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I currently use a 13" Mid 2011 MacBook Air, and the thing I dislike most about it is that it can get very hot. I'm particularly physically sensitive to the heat for some reason, and at its hottest it makes me uncomfortable even to just sit at a desk with my hands on it.

Anyway, I'm in the market for a new laptop, and I'm considering the current 13" Retina MacBook Pro and 13" MacBook Air. I'm wondering: Which one runs hotter? (Under light use? Under heavy use? At max heat?)

  • I have MacBook Air mid 2012 and it does not get hot at all, and rarely the fan runs. Did you ever reset the SMC ? Do you hear your Fan running loud ? – Ruskes May 8 '15 at 20:05
  • Yes, the fan runs loud and seems to be working fine. I've reset the SMC before but not in a long while. Good to know not all of them get hot! I'd read so much about laptops getting hot that I kind of thought it was something I had to get used to... – leekaiinthesky May 9 '15 at 1:58
  • I would say something is not right with your MacBook Air. As said it is extremely rare that I even hear the fan running. Could you take a look in the activity monitor to see what is driving it so hot. – Ruskes May 9 '15 at 4:03
  • Sure, let us discuss in chat: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/23602/…. Thanks! – leekaiinthesky May 9 '15 at 4:07
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This question seems a bit reversed. All Apple products are designed to let the CPU hit 90°C before the CPU is throttled. So all of them, when given an unlimited workload hit the same design temperature.

What does change is the workload required to saturate the CPU of a MacBook is lower than what will saturate a MacBook Pro. You could just go on the wattage of the CPU to pick a model that doesn't put out so much heat if that's really your main concern. I find most people buy today based on screen size, port counts since ram and CPU and storage are the same for just about all the portable computers.

Alternatively, adapting to use an iPad Pro would be a good choice if you really want efficiency and limited heat buildup.

Here are some references for TDP - thermal design power - that translates directly into how hot a processor will run. For MacBook - this correlates pretty directly to how hot the case, machine runs and also how much power it takes to run (battery drain times).

MacBook is 4 W (burst to 8W) for the most power hungry MacBook in early 2017.
MacBook Pro is 35 W (burst probably another 15 W for GPU) for the most power hungry MacBook Pro 15" with GPU in early 2017.

2016 and older models will run many more watts so check carefully if you aren't buying models that are current in March 2017.

  • Thanks! I had no idea about the 90°C figure. In practice, does that mean laptops can really get that hot? Seems like an undesirably high temperature to me. (Though I understand this is only with the unlimited workload scenario.) – leekaiinthesky Mar 12 '17 at 21:40
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    @leekaiinthesky Depends what you measure. Internally - 90 C is just fine. Clearly externally, you want things under 40 C as scalding and burns happen above that. The enclosure provides passive cooling and most models have active cooling to safely spread the internal heat and keep the case both safe and comfortable to the touch. – bmike Mar 12 '17 at 22:01
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It all depends on your usage (the load).

For normal uses (the CPU newer runs at 100% for long times) the MacBook Air would be the colder solution.

The MacBook Pro is the more power hungry machine (retina display) and could run hotter.

One way to see this is in the Battery life. MacBook Air can go up to 10 hours on a single load.

Your MBA might need a SMC reset to make sure the Fan control is working correctly.

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It is a truism that the more applications you run, plus the intensity of those applications' operations, will cause a certain amount of heat dissipation in the given device.

So assuming that the applications you need will be used regardless, you need to consider the hardware components within each device, since this determines the amount of heat dissipation that will occur.

As a general guideline, the higher the quality of the given type of hardware component (i.e., cpu, video card, etc.), the more capable that component will be to perform without having more heat dissipation (than a low-end component trying to do the same amount of work).

In other words, a low-end component will work "harder" than a high-end component, which causes the low-end component to generate more heat.

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