MacBook overheating is often caused by software that stops responding. Its easy to check and fix by yourself. Also make sure to use the right Thunderbolt port when charging… (yes I know). 🤦♂️
1. Use right Thunderbolt port to charge
This first tip is new, and fresh from 2020. If you have one of the new USB-C equipped Macs this could help. Although I would take this with a little grain of salt, however we cant just ignore the reports about this. It seems like if your MacBook Pro runs hot or if you have a high CPU usage for kernel_task. It could be caused by increased temperatures during charging. A solution to this problem are the following.
- Charge your MacBook Pro using the right side USB-C port.
- Unplug your other devices, or try to spread them out on different ports.
For more information about this particular topic, you can see this stackexchange thread.
There can be other reasons for a MacBook Overheating, so keep reading below for more tips.
2. Activity Monitor
Activity monitor is found in your Applications/Utilities folder. (Or just search for it with spotlight). When you open this app you should see something resembling the window you see above.
Now click on where it says: %CPU to sort the list. You should now see the name of the process that are using up your computers resources. If you want, click on that process and force quit it.
Maybe the computer actually have a reason for working hard? Make sure you dont just kill a process that are doing something important. If you dont know what the process does, just do a quick Google search of the process name and you will find out what it is before you kill it off.
Maybe you imported a lot of pictures from your vacation into Photos from your DSLR camera? Even though it seems like everything is imported, photos may do some background work on its own. I have written more about that here: Why iPhoto / Mac Photos is Slow on A New Mac
3. Clean and check for malware
As I said above. Macbook overheating is mostly caused by software. Try to keep your computer in shape and dont click on everything you see on the Internet without a critical eye. Make sure to check my other articles on 9 Ways To Free Up Space And Clean Macs and Slow Mac Performance? 12 Great Tips!. I have a lot of suggestions of both paid and free software you can use to try combat this issue. See tip Nr. 9 in the Slow Mac article, specifically the section about SMC reset.
4. Gaming, Video Rendering, Image Processing, Audio Work… it WILL tax the CPU
Maybe you are doing work that demands a lot from your computer. If that is the case maybe the heat it produces is perfectly normal. If you are gaming or doing media work like video rendering or image editing it will most probably make your mac very hot. Especially right under the display above the keyboard. Where the vents are.
Remember that the Apple MacBooks and Pros have a very thin design packing powerful CPUs. The heat has to go somewhere. Apple also set the thermal profile up so that the fans kick in when it is absolutely neccesary. They run the chips pretty hot, by design.
5. Macbook overheating due to dust and dirt
Dust in your computer and especially in the fans will make it hotter. You could try removing dust and dirt using a little brush. Compressed air is another option but you have to be very careful with that. It can potentially damage components, and make sure the compressed air doesn’t spit out any water. Liquid damage in your Macbook Pro isn’t fun. I can’t stress this enough, make sure you check that!
Check the vents, on the retina MacBook Pro its located under the display and above the keyboard. In the hinge area. You probably have to tilt the computer a bit towards you to see it.
The Retina MacBook Pro also have vents on the underside, they can quickly gather dust and dirt as well. They look like this:
Be careful when cleaning these areas.
Tools for opening your mac, to clean the fans:
If you want to open up your Mac and get to the fans, you need to have special tools. I recommend you get the iFixit Mako Driver Kit (Affiliate link to Amazon). This kit have screwdrivers so that you can remove the bottom case. The screws on Macs are not standard screws.
6. Use a Mac Laptop Stand
To prevent MacBook Overheating you could also consider getting a stand for the computer as pictured below. It will raise the laptop from your desk to a more ergonomic eye-level. In addition it will give it somewhat better airflow. And the aluminum stand will help transfer some, of the heat from the Mac. Get the stand here: Rain Design mStand Laptop Stand, Silver (Affiliate link to Amazon)
7. Advanced Tip – Reapply thermal compound
This should be an last resort but in some reports re applying the thermal compound have reduced the temperature significantly. Check https://www.ifixit.com for guides on how to open your particular model. They also have all special tools you need for sale, to open certain macs. In most cases you just have to remove the bottom case (thats easy), then remove the heat sink, clean the CPU(s) and heat sink with Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) Wipes, apply new thermal paste, slap the bottom case on and you are ready to go.
But, re-applying thermal paste is not something an regular user does. By doing this you will also most certainly void your warranty. Especially if you damage something, and spare parts for Macs are extremely expensive. Its not difficult but some computer hardware experience is good to have.
Hope this little guide helped prevent your MacBook from overheating. 🙂