Date Published: 1 March 2011

Early 2011 Macbook Pro Cooling Issues

Here's our recent experience with a MacBook Pro purchased in London last weekend (end Feb 2011).
Apple enthusiasts read on ...

MacBook Pro (2011 Model) Cooling Issues

At the weekend we treated IvyRose to a new editorial Mac, a 2011 model 15" MacBook Pro with 2.3GHz Quad Core Processor. Because of issues with overheating / fan noise we - with regret - returned it to the Apple store on Monday. We don't normally publish about IT issues but we are including this article on the site in case it helps anyone doing research about the early 2011 MacBook Pro and they find this on the Internet.

The reason we returned the machine is because it made a lot of fan noise in our quiet office. The machine sounded a bit like a hair dryer even when doing very little processing as indicated both by the "Activity Monitor" application and the 'top' command run in a terminal window. If we were stressing the machine in any way at all then it would have been by connecting it to an external Apple Cinema screen but that certainly has never been a problem with our older MacBook Pros.

What we observed

  1. Under even modest load the CPU temperature would start to rise very quickly indeed (say ten times faster than we have ever seen on any other MacBook Pro), the fans would start speeding up from their standard 2000rpm speed to 6000rpm+.
  2. Under whatever level of load, low or high, the actual air being blown out of the machine was never hot or in fact even lukewarm.
  3. Without the external monitor connected the problem would be noticeably less pronounced but it would still be there.

What we think

At this moment (March 1st 2011) there seem to be a lot of articles on the Internet mentioning quality issues with the 2011 MacBook Pro. The vast majority of these appear to simply be reports of the iFixit team finding a stripped screw, an unfastened connector and excess thermal paste in a machine they disassembled. i.e. these reports all appear to relate to a sample of one machine which we don't find worrying as such.

Having said that we fear that an excess of thermal transfer paste would be consistent with what we observed with the machine we briefly had in the office. Too much transfer paste could mean that heat could not be transferred efficiently to the heat sink. This would mean that the processor termperature would rise more quickly (as it did) which would cause the fans to start blowing harder (as they did). Because relatively little heat would be transferred through the heat sink that in turn would not heat up the air being expelled by the fans very much which again is consistent with what we observed.

The speed (compared to other MacBook Pros) at which CPU temperatures would shoot from 40 Celsius to 95 Celsius under even moderate load strengthens our suspicion that the problem here is at least in part caused by hardware rather than software. We don't think the temperature would shoot up quite that quickly if the heat sink / cooling hardware was working properly.

When will we visit the Apple Store again ?

We like Macs a lot and we will try getting a fast new one again at some point fairly soon but maybe not this week or the next as suspect the unit we had was just not quite ready yet. Maybe we'll get an iPad 2 first.

Source: RF, IvyRose Technical Support Dept.

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