Full of hot Air? Our MacBook Air temperature tests

In keeping with our theme of pushing out the latest findings from our ongoing MacBook Air tests, I’d like to focus on a subject near and dear to the laps of portable users—just how hot the MacBook Air gets after a fair amount of extended use. After all, having an ultra-thin notebook is great, but if it’s too hot to sit on your lap, it’s of limited use.

Fortunately, testing by Macworld Lab found that the MacBook Air is among the coolest Mac laptop on the market, finishing with the best score in the more critical of our external tests and finishing within a little more than a half-degree of the winner in our measurement internal temperature. This isn’t surprising since it also runs on the slowest processor found in currently available Mac portables. Nevertheless, it’s impressive that a notebook of this size managed to keep its cool.

How we tested

Along with a standard configuration MacBook Air (that is, the 1.6GHz machine with the 80GB PATA hard drive), we also measured the temperature of a 2GHz MacBook Core 2 Duo, a 15-inch 2.6GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo, a 17-inch MacBook Pro with a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo chip, and a 1.67GHz PowerBook G4. Using the surface probe of an infrared thermometer, we measured external temperatures in the same “hot spots” for each laptop—the bar above the keyboard keys and the area surrounding the battery.

We also measured the internal temperatures of each Intel-based laptop using Temperature Monitor Widget 2.4. (We didn’t run the test on the PowerBook as the software does not produce comparable results for PowerPC- and Intel-based systems.)

This isn’t the first time Macworld Lab has performed temperature testing. More than a year ago we posted our first experimental results measuring MacBook Pro temperatures. We revised our procedure taking some suggestions from readers. We ran our tests in a cubicle with a room temperature of roughly 76 degrees; each machine held 2GB of RAM and ran six QuickTime trailers on loop while simultaneously converting a movie with iSquint for 30 minutes.

Here’s how the MacBook Air fared:

MacBook Air Temperature Tests

Model Room Temperature External Temperature Near Battery External Temperature Above Keyboard Internal Temperature (Main Heatsink1)
MacBook Air/1.6GHz Core 2 Duo 75.6° 99.8° 105° 132.8°
MacBook/2GHz Core 2 Duo 75.8° 102.3° 95.6° 152.6°
15-inch MacBook Pro/2.6GHz Core 2 Duo 76.2° 110.5° 109.1° 132.2°
17-inch MacBook Pro/2.4GHz Core 2 Duo 76.2° 111.1° 119.5° 132.8°
15-inch PowerBook G4/1.67GHz 74.4° 107.7° 109.1° N/A
<Better <Better <Better

Best results in red.

All results are in Fahrenheit. To measure external temperatures, we used an infrared thermometer to get readings on the bar above the F-keys and the area surrounding the battery on each laptop. Temperatures were measured after 20 minutes of running six Apple QuickTime trailers and converting a video with iSquint simultaneously. Internal temperature was recorded using Temperature Monitor. We did not run the test on the PowerBook as Temperature Monitor does not produce comparable results for PowerPC- and Intel-based systems.—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY BRIAN CHEN

(And yes, there’s also a Celsius version of our chart for those of you who don’t cotton to Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit.)

The MacBook Air heated up to 99.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the area near the battery and 105 degrees above the keyboard. By way of comparison, a 2GHz MacBook Core 2 Duo reached peak temperatures of 102.3 degrees and 95.6 degrees, respectively. You’ll notice that the MacBook’s temperature above the keyboard is cooler than that of the MacBook Air, but we place more importance in the result near the battery since that’s the area that comes into contact with your lap. The MacBook Air ran considerably cooler than the hottest laptop in our test—the 17-inch 2.4GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo, which heated up to 111.1 degrees and 119.5 degrees, respectively.

In our internal temperature testing, the free Temperature Monitor Widget reported that heat-sink temperature topped out at 132.8 degrees for the Air. That’s the same as the 17-inch 2.4GHz MacBook Pro, but a few tenths of a degree higher than the 132.2 degree temperature turned in for the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The temperatures are so close, however, that category is essentially a push. (Not so for the 2GHz MacBook—it heated up to 152.6 degrees in this internal test.)

Obviously, temperature isn’t the only factor that would-be MacBook Air owners should look at. Everything from hard-drive capacity to performance to battery life merits consideration. (And Macworld Lab definitely has some strong feelings on many of those subjects.) But it’s nice to see that the MacBook Air’s coolness doesn’t just entail its sleek design.

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