Troubleshooting an overheating MacBook Pro

Since I’ve been doing more stuff on MacOS lately, I’ve been using the MacBook. I’ve found it to be wildly unstable! I mean, one second it’s fine, and then the screen would freeze or it would reboot… or it reboot and go to the dreaded “white screen” of death. Meanwhile, the frame above the keyboard was extremely hot to the touch.

After some preliminary testing – this did seem to happen much more when the CPU was under heaving load. I mean like, launching an Android or iOS emulator. However, once it was a little hot – it failed in lots of different, creative ways, consistently.

So, where do you start?

Re-applying thermal paste on the CPU and GPU:
I’m a computer geek – and I’ve done this before. This is likely the problem, so why not? I’ll tell you why not: because it’s Apple! I watched some YouTube videos first, but still, this was a daunting task.

It took me probably 1 to 1.5 hours to do this project.

The reason is, Mac hardware is highly, highly customized. There are SUPER-tiny connectors and cables all over the place. Some, you just pull; others, you have to flip up a microscopic little bar first, and then slide-out. There are a LOT of these super-tiny connectors too! So, despite looking ridiculous, I found it mandatory to use a headlamp, like this. And, if I had one, I would suggest a magnifying glass headset too (because you really do need both hands free).

The first thing I did, having experienced pulling apart a Mac Mini before, was to get the right tools. Inside of a Mac there are a lot of Torx screws for example. So, I got this 16-piece kit which has tiny screwdrivers, Torx drivers, little plastic prybars, and tweezers – for $7:


You REALLY do need the right tools for the job. In my opinion, that is:

  • A toolset like above that has Torx drivers, a few different prybars and tweezers, and small screwdrivers.
  • A magnifying glass visor – I’m not kidding, most of these connectors are super-super tiny.
  • A headlamp to light up the work area – your hands will cast shadows unless the light is coming from your head.

So, you carefully take off all of the connectors, keep meticulous track of the 10 zillion screws – and then you can get to the business of replacing the CPU paste. In my case, the paste was still wet, so it was probably fine. I cleaned it all off though, with rubbing alcohol, and applied some new Arctic Silver.

After meticulously reassembling everything, I half-expected something to be not-work.. but it worked just fine! However, I still saw all the same symptoms and the frame above the keyboard (above the number row) was still getting ridiculously hot.

Download an app to control the fans:
After looking on the internet, it seems there is an app you can download which is the de facto standard for observing and controlling your cooling fans:


so, I install that and here’s what I observed:

  • Fan speed never went higher than around 2000 RPM.
  • Temperatures hovered in the 50-60 range (Celsius) during normal use.
  • When under load, the temperatures spiked to the 70’s-80’s – typically 90 is when there is a thermal shutdown, on most computers.
  • The fan speed never sped up!

Ok – but how much difference could the fans really make? Well, a HUGE difference. Turning up the fans even a little could cool the system by 10-20 degrees in about a minute! So, I have my answer! Well, an answer. So, I set up some new defaults:

image image image

The “Higher RPM” one has a higher LeftSide value because when it’s charging, that’s where the MagSafe connection is and that too, gets really hot. Then, if I see that the CPU is getting hot, I can choose Max – which isn’t even that loud. When I say “see” the CPU is getting hot, this runs in the status bar at the top:


Recalibrate the fans:
I called a local computer place because the closest Apple Store is like an hour from me. Plus, considering how Apple operates, I’m assuming a trip to the Apple Store for service is going to be super expensive. So, I called a local computer place and talked to their Mac “expert” and he says, at this point, the one thing left to do is recalibrate the fans. The core problem seems to be that the fans never turned-up higher when the CPU got hotter – and they are supposed to do that!

So, he said he has a utility for that. I looked online and it looks like it might be on a disc that comes with a new Mac. I bought mine used so I don’t have that.

Bottom Line:
I learned a couple of valuable things in this mini-adventure:

  • The insides of Apple hardware are ridiculously tiny and difficult to work on, unless you have the right tools (…but even then)
  • You can download smcFanControl for free from and that’s the de facto standard for viewing or controlling the fans.
  • Ultimately, if re-pasting your CPU doesn’t fix the heat problem then you can recalibrate the fans (supposedly?) – so that they’ll cool the way they are supposed to!

For other Mac owners, am I missing anything?

Posted in Apple Stuff, Computers and Internet, General, Infrastructure, Uncategorized

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