Update: Based on the iFixit teardown, an earlier version of this article claimed that the M2 MacBook Air did not include any form of passive cooling for the M2 chip. Multiple Ars commentators have pointed out that this is probably incorrect – thermal paste seems to bridge the gap between the M2 and the strip of metal above it, and that strip of metal will probably serve as some sort of heat spreader (in addition to an RF shield that helps prevent wireless interference).
It remains true that the peak temperatures of the M2 chip in both the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air can exceed peak M1 chip temperatures during extended workloads, including large photo and video export jobs. The M2 Air’s thermal throttling can occasionally slow it down enough not to make it any faster than the M1 Air it replaces, although this is something many users will never encounter in their day-to-day use.
It also remains true that, by adding more thermal pads to any heat diffuser Apple has including that the performance of the M2 Air can be measurably improved, while also reducing peak operating temperatures. This is something to consider when choosing between the Air, the M2 Pro or the larger MacBook Pros with M1 Pro and M1 Max chips and active cooling systems.
Original story: If you read iFixit’s teardowns and in-depth reviews or follow tech YouTubers, you may have read that the M2 chip in the newly designed MacBook Air has some heat issues.
While not every MacBook Air owner will notice, in our MacBook Air review we noticed that the M2 in the MacBook Pro could be as much as 30 percent faster than the exact same M2 in the MacBook Air. More adventurous YouTubers have gone further: The Max Tech channel installed thin thermal pads on the MacBook Air’s M2 that significantly boosted the chip’s performance in both real-world and synthetic benchmark tests, while lowering the chip’s maximum temperature from a roasted 108° Celsius to a less roasted 97° Celsius.
Before we go any further, this mod is not something we condone. Aside from voiding your new MacBook Air’s warranty, adding thermal pads that conduct heat from the M2 to the bottom of the laptop can have all sorts of unintended consequences, including but not limited to “being very hot.” make your lap”. You also risk causing accidental damage to the M2 or other components. Seriously, please don’t change your new MacBook Air just because a YouTuber did (or at least give other people more time to discover all the unintended side effects so you don’t have to).
Thermal pads, heat spreaders, and heat sinks all work in the same way: they make close contact with the processor and conduct heat away from it. Because that heat is spread over a larger area, it becomes easier to dissipate, making it easier to keep the processor cool. The MacBook Airs include passive heat spreaders (that is, one without a fan) that conduct 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.
But it seems that the passive heat spreader in the M2 version of the Air has a harder time than the one in the M1 version of the Air. The higher temperatures require the M2 to brake itself more aggressively to avoid overheating. Especially for people who edit and export high-resolution photos and videos, this means the M2 in the Air may struggle to run faster than the M1 it replaces.
This isn’t the first time a MacBook Air has had noticeable thermal throttling issues — the 2020 Intel MacBook Air was also capable of much better performance than it delivered, and the culprit was also the cooling system.
In a real do-what-I-say-and-not-like-me situation, I modified my 2020 Intel MacBook Air so I can speak more authoritatively about its heat issues. The problem wasn’t that Apple didn’t include a heatsink and fan, but that the heatsink was set up poorly – there was too much of a gap between the bottom of the heatsink and the top of the processor, and Apple needed a bigger dollop of thermal paste to fill that gap. to close. But where a thin layer of thermal paste can fill small gaps and also improve conductivity and heat transfer a lot thermal paste leads to a much less efficient heat transfer. Oops! Possible solutions to the problem include using thin copper shims to close the gap between the CPU and the heatsink, as well as placing a thermal pad on top of the Air’s heatsink to improve conductivity.
Even though the causes of the thermal problems in these two MacBook Airs are different, both problems certainly to feel avoidable. Maybe Apple is trying to save some money or make the MacBook Air a little bit lighter. Perhaps the company thinks the performance drop will usually go unnoticed by most people (which is probably true). Perhaps the company doesn’t think most people will use their MacBook Airs for sustained workloads that push the processor to its thermal limits (although this would be an odd assumption given the company’s renewed interest in gaming in macOS Ventura and the MacBook Air’s position). as Apple’s most popular laptop).
Whatever Apple’s reasoning, running the M2 at higher temperatures for years could eventually become a reliability issue: The hotter computer components, the faster they wear out. This is also the MacBook Air design we’ll likely live with for the next three to five years, according to precedent. Apple should cool down all of these systems in the right way, for the good of the hardware and the people who use it.