Overheating is a common issue that can affect Mac performance and lead to more serious problems if left unchecked. Thankfully, there are some clear signs that your Mac may be running too hot, and many things you can try to cool it down.
Signs Your Mac is Overheating
Here are some of the most common signs that your Mac may be overheating:
- It feels very warm to the touch, especially near the vents
- The fans are running at a high speed constantly
- Your Mac is running slower than usual
- Apps are crashing or freezing unexpectedly
- “High temperature” warnings appear
- The screen or case is discolored from heat
If you notice any of these issues, it’s a sign that your Mac is overworking and getting too hot. Prolonged overheating can lead to throttling (reduced performance), shutting down unexpectedly, hardware damage, and data loss.
Why is My Mac Overheating?
There are a few common culprits that can cause a Mac to run hotter than it should:
- Processor-intensive tasks: Activities like gaming, video editing, 3D rendering, programming, and streaming can push the CPU and GPU to their limits, generating excess heat.
- Insufficient cooling: Dust buildup in the fans/vents, a failed fan, or blocked vents can prevent proper airflow and cooling.
- Hot environment: Using a Mac in direct sunlight, on a blanket, or without climate control can also contribute to overheating.
- Faulty hardware: Issues like a failing drive, swollen battery, or malfunctioning sensor can confuse the thermal management system.
Figuring out what exactly is overtaxing your Mac will help you address the root cause of overheating.
How to Check Mac Temperature
To get a clear reading on whether your Mac is running hot, you’ll want to check the current operating temperature using one of these methods:
1. Activity Monitor
The Activity Monitor application included with macOS provides temperature readings for various components, like the CPU and graphics card.
- Open Activity Monitor (in /Applications/Utilities/)
- Click the CPU tab
- Look for the “CPU die temperature” and “GPU die temperature” readings
As a general guideline:
- 100°F – 140°F (38°C – 60°C) – Normal
- 150°F – 170°F (66°C – 77°C) – Warm
- 170°F+ (77°C+) – Overheating
2. Third-party apps
Apps like iStat Menus and TG Pro provide detailed real-time temperature monitoring for all of your Mac’s components and can track maximum values.
3. Physical measurement
If you don’t have access to software readings, you can very carefully touch areas of your Mac like the bottom case, keyboard, and air vents to get a general sense of the surface temperature. Use caution to avoid burns.
How to Cool Down an Overheating Mac
Once you’ve confirmed that your Mac is running hotter than it should be, there are some steps you can take to cool it down:
1. Remove heat sources
Stop any processor, GPU, or disk intensive tasks and quit any unneeded apps to eliminate sources of heat generation.
2. Improve airflow
Use compressed air to clear any dust buildup from the fans and vents so airflow can improve. Also make sure vents aren’t obstructed by surfaces or objects.
3. Adjust computer position
Place your Mac on a hard, flat surface rather than on a blanket, bed, or carpet that can block airflow.
4. Lower room temperature
Use air conditioning, fans, or open a window to help keep the ambient temperature lower.
5. New thermal paste
Replacing old thermal paste between the CPU/GPU and the heatsink can restore heat transfer efficiency.
6. External cooling
External USB cooling fans, cooling pads, laptop chill mats, or laptop stands with fans can all add supplemental airflow.
7. Avoid direct sunlight
Heat from the sun’s rays can also increase your Mac’s temperature, so avoid use in hot direct sunlight.
8. Reset SMC
Resetting the System Management Controller can clear any confusion in the thermal monitoring system.
9. Avoid heavy CPU/GPU use
Limit activities like gaming, video editing, 3D work, virtualization etc. to give your Mac a chance to cool down.
When to Be Concerned About Mac Overheating
As a general guideline, you should be concerned if:
- Temperatures rise above 170°F – 185°F (77°C – 85°C)
- The Mac feels dangerously hot to the touch
- You get frequent overheating warnings/shutdowns
- Performance is badly throttled even at low temperatures
- You observe signs of physical damage like discoloration
At that point, more significant action may be required like having Apple diagnose hardware issues, replacing thermal paste or fans, or blocking vents from dust buildup.
How to Prevent Mac Overheating
To help avoid overheating issues in the first place:
- Monitor temperatures periodically with Activity Monitor or a 3rd party utility
- Use your Mac on hard flat surfaces with plenty of open airflow space
- Keep your Mac away from soft surfaces that can block vents
- Clean fans and vents regularly to remove dust
- Avoid prolonged heavy usage of processor/GPU
- Keep your Mac away from external heat sources like sunlight
- Use cooling accessories if needed for demanding tasks
- Make sure shutdown, sleep, and SMC resets are working properly
Following general best practices like these can keep your Mac running at safe, optimal temperatures.
Overheating can happen to any Mac, but keeping an eye out for the warning signs can help you take action before serious problems develop. Monitoring your temperatures, eliminating heat sources, improving airflow, and adding external cooling are key ways to cool down an overheated Mac. Stay vigilant in checking for overheating issues periodically and take steps to keep your Mac running at proper operating temperatures.