Hot apple pie, okay. Hot Apple Macbook, not so much.
February 24, 2010 9:33 AM   Subscribe

Why might my Macbook be running so hot, and what can I do about it?

I have an older Macbook that I purchased in (I think) 2006. I don't have Applecare, and have since then replaced the battery and upgraded the hard drive. At any rate, I don't think I have any kind of warranty coverage at this point. I'm also running Snow Leopard, if it matters, though I had the same problem with the previous version of OSX as well.

The computer has always run somewhat hot, but I assumed it was just a fact of life. However, I've noticed that my partner's doesn't seem to have nearly the same problem I do. My fan comes on very frequently, and the bottom is quite hot to the touch. I'm running iStatPro to monitor the temperature, and the CPU temperature frequently goes above 60 degrees celsius. Heatsink B is also in the upper 50s and sometimes hitting 60, and Heatsink A is in the mid-upper 50s, as are both Northbridge temperatures.

However, my CPU is not being overloaded. I usually am running three or four programs that I work with—, Safari (Flash definitely make it go crazy, but it happens without them, too), and Scrivener, and I guess sometimes iCal or Pages—as well as a few background apps, including Quicksilver. However, none of these seem to be particularly taxing when I check the Activity Monitor. According to iStat, my CPU usage is between 5-10% User and 0-5% System, depending on what I'm doing. Note, too, that this is using the computer on a hard, flat surface (a desk). I tried resetting the PRAM and it hasn't helped. My googling has turned up other people with the problems, but all of the suggest solutions that I have tried have been fruitless.

So, is my fan supposed to be coming on at these temperatures? If so, is it supposed to be so loud at these temperatures? Should my Macbook be running so hot at this level of CPU usage? Is there something wrong that I can or should get fixed?
posted by synecdoche to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The very first MacBook rev (sold from May-November 2006) had problems with the heatsink and overheating. One of the major symptoms was the system shutting down randomly. Did you ever experience that, and had it fixed? If not, you probably still have the dodgy old heatsink/logic board combination. I'm not sure if Apple is still repairing them for free, but they often will for models with documented known issues like that.
posted by zsazsa at 9:41 AM on February 24, 2010

Laptops of all descriptions can benefit from being lifted up slightly to allow some air underneath. Simple version is have a book that the back rests on. Less slippy-offy versions are available for purchase from your favourite retail establishment. I use an old PodiumPad but my mum has a new aluminium tray type one with a built-in wrist rest. No idea of the make tho'.
posted by i_cola at 9:44 AM on February 24, 2010

How old is the replaced battery by now? Is it still hot when you run without it?

"but all of the suggest solutions that I have tried have been fruitless."

You don't mention what you've tried. Doing so would help the people who want to help you, by narrowing down the range of potential solutions. It would also help you by preventing you from having to sort through a bunch of advice to do things you already did.

"my partner's doesn't seem to have nearly the same problem I do."

Interesting. Does your partner use their gear in a similar environment, and have similar luggage? Dust and lint problems, particularly with older laptops, are a big contributor to trouble with the cooling subsystems. It's possible your gear is subjected to more lint, dust, cat hair, or whatever than your partner's.

Have you blown out the vents with compressed air? Or better still, popped the hood and cleaned the heatsinks?
posted by majick at 9:47 AM on February 24, 2010

Is your partner's the same age? I also had the same problem - I brought it into the Apple store at the time and they told me it was normal, and that "it's why we don't call it a laptop".
posted by beyond_pink at 9:47 AM on February 24, 2010

zsazsa: no, no random shutting down. Aside from the noise and the heat, everything works fine.

i_cola: I do occasionally have my laptop elevated on what is, basically, a phone stand that is made of a sort of mesh (kind of like this). Same problem. Maybe not as constant as when it is flat on a desk, but still there.

majick and beyond_pink, no, my partner has a later model, probably from 2008, I think.

Most of the solutions I've seen involve shutting down programs that hog system resources, clearing the print queue, or resetting the PRAM. I don't have anything that is really taxing the system resources, my print queue is clear, and I've tried resetting the PRAm a few times now to no avail. I'll give the compressed air a try but I don't know how to clean the heatsinks and am a bit wary of cracking the hood. The new battery seems fine—it does not feel hot at all. The temperature of everything else stays about the same without it.
posted by synecdoche at 10:07 AM on February 24, 2010

Sounds like you may have the old heatsink/logic board, then. These MacBooks ran notoriously hot when they first came out; Apple's excuse was the "it's not a laptop" one that beyond_pink mentioned. They eventually moved to fix the issue, however. If you have Software Update running, you should gotten the MacBook SMC Firmware Update 1.1, which alleviates some of the heat and fan issues, way back in '06. Try installing it just in case; you may not have it. Failing that, you MAY be able to get Apple to repair it for you for free.
posted by zsazsa at 10:17 AM on February 24, 2010

Okay, without the battery, the fan speed lowers but the temperatures remain high. I tried to download the SMC update and it said that my computer didn't need it, so I probably have it already. I'll try to blow out the vents when I get home.
posted by synecdoche at 10:26 AM on February 24, 2010

I good flushing by YASU (Yet Another System Utility) may help clean out some log files that have gotten bloated. Might not help your situation but it's worth a shot. (Note: this will reboot after running, so save all work.)
posted by sharkfu at 10:31 AM on February 24, 2010

I'm running a Macbook Pro from '07, but just for temperature numbers: my CPU is currently at 61C, Heatsink A is 58C, and Heatsink B is 45C. This is with VLC running, my CPU use is 9% user, 5% system. I don't think anything you have is overly high.

Have you tried installing SMC Fan Control, you can activate the fans earlier, and control their RPMs so that they are at least a bit quieter. Maybe having them come on earlier but at a low RPM will help matters before things start to overheat.

It's difficult to answer your question of whether the fans are too loud, but when my fans come on full blast (say, when doing anything involving flash video, for example), it's a pretty noticeable whine. I recently read (maybe here on Mefi) a theory that Apple lets the Macbooks run a bit hotter just to keep the fan noise down.

As an aside, I seem to remember that this was the Macbook rev that had issues with too much thermal paste (link to google images), if you have a friendly Apple service dealer nearby (instead of going to the Apple store), you might have luck asking them to take a look for you. This is something that will be easier to talk to them about, instead of booking an Apple Store appointment and dealing with their deliberately obtuse customer service on stuff like this.
posted by dnesan at 10:43 AM on February 24, 2010

I've been using Coolbook for a while now and am very happy with it. It's worth the 10 or 15 bucks in my opinion.
posted by DrDreidel at 12:38 PM on February 24, 2010

My MacBook Pro started running noticeably hotter right around when its logic board shit the bed due to a bad GPU. I'd wonder about the logic board and let an Apple shop or the Apple Store guys take a look.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:14 PM on February 24, 2010

my 2006 macbook ran hot w/the fan and all until one day when (sorry, don't know the technical details/vocab) the hard drive fried. no data was recoverable and nothing was backed up. back yours up. don't be a dumbass like me. not sure what you should do, just wanted you to see others had the same issue.
posted by apostrophe at 11:21 PM on February 24, 2010

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