Laptops Mac MacBook

Why does my MacBook get so hot?

MacBook on lap
Hot take: don't put the MacBook on your lap (Image by free stock photos from www.picjumbo.com from Pixabay)

For laptops that look ridiculously cool, MacBooks can get very hot. The metal casing above the keyboard and the base of the MacBook can even become too hot to touch. Here, we provide some tips to keep the MacBook on the right side of melting down.

The main reasons why a MacBook gets hot

There are multiple reasons why a MacBook might be getting toasty. Here are some of the common culprits:

  • It’s doing something demanding. When a laptop is performing a heavy-duty task, such as video editing or gaming, it’s putting a lot of strain on the processor and other internal components, and that creates additional heat. Although some MacBooks have fans to cool things down, the laptop will often feel hot to touch after a sustained period of demanding activity. It’s normally nothing to worry about.
  • You’re using the laptop on your lap or another insulated surface. Despite the name, it’s unwise to place a laptop directly on your lap for prolonged periods. If you must use it on your lap, put something (a hardback book, a magazine even) between you and the laptop. Definitely do not place a working laptop on a sofa, bed or (worst of all) the duvet – the insulation could cause the laptop to overheat and block the vents from which the fans expel air.
  • The fans have failed. Not all MacBooks have fans in the first place (click here to find out which model of Mac you have). Modern MacBook Air models don’t have fans, for example, so if you don’t ever hear any fan noise from your laptop it’s not necessarily a sign of a fault. However, if you know your model has fans and you’re not hearing them kick in when they normally would, or you’re hearing strange noises, it’s possible the fans have failed or dust is blocking the air vents.
  • The laptop is getting old. With each new version of macOS and the various apps loaded on your laptop, more demands are placed on your MacBook. Where it might once have easily run five different apps at the same time, an older MacBook might struggle to perform something as benign as web surfing without getting hot under the collar. Fans also get dusty and clogged over the years, and so might not cool the laptop as effectively as they once did.

How to tell if your MacBook is getting dangerously hot

As I’ve stated previously, even if a laptop feels hot to touch, it’s not normally a huge concern. If a MacBook is in danger of overheating to the point where components will burn out, the laptop will normally shut itself down to prevent that happening. If your MacBook is frequently shutting down without warning, it’s probably worth a visit to the Apple Store to find out what’s causing it to overheat. Warning – that could be an expensive visit if the laptop is no longer under warranty.

If you want to investigate further yourself, there’s an excellent app called iStat Menus that installs into the Menu Bar at the top of the screen. This gives a temperature readout from all manner of components inside the Mac, including the CPU, airflows, graphics chip, Thunderbolt ports and more. The temperature readings are kept for up to 30 days and this app can be great for identifying the source of an overheating issue. If it’s reporting high temperatures in the left airflow, for example, make sure nothing is obstructing the vents on the left-hand side of the laptop.

iStat Menus

You might be quite alarmed to see CPU temperatures spiking up to 80C or even 90C. However, it’s not unusual to see CPUs hit these peaks for short periods. If iStats report your CPU is constantly running at 90C or above, you might well have a problem.

One reason why your CPU might be running hot is that it’s being put under a constant, heavy load. This could be caused by malware or a faulty piece of software on the computer, which is thrashing the system’s resources.

Again, iStat Menus can help identify a culprit. Look at its CPU section: if the CPU is being run constantly close to capacity, that might explain why it’s getting so hot. Look for Processes under the CPU charts and you should find a list of the programs that are putting the processor under most stress. If there’s something there you don’t recognise, Google is your friend.

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About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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