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As a complement to this question about keeping the Mac cool so the fans don't get triggered:

At what temperature does the mac turn on the fans? I know that a high CPU load can cause the fans to go on, so it's not just temperature-based. Are there specific processor temperatures that trigger the fans to spin up?

(I've got iStat installed, so I can monitor the internal sensors for high temperatures. I now need to know what temperatures to avoid.)

My Mac is a Macbook Pro 13" 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5.

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When they need to :P – nix May 6 '11 at 3:40
@nix - But, how does the little guy in a black turtleneck inside my Macbook know? :) – Neil Fein May 6 '11 at 3:41
He starts to sweat – ughoavgfhw May 6 '11 at 3:43
@ughoavgfhw Mac users don't sweat. We take another sip of hot, black coffee on a hot, dry summer's eve. :D – Neil Fein May 6 '11 at 3:46
I have been a mac user for my whole life, but I don't drink coffee so that's probably the difference. I'm assuming you haven't spilled coffee on your computer, so the man inside should start to sweat too. – ughoavgfhw May 6 '11 at 3:48
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The short answer: We can't tell you exactly.

The algorithm that controls this is sure to be Apple-proprietary. I'm sure they've spent lots of work perfecting it, so they wouldn't share it for other hardware manufacturers to 'take'.

Basically, Apple's algorithm tries to strike a balance between not turning on the fan when unnecessary, like for a short spike in load, (so the computer is quieter and the battery lasts longer) and not letting things get too hot. Just how hot things are allowed to get probably depends on the components in your computer, the various temperatures of those components, how well the computer is ventilated at the moment, the ambient temperature, and maybe even things like load average.

Bottom line: If the computer's doing a lot of work, the fans go on to cool it off. There's no way to say exactly what temperature triggers the fans because it varies based on a lot of things.

Sorry I can't provide anything more concrete.

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"The answer isn't known" is a valid answer, even if it's not one I like. Ah, well! – Neil Fein May 6 '11 at 4:36
(+1 for your answer.) I've found the algorithm to be unsuitable for me, which is why I use smcFanControl and run the fans at a preset value on my iMac. Sure, the fans are always running now, but I can hardly hear them, and my temperature gauges look a lot healthier. This is antithesis to the OP's question, but I had to share it. – user479 May 6 '11 at 4:52
Considering that my objective is to not have the fans running while recording (to cut down on room noise in a studio), running the fans before a take using a fan controller program to pre-cool the Mac might be an option. – Neil Fein May 6 '11 at 8:03

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