At long last, I think I’ve identified the source of the problem I’ve had for months, on and off, with my MacBook slowing down and the processor “spinning up” for some reason when I encode audio and video, or at other times. I wrote about this in May 2008 in the post, “Strange intermittent Macbook slowdown persists.” When the temperature of my MacBook’s processor exceeds 70 degrees fahrenheit, I think this “spinup” problem happens.

Can high CPU temperatures explain my Macbook stalling?

I’m using iStatMenus (free) to monitor my processor temperature as well as other vital stats on my MacBook. This past week, when I was using the MacBook on my lap (as I often do) I noticed the processor temperature was high when the spinup problem started. When I put the Macbook down on a cool, glass coffeetable, when the CPU temperature fell the processor spinup stopped.

I’ve taken my MacBook to our local Apple Store twice for this problem, and I’ve been told “there is no problem.” I know the heat generation issues with my Macbook have been documented elsewhere, and I never did report this to Apple as a heat issue. I’ve had my CPU on my MacBook replaced by Apple, and overall know that I’ve gotten a TON of mileage out of it. I wish I could prevent this processor spinup / slowdown issue from recurring, however.

Tonight in searching for more info on MacBook heat problems, I came across the application Coolbook. According to the website:

As the MacBook gets warmer, the fan will automatically increase the rotation speed. This diagram shows the differences in RPM at the end of the Cinebench benchmark. The original driver ran more than 2000 RPM over the lowest CoolBook setting. Not showing in the diagram is the differences in temperature. At 0.9875 V the temperature reached a maximum of 63°C, while the original driver reaches 72°C!

I’m going to give Coolbook a try and see if it helps. It DEFINITELY helps to use the MacBook on a flat table surface instead of on my lap. I’m also considering the Targus Notebook Chill Pad, which is powered by a free laptop USB port and has fans to cool down the processor. For about $15, this looks like a good option to try, and would allow me to still use the laptop in my lap without (potentially) the overheating problem developing.

Keep in mind I’m still using a 1st generation MacBook which was purchased in 2006. The newer MacBooks better address these heat issues, from what I’ve heard and read.

Have you had experience using the Coolbook application, or a laptop cooling pad like the Targus Chill Pad? Any recommendations besides buying a new laptop or just continuing to use my old one on a cool, flat surface that permits better ventilation?

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  • Harlan Howe

    Have you considered using Fan Control? Your blogging software probably won’t let me post a URL here, so just Google “os x fan control.” It is a system preference that lets you control what the threshold temperature is to turn on your fan. It might help with your problem!

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Excellent, thanks. No, I hadn’t considered or heard of that, I’ll check it out.

    My blog comment settings generally do allow links to be included, but if too many are included the comment goes into the moderation queue. Generally one link is fine and is allowed. I will google for “os x fan control” to find it tho!

  • http://westborough.ma.schoolwebpages.com/gustafson Ingrid

    I had similar problems with an older PowerBook and I bought an item like the Targus Chill Pad. It definitely worked to cool down the computer, but the unexpected bonus was more comfort when using my laptop on my lap.

  • http://www.mrjwilliams.com J.D. Williams

    Start with the pad. I have the same one you have pictured and I carry it with my laptop in my bag. It makes a huge difference, and worth it for the comfort level of your lap.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    @Ingrid @J.D. Thanks for the feedback and encouragement – I’ve ordered the Targus Chill Pad, so we’ll see how that works. I’m optimistic, and I think you’re right, the bonus of having a cooler lap when working on the laptop will be most welcome!

  • http://ryancollins.org/wp/ Ryan Collins

    Are you sure you mean 70ºF and not 70ºC? I have the exact same vintage of MacBook, and it shows a temperature of 122ºF right now, and the fans are not on (or they’re not loud enough to hear).

    And I’m sure you’ve installed the Macbook firmware update that was released a couple of months after the Macbook to stop the “mooing” sound affect?

    My machine has the fan spin up during encoding processes and games, but most of the time it’s silent (well, except for when I’m putting it to sleep a lot and changing networks, which causes DropBox.app to take all the CPU and I have to quit it)

    I don’t know how reliable iStatMenu is, according to this:
    http://ryancollins.org/u/1u
    Heatsink A is 259º!

  • Steve Russell

    I use the Targus Chill Mat with my iBook G4. I’ve had it a little over a year and it’s amazing how much cooler it is working with the laptop in your lap.

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