will happen once in a while, especially after lots of new data is added to the hard disk. It should last for no longer than a few hours, although it depends on how much data is on your hard disk.
If your MacBook is getting excessively hot as a result of spotlight indexing the best course of action may be to set the computer down on a table/desk, plug it in and leave it turned on for several hours to finish the indexing. And note that there are currently no ways to stop spotlight from indexing.
Cooling Stands for MacBook Laptops
Is your MacBook connected up to an external display? If so you can expect it to be a bit warmer, as running a large external display is quite intensive for a laptop's GPU (graphics processing unit). It is therefore important that the MacBook is kept cool, by elevating it off the desk (to promote airflow) with a hard object such as a book.
However, for more permanent solutions, a stand (like the one seen in the photo below) would be more ideal, as they look more appealing and, more importantly, are more effective. Below are a couple of stands from Amazon that we recommend if you want to improve the airflow in and around your MacBook.
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If you want, you can check out our review of the best MacBook cooling options right here.
Lint And Dust
If none of these solutions appears to be working very well, your MacBook might be backed up with and dust. Skip this section if the computer's less than about a year old, as there shouldn't have been time for anything to build up inside it. But if your machine has been around for a few years and you use it on surfaces that contain lots of lint (such as carpet, cushions, blankets and your lap) it might be worthwhile opening your MacBook up and cleaning it out.
Note that you can only do this if you own a Classic MacBook Pro, as the Retina MacBook Pro and MacBook Air cannot be easily opened up. If you *do* own a Classic MacBook Pro and you wish to clean it out, follow this video tutorial.
Cooling Pads for Your MacBook
Intensive tasks, such as gaming, video editing and consuming Flash content will always generate intense heat in your MacBook. One can go so far by following the advice above, but if you need to preform intensive tasks and there is no way around it - the CPU and GPU will get taxed, which will cause heat.
The reason desktop computers don't have so many overheating problems as laptops is that they disperse the heat better by being larger, having better cooling systems and having more ventilation. And believe-it-or-not, you can equip your MacBook with a better cooling system!
Laptop cooling pads are devices that one places either in-between their laptop and their lap or their laptop and a desk. Modern laptop cooling pads use advanced airflow-controlling techniques and extra fans to effectively cool down laptops. They protect you from the heat of your computer while also cooling it down to ensure a long life.
Laptop cooling pads can be very cost-effective, starting at literally a few dollars, with the more high-end models still very affordable at about around USD$30. Below is a link to our comprehensive cooling pad review where we recommend our favorite and most affordable cooling pad for all types of MacBooks.