Does Apple’s Macbook Pro Core i7 really get too hot?

Apple Online Store“Laptop design is largely governed by heat management. There are a few key components inside a laptop that run quite hot. The CPU and GPU are perhaps the most important of these, as they focus huge energy output into a tiny square of silicon. One way that notebook designers have faced this challenge is through the use of metal laptop bodies,” Zara Baxter and John Gillooly report for Australian PC Authority.

[UPDATE: April 27, 2010: This article was originally published on April 26, 2010 at 1:24pm EDT with an attribution error. We have changed the headline and also changed body of article to correctly identify “Australian PC Authority.” We apologize to “PC Advisor” for our error.]

“This works to a degree, but the unfortunate side effect is that when things run really hot the entire laptop body heats up to an uncomfortable level. This can quite easily shift a laptop from being pleasantly warm in one’s lap to something that is dangerous to one’s health,” Baxter and Gillooly report. “Such situations are why product marketers made a concerted effort in the early half of this decade to shift the naming of such devices from laptop to notebook.”

Baxter and Gillooly report, “During testing of the latest Core i7-620M based 17in Macbook Pro we noticed that there were problems running certain tests in our benchmark suite. The score being spat out for the Photoshop tests – fourth in a suite of six test applications – in particular was quite low, and we wondered whether it was down to heat issues. When the test was then successfully run as a standalone test with the Macbook sitting on its side, unibody base exposed to the air, we suspected that the Core i7 was struggling within the Aluminium shell of the Macbook.”

MacDailyNews Note: Just a bit of clarification: The MacBook Pro was being put through benchmark tests which naturally push the hardware to its extremes in order to measure maximum results. During normal use, these extremes might never be reached. (Unless you’re trying to watch an Adobe Flash video. wink )

Baxter and Gillooly continue, “To test our suspicions further we booted into Windows (hooray for Boot Camp) and watched what happened when the CPU was loaded to full… We then switched to Maxon’s Cinebench 11.5. This is a 3D rendering benchmark that is used to test multithreading in CPUs, and loads up all cores with rendering tasks. During this test the Core i7 spiked at 95 degrees Celsius, tantalisingly close to the boiling point of water.”

MacDailyNews Note: The temperature noted is under Windows, not Mac OS X, running a benchmark app designed to max out the processor, and measures the processor surface temperature, not the MacBook’s external case temperature.

Baxter and Gillooly continue, “We repeated the Cinebench test in OS X, and, as with the Windows version, the CPU temperature climbed precipitously high – topping out at 90 degrees Celsius. The underside heat sensors were only registering 39 degrees when this happened, even though the underside near the CPU was almost too hot to touch.”

MacDailyNews Note: 39° C equals 102.2° F.

Baxter and Gillooly continue, “Worryingly the heat buildup in the CPU doesn’t register on the enclosure sensors. This is despite the chassis getting hot to the touch, and the heat buildup being registered on all the hardware-based sensors in the Macbook Pro.”

MacDailyNews Take: What the hell is worrying about that? It’s proof positive of Apple’s excellent hardware design. The part that the user can touch gets warm, but not dangerously so, while the processor when abnormally stressed to maximum levels hit temperatures that do not exceed Intel’s thermal spec for the MacBook Pro’s Intel Core i7 Mobile Processor (I7-620M) of 105° C.

Baxter and Gillooly continue, “To test just how much an influence cramming the Core i7 into the unibody Macbook Pro has we re-ran the tests on a Fujitsu Lifebook SH 760. This uses the same Core i7-620M CPU as the Macbook, but is designed with a copper heatsink that vents out the left side of its plastic shell. The CPU started out with an idle temperature of 40 Degrees. After 3 consecutive Cinebench runs the maximum CPU temperature seen was 81 Degrees, a full 20 below that experienced with the Macbook. It was also cool to the touch.”

MacDailyNews Take: Meaningless. Baxter and Gillooly’s own tests prove that Apple’s 17-inch MacBook Pro Core i7 processor does not exceed Intel’s thermal spec of 105° C even when running a test designed to maximize processor load. Australian PC Authority has added an update to their article: “Update: Just to clarify the comments about the HWMonitor screenshots. The version used (1.15) predates the Core i7-620M CPU’s release. This means that HWMonitor incorrectly reports the CPU as a Core i5. The Cinebench program in the background of the shots reports the CPUs correctly as 2.6GHz Core i7-620M models in both laptops. The references to the CPU in the Fujitsu Lifebook are correct.”

Baxter and Gillooly continue, “Apple sits the Core i7 at the top end of its Macbook Pro Range. From our testing in both Windows and OS X it seems that while the CPU is powerful, the heat output associated with it running at full load is definitely a cause for concern. In this case the fantastic looks of the unibody Aluminium design are let down by the sheer amount of heat buildup experienced.”

MacDailyNews Take: Bullshit. The MBP’s i7 heat output is within Intel’s own safe operating temperatures and the MacBook Pro’s case seems to be executing one of its main missions, to dissipate a processor’s heat before it reaches the user, in excellent fashion, as Baxter’s and Gillooly’s own tests prove.

Baxter and Gillooly continue, “The generally cool styling of the Macbook Pro just doesn’t seem too capable when put up against the sheer output of Intel’s Core i7 processor. This is reinforced by the Fujitsu Lifebook running 20 degrees cooler in the same tests with the same CPU.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: To recap: The MacBook Pro’s Core i7 processer never exceeds Intel’s thermal spec limit. The MacBook Pro’s case gets warm under maximum and abnormal processor stress, up to 3.6° F above normal human body temperature, or 98.6° F. OMG, alert the media!

Enjoy the overblown hyperbole this piece of propaganda is sure to generate among the less-than-critical thinkers throughout the blogosphere and mainstream tech media.

At the very least, Apple ought to demand a prominent retraction and apology.

38 Comments

  1. All macs have thermal sensors in them which monitor temps. If the temp goes over the spec limits the Mac shuts down. So the fact that the MacBook Pro never shut down during there bench marking also proves that it never reached or passed unsafe temps.

  2. There is something of an update to this, too, on the issue of the i5 screenshot. The article now states that the tool that shows the temps and processor was written before the i7 was created and is erroneously showing the i7 as an i5.

    So, if true, they really did compare it to a Fujitsu with an i7. Not that the article isn’t without plenty of flaws still. The fact that they initially included that screenshot without that explanation shows shoddiness at best.

  3. Call 911, send out the police to confiscate all data, machines, and idiots responsible for this story, and add this prosecution to the DA’s pending list.

    This story is unforgivable – there’s never anything wrong with any of Steve’s products. Never.

  4. My core2 mbpro gets to hot to put in my lap after a period of time. Even with 3rd party fan controls cranked. My dells get hot too but not near as much. Haven’t used the i7 but the iPad is awesomely cool.

    I do agree that it may not exceed spec, but I don’t doubt it’s way too hot for comfort. Spec does not equal comfort.

  5. The critical issue about the article remains the fans being presumably stuck at idle (2000rpm) even while the CPU is near its maximum temperature – that is extremely implausible with a properly functioning MBP. The fans should be revved up to or beyond 6000rpm at that point, and should be clearly audible.

    The testers have neglected to mention anything about that, even despite presumably having used tools which clearly indicate the fan rpm.

    This is either an intentional hit piece, sabotaging proper operation of the cooling system of the MBP or plain old shoddy journalism, possibly while being too incompetent to detect a system malfunction which is not present in regular units.

  6. the lifebook is defective by their tests. Core iX processors are supposed to over-clock automatically until there thermal limit is reached. A 105 degree chip should be at around 100 degrees when maxed out. The lifebook operating at 80 under max load should not happen unless its thermal limits had been set lower. That said if the MBP is getting that hot on the outside it is defective the i& has the same max TDP as the previous core 2 and should not run any hotter.

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