First Look: Hot or not: Measuring MacBook Pro temperatures

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Since its release in January, Apple’s MacBook Pro has been a hot item. Now that an updated version with a new processor is shipping, Mac users are hoping that the laptop is a little less hot in one area in particular—their laps.

The new MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo models generally run cooler than their predecessors—though not enough for users to notice. Testing by Macworld Lab found that the switch from the Core Duo processor to Intel’s next-generation Core 2 Duo offering slightly reduced the 2.16GHz MacBook Pro’s persistent fever. However, the 2.33GHz model got just as hot as its Core Duo counterparts. Still, considering the Core 2 Duo’s superior speed and power, these results show improvement in the MacBook Pro’s system-cooling technology.

What we found

Using the surface probe of an infrared thermometer, we measured external temperatures in the same “hot spots” for each notebook—the bar above the F-keys and the area surrounding the battery. The 15-inch 2.33GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo reached 117.9 degrees (Fahrenheit) above the keyboard and 116.6 degrees in the area near the battery. That compares to high temperatures of 116.9 and 116.1 degrees, respectively, for the 15-inch 2.16GHz MacBook Pro Core Duo. But comparing systems with the same clock speed, the 2.16GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo peaked at 110.3 and 109.8 degrees—a slight decrease from the old Core Duo systems. (By way of comparison, a 2GHz MacBook with a Core Duo processor showed peak temperatures of 105.1 and 101.8 degrees, while a 15-inch 1.67GHz PowerBook G4 heated up to 112.5 and 112.3 degrees.)

Core 2 Duo Temperature Tests

Model Room Temperature External Temperature Near Battery External Temperature Above Keyboard Internal Temperature
15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.16GHz 73.5° 109.8° 110.3° 174°
15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.33GHz 73.5° 116.6° 117.9° 178°
15-inch MacBook Pro Core Duo/2.16GHz 74.5° 115.3° 117.4° 176°
MacBook Core Duo/2GHz 74.3° 101.8° 105.1° 167°
15-inch PowerBook G4/1.67GHz 74.1° 112.3° 112.5° N/A
<Cooler <Cooler <Cooler

Reference system in italics .

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 while converting MP3 files in iTunes. Internal temperatures were recorded using the CoreDuoTemp application; because the program does not run on PowerPC-based Macs, we could not use CoreDuo Temp to record the internal temperature of the PowerBook G4.—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY BRIAN CHEN

Of course, it’s not just what’s outside that counts. We ran CoreDuoTemp, an application that measures internal temperatures of Intel-based Macs. The free program recorded high internal temperatures of 178 and 174 degrees for the 2.33GHz and 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo models, respectively. The 2.16GHz MacBook Pro Core Duo reached 176 degrees, while the 2GHz black MacBook peaked at 167. (We excluded the PowerBook G4 from this test since it’s incompatible with CoreDuoTemp.) All testing took place in a cubicle with a room temperature of roughly 74 degrees; each machine held 1GB of RAM and ran MP3 conversions on iTunes for 40 minutes.

That the 2.16GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo produced cooler results than a Core Duo laptop with the same clock speed indicates that Intel is making strides with producing more powerful chips that use less energy. In fact, since this most recent round of MacBook Pro updates featured no major changes to the inside of the machine (save for the chip swap), it would be fair to say that Intel is taking the lead role in keeping the MacBook Pro’s temperatures steady. (An Apple representative told us that both the previous and latest lines of MacBook Pros are “noticeably cooler” because of firmware updates released in May and June that adjusted fan speeds. It’s reasonable to assume that future firmware updates could produce similar results for the latest MacBook Pro models.)

There still isn’t a tried-and-true method of temperature testing, so we welcome input from MacBook Pro users on these results. What are you doing with your MacBook Pros when they start to heat up? After some experimentation (with Quake 4, Adobe Photoshop CS2 Automator actions and DVD playback), iTunes’ MP3 conversion heated up the MacBook Pros for us the most.

Since these tests were all run on machines with screens no larger than 15 inches, we’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of the 17-inch 2.33GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo. Stay tuned for speed and temperature results for that laptop as well.

[ Brian Chen is an assistant editor for Macworld . ]

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 4:56 p.m. PT to correct the internal temperature test results for the MacBook Pro models.

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