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I have a Macbook Pro (2010 model) that I like to connect an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse too. I like to keep the lid down, and have it running almost all the time, 24/7.

There are several laptop stands and cooling pads out there, most of which I've seen the laptop is placed horizontally on. But there are some that hold the Macbook vertically.

My question is: Which is better to help cool the Macbook, a vertical or horizontal stand? Is it negligible?

If it helps, say the Macbook is being used for something graphics intensive where it heats up quite a bit. My concern is that when the lid is down, and the heat can't escape as easily.

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Horizontal-but-upside-down. Most heat diffuses through the base not the top (especially if the lid is closed, adding an additional insulating layer). Heat rises. Mounting it upside down will allow the heat to escape most efficiently. Add a fan to improve. –  user588 Jun 19 '11 at 19:49
    
upside down will place extra pressure on the screen that its not neccesarily designed to take and may damage your screen - i've seen this happen with the odd MBP being too tightly squeezed in bags –  anthonysomerset Jun 20 '11 at 6:47
    
@anthony not an issue if you don't put stuff on it. The weight of the case doesn't compare to a squeezing. –  user588 Jun 20 '11 at 22:42

5 Answers 5

According to this company, vertical is better.

I use horizontal myself. I need the screen estate and the speaker (and occasionally the keyboard/trackpad when my bluetooth peripherals are out of battery). I'd say it's almost negligible. Aluminum is very good in dissipating heat.

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I think that in the absence of some kind of surprising physics formula, most of us would have roughly the same answer to that question. Namely, "to get your answer, you would not necessarily consider vertical versus horizontal, but simply look at the stands and see which one allows the most air to circulate, unblocked, around the macbook."

One could guess that a truly vertical stand would only be blocking one of the thin edges of the macbook, while a horizontal one would block part of a large flat surface. if so, there you go...

Note that I didn't even know you could keep the macbook running with the lid closed. I know that past mac laptops (that "killer whale" powerbook G3 I had so long ago) explicitly stated that the keyboard was one of the primary cooling elements, therefore there was no bypassing the automatic sleep-on-close.

I own the Rain Design mStand, which holds it mostly horizontal, though angled. therefore it blocks part of the bottom. Anyway, the macbook is pretty darn cool, but I'm not doing your "close the lid while cranking the processor" plan. BUT, I'd just say, the mStand looks pretty darn cool both when the mac is open and closed.

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horizontal is also not so bad if you use a cooling stand that has a fan in the base to blow cold air onto the bottom of the laptop –  anthonysomerset Jun 19 '11 at 16:13

Bookarc looks great, but closing the lid means thermal problems. It's not meant to be used that way, and under full load, this probably will lead to noise and overheating. I was planning to buy a stand (since I use my MacBook Pro with external monitor and keyboard), but inadequate cooling stops me, however keeping it open all the time accumulates dust.

Here is my "Reverse V" method

  1. Connect all cables (video) and close the lid.
  2. Wake from external mouse/keyboard. This will force using only the external display.
  3. Open the lid to about 20-40 degrees. Internal display will remain off. The Macbook will be in a "V" like shape.
  4. Put it on the desktop in reversed "V" form on something soft. I recommend old polyurethane mouse pad or shaped polystyrene.
    /\\
   /  \\     - MacBook
  /    \\
===========  - mat/soft mousepad

Pros

  • Perfect cooling. Warm air gets up, there are no obstructions to the vents and all parts are exposed to colder air.
  • Cooler means less fan noise under load.
  • Takes less space than fully opened notebook.
  • Better bluetooth/wifi reception because lid is not fully closed (compared to fully closed one).
  • Less dust accumulation.

Cons

  • You cannot use your internal IR receiver.
  • Some people will not be comfortable to run their HDDs from this position (10-20 degrees vertical inclination). I think it's perfectly safe.. and I have trustworthy backup system.
  • If computer sleeps, you should do the steps from 2-4 again or the internal display will be on.
  • Looks kinda strange compared to the great looking vertical stands available.
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I've seen some people do this actually. –  spong Jun 20 '11 at 0:56

If you close the lid on your MacBook and have a look at the black section on the back of your device you will notice a small gap on the lower end.

This gap is designed as the primary heat exhaust in clamshell mode. This is where the fans (which are running all the time, even when you don't hear them) blow the air out of the device.

If you add the fact that hot air travels up, it is quite obvious that the optimal way to position your device is vertically.

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Vertical exposes the most surface area and is best for convection moving the hot air away from the mac operating in clamshell mode.

In practice, a 5 or 10 degree tilt with a minimum of one inch clearance of air under the mac gets just as much airflow and cooling as vertical as long as the air temperature isn't too hot (<85 degrees).

On my four year old MacBook Pro - the internal temperatures and fan speeds are climbing and running it vertically rather than on a Griffin Elevator in clamshell mode. When my room temperature gets hot, vertical helps the fans stay at idle in clamshell mode.

Do make or buy something secure to hold your mac and know that having the lid closed does insulate half of the surface area very well. Glass and trapped air is a very good insulator.

And you can experiment with books or DIY and chart your mac's temperature using all sorts of programs. You can make the best noise, space, security, cost and temperature decision for your situation.

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