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

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

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If you read iFixit’s teardowns and in-depth reviews, or follow tech YouTubers, you might have learned that the new MacBook Air with M2 is not only fanless, but also heatsinkless.

While not every MacBook Air owner will notice this, 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 went even further – the Max Tech channel installed thin thermal pads on the M2 of the MacBook Air, which significantly boosted the chip’s performance in both real and synthetic benchmark tests, while lowering the chip’s maximum temperature from a comfortable 108° Celsius to a less comfortable 97° Celsius.

Thermal pads, heat spreaders, and heatsinks all work the same way: they are in close contact with the processor and draw heat away from it. Because this heat is spread over a larger surface area, it’s easier to dissipate, making it easier to keep the processor cool. The M1 MacBook Air included a passive heatspreader (i.e., one without a fan) that conducted heat away from the chip, while the M1 and M2 MacBook Pros use active cooling systems that draw in cool air and expel hot air for even more effective cooling.

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

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

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

In a true “do what I say, not what I do” situation, I modified my 2020 Intel MacBook Air so I can speak with greater authority about its cooling issues. The problem wasn’t that Apple didn’t include a heatsink and fan, it was that the heatsink was poorly positioned – there was too much clearance between the bottom of the heatsink and the top of the processor, which Apple had to use a larger dab of thermal paste to to close this gap. But where a slim A layer of thermal paste can fill tiny gaps and also improve conductivity and heat transfer a lot of Thermal paste results in much less efficient heat transfer. Oops! Possible solutions to the problem include using thin copper shims to bridge the gap between the CPU and the heatsink, and installing a thermal pad on the Air’s heatsink to improve conductivity.

Even though the causes of the thermal issues in these two MacBook Airs are different, both issues are certainly there feeling avoidable. Maybe Apple is trying to save some money or make the MacBook Air just a tiny bit lighter. Perhaps the company thinks that most people won’t really notice the drop in performance most of the time (which is probably true). Perhaps the company doesn’t think most people will use their MacBook Air for sustained workloads that push the processor to its thermal limits (although given the company’s renewed interest in gaming in macOS Ventura and the MacBook Air, that would be an odd assumption position as Apple’s most popular laptop).

Whatever Apple argues, running the M2 at higher temperatures for 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 that we’ll likely live with for the next three to five years as it sets a precedent. Apple should cool down Everyone of these systems for the benefit of the hardware and the people who use them.

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