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August 19, 2011 9:01 PM   Subscribe

How much should I worry about laptop heat with a Macbook Pro?

I think this sounds a bit ridiculous but I worry about it so I thought I'd ask.

I'm a laptop musician and I use a year-old Macbook Pro running a smorgasbord of stuff in Ableton Live. I arbitrarily decided that my laptop felt hot enough, thank you, when the CPU meter was about %30. I have this totally made up and imaginary thing in my head where I believe that anything above that is fine for short bursts but that I wouldn't want to sustain a level much higher than that for the hour or two that I'm typically playing, lest my laptop get too hot.

So: should I really worry about this? Should I be monitoring my system some other way than Live's CPU meter? Tell me I'm being silly, because I'd really like to add some more stuff and work the ole' computer a bit harder.

It does get proper ventilation. It's on one of these, which I feel is marginally better than tabletop, as it lets a bit of air underneath (the laptop sits on pads not really visible in that photo). I'd rather not use a USB laptop fan because I'm pretty much out of USB ports.
posted by neuromodulator to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
MBPs are known chestnut roasters. Our whole company uses them, some more intensely than others, and we've had basically no problems attributable to heat.
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:25 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've used my MBP, a 2009 model, to play Mass Effect for hours, booted into Windows. I've had no problems at all, even with the fans pegged at max the whole time.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:30 PM on August 19, 2011

Oddly enough I had this explained to me a few weeks ago by the woman who looks after the mechanical design of the MBP. You don't have to babysit it; it will babysit itself. There are feedback routines that monitor the temperature of both the CPU and the bottom of the case and keep them within set limits. Step 1 is to ramp up fan speed, but step 2 throttles CPU performance to lower the cooling demand. There's no way (that I am aware of) to modify the temp limits or the cooling profile, so if you disagree with their decisions on what constitutes "too hot" you're back to micromanaging on your own.
posted by range at 9:42 PM on August 19, 2011

There's no way (that I am aware of) to modify the temp limits or the cooling profile,

This is one way
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:45 PM on August 19, 2011

i have a macbook air that routinely gets close to 200 F... i hope it's not a problem :)

If you're concerned about CPU, you can always bounce down tracks instead of using all the effects and soft synths live.
posted by empath at 11:19 PM on August 19, 2011

There are a number of MacBook Pros in one of the networks I manage. All of them are labelled with a Dymo sticker that has been darkened by the heat inside. This has not happened with older machines. This worries me but I am assured that they are self managing. In any case they are leased and under a three year warranty.
posted by chairish at 12:55 AM on August 20, 2011

My macbook pro set the carpet underneath smoking(!) when I was working on the floor for a while. There were also worrying crackling sounds, like a fire had started (but it hadn't). Since then I have been VERY careful not to let mine get too hot, or leave it doing anything CPU intensive unattended.

But maybe mine is defective.
posted by lollusc at 5:09 AM on August 20, 2011

I've used smc fan control (I have one of the 2008 MBPs with the bad graphics card). It seemed to work pretty well. I got my logic board replaced and stopped worrying about the temperature. Putting the fans up high can cool the machine down quick but I would expect it to have a huge impact on your battery life, too.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:01 AM on August 20, 2011

Don't worry about it.

You can install something like iStat pro to monitor temperatures and fan speeds. It won't really tell you anything useful but you may feel more at ease knowing what's going on. I would not install any third party fan control software. Half the point of buying a Mac is that Apple has set up power management and cooling for you in a way that should work. Don't mess with it.

The stand you have now should give adequate airflow, but if you want more you can get a stand like this which has no solid metal base. Another thing to consider is cleaning the fans and heatsinks; dust builds up and makes the cooling less effective. However getting inside the laptop to do that cleaning is not easy.
posted by Nelson at 7:14 AM on August 20, 2011

I don't know how much you should worry, so I'm not really answering the question, but I have a 2009 MBP and I worry a lot. I have searched the internet for a magic temperature below which things are OK and above which things are not, but I don't think it exists.

When I'm doing something processor intensive, I use the SMC fan control program Poet_Lariat linked to to crank the fans at full speed, and if it's still too hot I wheel out a laptop stand with built-in fans — this has a built-in USB hub so it provides more ports than it uses.

The downside of this is that it's all very noisy, which might interfere with your performances.

Also, if your Macbook has a discrete graphics card, turning it off and using the integrated graphics helps a lot. That thing kicks out a ton of heat.
posted by nowonmai at 9:36 AM on August 20, 2011

Mine used to get ridiculously hot, but my battery needed to be replaced. Since I got the new battery it seems to be more reasonable. But maybe it's all in my head?
posted by TallulahBankhead at 9:51 PM on August 20, 2011

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