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Summary:

After upgrading to Lion on my early 2008 15″ MacBook Pro, I started to notice that the computer was hot to the touch. Really hot. So I started measuring the internal temperature of my Macs to see if there was anything to be truly alarmed about.

Mac OS X Lion

After upgrading to Lion on my early 2008 15″ MacBook Pro, I started to notice that the computer was hot to the touch. Really hot. So I started measuring the internal temperature of my Macs to see if there was anything to be truly alarmed about.

It turns out that Mac Intel chips have a built-in feature called THERMTRIP that will temporarily suspend the CPU when things get hot, and shut down the CPU altogether when things get too hot. Speculation is that this temperature is somewhere in the neighborhood of 120-130ºC. While my Macs did not reach three digit temperatures, the increase did alarm me. Luckily, as you can see, the temperatures settled down to a normal range after a few days. This is likely due to the machines running a lot of initial tasks like Spotlight indexing of your entire drive just after the Lion upgrade.

Still, if you, like me, are concerned and want to do something a little more proactive than just waiting, here are a few precautionary measures you can take:

iStat Pro Dashboard Widget. One of the first (and lately the only dashboard widgets) I installed is iSlayer’s iStat Pro. This widget will allow you to monitor several of your Mac’s vital statistics, and with the optional companion iOS app, you can monitor your Mac from your iPhone when you’re attached to the same Wi-Fi network. Information reported includes systems various temperatures, and the speed of your Mac’s internal fans. The problem is that as your Mac keeps getting hotter, your fans aren’t spinning faster, something for which we turn to the next tool.

smcFanControl Menu utility for Mac. To manually modify the speed of your internal fans, you can install Hendrik Holtmann’s smcFanControl. For some of the older Macs that are still technically capable of running OS X 10.7 Lion, you may find that they are having some difficulty keeping up at times, and the default fan speed just will not provide the relief required. This menu bar item will allow you to change the minimum fan speed and effectively take control of just how fast your fan will blow. I created two custom settings: a midrange setting at 4000 RPM, and a high setting at 6000 RPM and will turn them on when I see things get a little too hot. I then set things back to Apple’s default levels once things cool down.

Purchase a laptop stand. Proper ventilation is key to allowing your Mac to cool down under normal conditions. Placing your laptop on a pillow or blanket because it is running hot may do more harm than good, especially if you end up blocking the vents that are trying to expel all that hot air. My personal favorite is the Cooling Bar from Just Mobile for $39.95US.  I find it convenient to carry with me and easy to set up.  Just Mobile has other stands for your MacBook as well. And if you tend to keep your Macbook closed when at a desk, consider Twelve South’s BookArc Pro for $49.99 U.S.

Let us know if you have other tips for keeping your Mac cool under pressure, or if you’re seeing temperature spikes under Lion that last beyond the first few days.

  1. Where were you seeing these temperatures exactly? High 70s isn’t that alarming of a CPU temp (in fact my 2009 15″ MBP runs around there normally), but if your enclosure or palm rest temperature were this high, it would be serious cause for alarm.

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    1. Once I started looking into this, the actual temperatures were not as alarming as I thought they would be. What initially concerned me was that my MacBook Pro was much hotter to the touch than normal. Once I turned the fans up, the temps came down and it was not too hot to handle anymore.

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  2. Buy something to elevate and cool your laptop? A cork from a wine bottle, cut in half, will work as well, as will foam pipe insulation.

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  3. If your computer, like you say in the article, has technology to help shut down processors when the temp is unsafe why would you run SMC fan control. Don’t you think Apple’s Engineers know better than you?

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  4. “Speculation is that this temperature is somewhere in the neighborhood of 120-130ºC.”

    Please note that this depends on the installed model and type of processor (see Intel datasheets) and I have yet to see a single CPU that can handle 120+ degrees. It’s more likely to be somewhere in the region of 90 to 105 degrees centigrade.

    My experience, after a two month trial period, is that Power Management in Lion changed, and we noticed that there are now fewer P-State switches as we’ve seen with Snow Leopard. Which is unfortunate because now every Mac user is drawing more juice from the net. Wait for Apple to release a fix for this… in the near future ;)

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    1. I don’t understand how you can get only 30ºC on your MacBook Pro of early 2008. I have a unibody MacBook Pro of late 2008 with Snow Leopard, and it almost always runs at 60ºC. When Safari opens some Flash pages, it’s usual for me to see it going up to 80ºC.

      I normally only do browsing. Of course, I have other three family members logged in each with their own user accounts. But is that really a problem for a MBPro to handle that it needs to run that hot?

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      1. To clarify, those are all temps witnessed at idle processing times after each Mac was running for a short while with no Apps running at all.

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  5. The Cooling Bar mentioned above raises the back edge of the laptop, which is poor for ergonomics, despite the mfr.’s claims to the contrary. Angling the keyboard up at the back forces the wrists into an unnatural position.

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    1. I’ve definitely noticed my mid-2010 MBP running significantly hotter under Lion, with fans kicking in at much lower activity loads than they used to. Any chance that a clean install might help, or is it best to just wait for Apple to fix?

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  6. Oh, Joy! They’ve now built in Hardware degradation. I have lost three processors to heat and from what I am being told, Mac’s typically run hotter than PC’s. And we all know that “heat kills hardware”.

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  7. I’ve long used a plastic slab cutting board from IKEA to keep under my MB, wherever I’m using it. Cost: $2.00 US.

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