5 Tricks to Keep Your MacBook From Overheating

Apple MacBook Pro is without a doubt the laptop of choice for most photographers on the go. However, I've heard of many encountering heat issues when working on it for a prolonged period of time. After recently experiencing this problem myself and having my computer shutting down on its own, I started looking for a solution. It turns out that it's not complicated to control the heat. If you retouch or edit videos quite often on your Apple laptop, you should definitely read the following article.

Raise your Laptop

The unibody looks fantastic, but it seems like the ventilation is far from exceptional. When working on your MacBook Pro for hours at a time, chances are the aluminum chassis will become overly hot and the machine will just slow down. To improve its weak ventilation, place the laptop on something that lets the air flow below the computer. Something as simple as an egg tray can do the trick:

And if you find the solution above to eat up too much space on your desk, or if you don't eat eggs, try bottle caps:

For an improved result, and if you are willing to spend a bit of money, a laptop cooler will do the same but better, due to the added fan(s). You can find some that will set you back less than $15 on Amazon. It's a no brainer if you work mainly on your MacBook.

Get your MacBook Cleaned

I've heard numerous people complain their computer didn't work as fast as it used too or that it was getting boiling when charging, and for many the issue was just dust. Depending on your environment, your computer may accumulate dust much faster than you think. Cleaning it on a regular basis is a good idea. Now, before you leave your screen and open up your laptop, be aware that it will void your warranty! So if you want to keep your warranty intact, ask an Apple authorized reseller to do it for you. Even if your Apple Care plan and warranty are over, if you don't know how to clean it, do not try it… it's a recipe for disaster. Only do it yourself if you know how to manipulate the computer components without frying them with static electricity.

Control the Fans Speed

The software team from Eida has created a brilliant app called smcFanControl. It's totally free and is incredibly easy to set up. Once installed, it will appear in the top bar and indicates the current temperature of your laptop as well as the current speed of your fans.

In the preferences, you can define different profiles so that when your MacBook is charging, the fans run faster to avoid any chance of overheat because of the battery becoming hot. It's especially attractive to those like me who forget to unplug their laptop once it's fully charged. I know, it's a terrible habit, but one I have a difficult time changing.

Reset your SMC

SMC stands for System Management Controller. It may need to be reset once now and then. If all the solutions above haven't worked, or not worked as well as you had hoped, try to reset the SMC. The procedure varies depending on whether the battery can be removed or not.

If the battery is nonremovable:

  1. Shut down the Mac.
  2. Plug in the MagSafe or USB-C power adapter to a power source and to your Mac.
  3. Using the built-in keyboard, press Shift-Control-Option on the left side of the keyboard, then press the power button at the same time.
  4. Release all keys, then press the power button again to turn on your Mac


If the battery is removable:

  1. Shut down the Mac.
  2. Disconnect the MagSafe power adapter from the Mac.
  3. Remove the battery. (Learn about removing the battery in MacBook and MacBook Pro computers.)
  4. Press and hold the power button for 5 seconds.
  5. Reconnect the battery and MagSafe power adapter.
  6. Press the power button to turn on the Mac.

For more information regarding the SMC and how to reset it on any other Mac, be sure to check Apple's support website

Compressed Air Duster to Cool it Down

Compressed air duster is a fantastic tool to clean the inside of the computer, but it also pushes out air that is cooler than the environment it's in. Spray fresh air on your laptop for a few instants, and you should notice immediate results – look at the temperature smcFanControl displays. Be careful though, depending on the humidity of your environment, condensation could appear, and water is definitely not something you want to see on your computer! So try it on a surface that can handle water before you go ahead and spray your computer with your compressed air duster. Also, don't spray for too long, the goal isn't to freeze your MacBook Pro…

With these few tips, I hope you won't have to stop working waiting for your expensive MacBook Pro to cool down anymore. Even if that's not your case, keep in mind that a well-ventilated system that stays cool is more likely to last and perform longer (no pun intended...). I would love to hear from you on the subject. Have you guys ever used any of the above tips? Or do you have any other you could share with us?

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Spy Black's picture

Trick #6: Get a PC laptop...

Anonymous's picture

Yep because PC laptops never overheat......

Marius Pettersen's picture

Indeed, but a lot of them does not sacrifice cooling for thinness.

Brian Schmittgens's picture

They're just not as courageous as Tim Cook.... Who needs performance, battery life, and cooling ability when you can shave another .5mm off the thickness?

Spy Black's picture

Actually, I have a lot more respect for Cook than I ever did Jobs (which was none at all). At least Cook can admit to things being wrong if they go wrong (think Apple Maps). Jobs would've never done that. It may take a while, but chances are Apple may eventually acknowledge there's a problem with these Macbooks. Considering there may not be a fix, it may be a long silence however.

Anonymous's picture

sure they do. a lot of laptops are pretty damn thin nowadays. thats not exclusive to apple.

Rob Woodham's picture

Agreed - the thinner and more "high performance" the laptop, the more likely it is to suffer from thermal throttling. Dell's XPS line has done it for years as well as offerings from Lenovo, Asus, etc. It has nothing to do with the computer ecosystem as much as simple thermodynamics.

The Dell Precision line usually very good about cooling, but of course you're going to be looking at a thicker laptop.

Doc Pixel's picture

You might want to look into thermodynamics a bit more, because the aluminum casing being closer to the heat source allows it to dispense heat far better than a larger area where heat becomes all-encompassing and trapped before being forced out (fans). Google it.

BTW: raising any laptop away from the surface it's sitting on works wonders, and never do any heavy computing with a laptop on blankets, pillows, etc. Believe me, your laptop doesn't need insulation to stay warm. Just the opposite.

Nixon K's picture

Amen brother ;-)

Spy Black's picture

Not a $1500-$2800 one, no. You pay the kind of money you're paying for one of these Macbooks, you damn well better not have issues like this. However if PC laptop copies the same stupid thin design as a Macbook, then you may be right. Function following form never works. I've had several run-of-the-mill laptops over the years that have cost me less than $1000 each that I've used for Photoshop, audio editing, video editing, and even motion image compositing and 3d modeling on one particular machine. Not one of them ever overheated on me. They sure made a lot of noise with the fans running on overdrive, but that's what they're there for, to keep your machine from overheating.

Philipp Schmid's picture

I'm a windows guy but this is simply wrong. I've seen laptops which always ran hot and were impossible to open without breaking at least one part. One of the reasons I prefer desktop PCs whenever they present a viable alternative.

Spy Black's picture

If you buy a crappy PC laptop, then you'll get the same performance as that of a crappy Macbook. You have options in PC laptops you just don't have on an Apple machine, laptop or desktop. If you spent that kind of money on a laptop that overheated, are you going to put up with it, or return it for different machine?

Matthew Thomas's picture

I also used to use a cooler master pc cooler, it worked great. Although I bought it for gaming, I've never found my computers get too hot using photoshop; they definitely got warm-ish.

Brian Schmittgens's picture

Seriously. You just spent $2500 on a computer. Even a $15 podium thing works fine. I've been using the same PodiumPad since my first Powerbook back in '02.

Spy Black's picture

You just spent $2500 on a computer. At that kind of money, you shouldn't have to worry about it overheating in the first place.

Doc Pixel's picture

You do realise that's good and normal, don't you?

Open a desktop, pull the plug on the fan and touch the processor... I dare you.

Spy Black's picture

Any laptop at that price range that overheats is not worth it's price. If you're going to use a laptop heavily, get one that's engineered to take the heat, so to speak.

Unless you absolutely have to do it on the run, I can't understand why people use a laptop for computationally intensive processes in the first place however.

Anonymous's picture

are you trolling? seems like it.

Spy Black's picture

Just 'cause you don't like what I have to say doesn't mean I'm trolling, it just means you don't like what I have to say.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

When you travel you don't always have the luxury to carry your laptop cooler with you… It's always nice to have an alternative.

James Bass's picture

Get one of these cases as it has feet that flip open.

I've been known to use a frozen gel pack a time or two under my old mbp whenever it started to run hot. Place towel between it and the pack and it would cool it right down in a minute

Ralph Hightower's picture

#6: Don't turn it on and unplug it.

Fritz Asuro's picture

Or get an iCe Pack. (USB dongle not included)

Michael Kormos's picture

Been using MBPs since 2004. Not once has a single model "overheated" (whatever that means).

antoine amanieux's picture
Matthias Dengler's picture

Can seriously anyone just talk about the article instead of this trash talk about brands. No one forces you to buy Apple or to spend "so much money for Apple". I guess giving you money to shut up is way more expensive than buying a Macbook.
Thanks for your advice. I find your article useful, installed the fan control and now I'm looking forward to having better performance following some of your other advices. Thank you, I appreciate your effort of writing this article and sharing your knowledge with us.
I'm curious when all Apple haters shut up here. Seriously. Just buy windows, linux whatsoever and be happy.
I'm also not cursing against Windows. Everyone should use what he wants to use, and buy what he wants to pay for. Full stop!!