The new MacBook Air runs so hot that it affects performance.  It’s not the first time

The new MacBook Air runs so hot that it affects performance. It’s not the first time

M2 MacBook Air's logic board.  The M2 is the large chip in the middle left with the Apple logo printed on it.
Magnify / M2 MacBook Air’s logic board. The M2 is the large chip in the middle left with the Apple logo printed on it.

I’ll fix it

If you read iFixit’s teardowns, in-depth reviews, or follow any tech YouTubers, you may have learned that the new M2-equipped MacBook Air is heatsinkless, in addition to being fanless.

Although not all MacBook Air owners will notice, we ran some tests and the M2 MacBook Pro was 30 percent faster than the exact same M2 in the MacBook Air. More adventurous YouTubers have gone further – the Max Tech channel installed thin thermal pads on the MacBook Air’s M2 that significantly boosted the chip’s performance in both real-world and synthetic benchmark tests, while lowering the chip’s maximum temperature from 108 degrees Celsius. less toasty 97° Celsius.

Thermal pads, heat spreaders and heat sinks all work in the same way: they come into close contact with the processor and conduct heat away from it. As the heat is spread over a larger surface area, it becomes easier to disperse, making it easier to keep the processor cool. The M1 MacBook Air included a passive heat spreader (that is, one without a fan) that directed heat away from the chip, while the M1 and M2 MacBook Pro use active cooling systems that draw in cold air and emit warm air for even more efficient cooling.

The M2 MacBook Air does not have a passive or active cooling system. This is common for the company’s phone and tablet chips, which don’t get as hot as the M2. But it is an odd design decision for a laptop, especially given that Apple included a heat spreader in the previous Air, and that the M2 is a bigger, hotter chip than the M1 to begin with.

Before we continue, this mod is not something we accept. Aside from voiding the warranty of your new MacBook Air, adding thermal pads that conduct the M2’s heat to the bottom of the laptop can cause all sorts of unintended consequences, including but not limited to “making your lap really hot.” You also risk causing accidental damage to the M2 or other components. Seriously, please don’t mod your new MacBook Air just because a YouTuber did (or at least give other people more time to discover all the unintended side effects so you don’t have to).

That said, this is part of an unfortunate pattern for the MacBook Air – the 2020 Intel MacBook Air was also able to achieve better performance than it delivered, and the culprit was also the cooling system.

In a true do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do situation, I modified my 2020 Intel MacBook Air so I can speak with more authority about cooling issues. The problem there wasn’t that Apple didn’t include a heatsink and fan, but that the heatsink was poorly set up—there was too much of a gap between the bottom of the heatsink and the top of the processor, and Apple had to use a bigger glob of thermal paste to close that gap. But where one thin layers of thermal paste can fill in small gaps and improve conductivity and heat transfer as well a lot thermal paste leads to a much less efficient transfer of heat. Oops! Possible solutions to the problem include using thin copper shims to close the gap between the CPU and the heatsink, as well as placing a thermal pad on top of the Air’s heatsink to improve conductivity.

Although the causes of the thermal problems in these two MacBook Airs are different, both problems are absolute feel avoidable. Maybe Apple is trying to save money, or make the MacBook Air a little lighter. Perhaps the company believes that the performance degradation will not actually be noticed by most people most of the time (which is probably true). Perhaps the company doesn’t think most people will use MacBook Airs for sustained workloads that push the processor to its thermal limits (although this would be an odd assumption to make, given the company’s renewed interest in gaming in macOS Ventura and the MacBook Air’s position as Apple’s most popular laptop).

Regardless of Apple’s reasoning, running the M2 at higher temperatures over many years could eventually become a reliability issue—the hotter computer components run, the faster they wear out. This is also the MacBook Air design we’ll likely live with for the next three to five years, following precedent. Apple should be cooling everyone of these systems correctly, for the good of the hardware and the people who use it.

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