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$15 DIY Mod Reduces M2 MacBook Air's Overheating Issues

M2 MacBook Air
M2 MacBook Air (Image credit: Max Tech)

Apple's latest MacBook Air with the M2 processor is a lean-and-mean performance machine. However, heat is the svelte and lightweight device's biggest enemy. TechTuber Max Tech (opens in new tab) has found a simple and cheap fix to mitigate the M2 MacBook Air's overheating problems, but unfortunately, it'll void your warranty. 

The MacBook Air features a fanless design, which is why the laptop is only 1.13cm (0.44 inches) thick and weighs 1.24kg (2.7 lbs). The only compromise is that the device's cooling solution lacks active cooling, relying on a passive heatsink to keep the internals cool. It isn't a huge setback in normal usage, but once you begin pushing the system more aggressively, performance starts to degrade.

To keep the temperature under control, the laptop throttles the M2 chip to prevent overheating and damage to the internal components. The throttling problem isn't new to the MacBook Air lineup. The M1 MacBook Air also exhibits the same behavior.

The DIY fix involves installing thermal pads on the M2 MacBook Air's motherboard to help dissipate the heat into the chassis. The YouTuber used Thermalright's Extreme Odyssey 1.5mm thermal pad, which retails for $15.99 on Amazon (opens in new tab). According to his results, the stock M2 MacBook Air took 28 seconds to hit 108 degrees Celsius, whereas the modded device took one minute and 23 seconds to reach the same temperature. The thermal pad mod doesn't completely solve the processor throttling problem, but it mitigates the issue and enables the M2 MacBook Air to outperform the more expensive M2 MacBook Pro in short workloads.

The stock MacBook Air took two minutes and 55 seconds to export 50 48-megapixel images in Lightroom Classic, whereas the MacBook Pro finished the same benchmark in two minutes. The modded MacBook Air took one minute and 56 seconds, which is 3% less time. 

The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro scored 8,551 and 8,557 points in the Cinebench R23 stress test benchmark, respectively. The modded MacBook Air checked in with 8,684 points, a 1% lead.

It would seem that the MacBook Pro's fan profile is a bit conservative, which allows the modded MacBook Air to outclass it for short periods. The YouTuber noted that the device takes a bit to crank up the fan speed when it already hits 100 degrees Celsius in Cinebench R23. However, the MacBook Pro will come out on top in more demanding and prolonged workloads exceeding 15 to 20 minutes.

Adding the thermal pads positively affects the M2 MacBook Air; however, one would wonder why Apple didn't incorporate it into the design. Additionally, while the mod is easy, it'll void your device's warranty, so it probably isn't worth risking your $1,199 investment.

Zhiye Liu
Zhiye Liu

Zhiye Liu is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Although he loves everything that’s hardware, he has a soft spot for CPUs, GPUs, and RAM.

  • salgado18
    That's $15 less profit for Apple, that's why.
    Reply
  • artk2219
    salgado18 said:
    That's $15 less profit for Apple, that's why.

    Damn beat me to the punch, precisely that, its their low end product, they cant have it look good vs their more expensive stuff, and its cheaper so why pump more money into it. Then when it breaks they'll just buy a new one anyway because why hold Apple accountable for their design flaws.
    Reply
  • blargh4
    Sorry but why on earth would you buy a passively cooled laptop if you are concerned about CPU throttling?
    Reply
  • electronika
    I'll bet they don't include it because connecting the SoC directly to the chassis makes the outside get hot as hell, it'll probably burn your lap.
    Reply
  • marsatas
    electronika said:
    I'll bet they don't include it because connecting the SoC directly to the chassis makes the outside get hot as hell, it'll probably burn your lap.
    That's the actual reason. There are limits (not sure if legal or not) on how hot a surface of a device can be and typically the Air is at the very edge, adding the thermal pad can increase the surface heat by up to 5 degrees which are apparently really noticeable. LinusTech did a test on this a while back.
    Reply
  • watzupken
    From what I understand, there are legal limits on the surface temp on a mobile device in some countries. So @marsatas is right. Since the chassis is metal, applying the thermal pad will help conduct heat from the source out, but at the same time, increasing the surface temp. If Apple did that and someone hurt themselves, its gonna be a lawsuit against them as well. But if user did that on their own and got hurt, then the liability is not with the company.
    I've performed this mod on the M1 MBA and while it worked very well to maintain temp and performance, the base is super hot under sustained load without a fan cooling it.
    Reply
  • Findecanor
    I'd think the best for longevity would be to use thermal pads and adjust the CPU speed settings to throttle more.

    But I suppose that it would cut too much into Apple's profits if the machines lasted longer ...
    Reply
  • KyaraM
    blargh4 said:
    Sorry but why on earth would you buy a passively cooled laptop if you are concerned about CPU throttling?
    It's quieter, and many people are just not aware how hot computer hardware can get. Ironically, it doesn't really help that computers are cooled, and thus you never actually see any of it. How are people to guess that a CPU can easily exceed 100°C within the minute when it is not cooled? Even when it is cooled, it can get very hot bery fast if the cooling isn't sufficient. But again, they simply aren't aware.
    Reply
  • sycoreaper
    KyaraM said:
    It's quieter, and many people are just not aware how hot computer hardware can get. Ironically, it doesn't really help that computers are cooled, and thus you never actually see any of it. How are people to guess that a CPU can easily exceed 100°C within the minute when it is not cooled? Even when it is cooled, it can get very hot bery fast if the cooling isn't sufficient. But again, they simply aren't aware.

    No offense but that was nonsensical doublespeak. The average person doesn't know how hot they get because they don't need to. They don't need to why?
    Because properly designed machines that aren't allowed to get that hot. A properly designed machine does not throttle after just 1 minute of even an intensive task. This is a CLEAR indication that air-cooling was never sufficient but they did it anyway.
    Reply
  • KyaraM
    sycoreaper said:
    No offense but that was nonsensical doublespeak. The average person doesn't know how hot they get because they don't need to. They don't need to why?
    Because properly designed machines that aren't allowed to get that got. A properly designed machine does not throttle after just 1 minute of even an intensive task. This is a CLEAR indication that air-cooling was never sufficient but they did it anyway.
    How is it "doublespeak" to point out that most people don't know enough about computers to understand what is required to keep the system running? If you want to use Orwellian terms, at least know how to use them.

    It's an indicator that cooling wasn't enough when a system throttles after one minute? No joke. Gee, almost as if I pointed that out...
    Reply