MBA heat/noise vs CPU/SSD - which ones to avoid?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by Mopar, Feb 24, 2011.

  1. Mopar, Feb 24, 2011
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2011

    Mopar macrumors member

    Feb 24, 2011
    To say I'm dissapointed with the latest 13" MBP is an undestatement: no matte/hi-res screen option; no SSD as standard; poorer battery life, same weight etc - not to mention the same, sharp unibody style I've never liked.

    I put off buying an MBA and waited all this time for the new 13" MBP only to discover it wasn't worth waiting for.

    What I do want is an MBA - still can't decide between the 11" and 13" even after playing with both at the store, but am leaning towards the 13" as it has better battery life and a bigger screen.

    What I don't want is the same issue I had with a white iMac I bought a few years ago that had a buzzing fan that drove me mad. Apple wouldn't/couldn't fix it, and it was left up to me to pull the bloody thing apart and modify (remove) the fan housing and replace it with a custom styrofoam mount that absorbed the vibration and didn't amplify the sound. Design fault fixed. (And no fires - LOL!)

    I've been a Mac owner/user for almost 20 years. Just about every new Mac I've bought since my old "beige box" G3 has had hardware problems and needed to be fixed (or I've had to do it myself). I have a late 2008 15" MBP (last of the Al's) that, touch wood, hasn't given me any real problems. But alas, it's got the suspect 8600M GT GPU in it, so it's probably just a matter of time . . .

    So my question is, the new 13" MBA with 2.13GHz and 256GB SSD seems to be the model with most of the heat/fan-noise issues - is that correct?

    I don't need the 2.13GHz CPU and I can probably get away with the 128GB SSD. I use my machines for nothing more strenuous than surfing, streaming, Photoshop, word processing, playing movies/music and possibly flight simulation (I'm a pilot) hooked to a screen (though my 2.5GHz 15" MBP is still quicker than the MBA, so I'll probably continue to use this). However, my laptops travel everywhere with me, so lightness/durability/battery life is most important - that's why I want an MBA to complement my 15" MBP.

    Are the 1.86GHz CPUs appreciably cooler? Does a 128GB SSD run cooler than a 256GB SSD? I hear also that the Samsung 128GB SSD is actually faster than the 256GB SSD - is this true?

    My theory on the fan noise is that it is another Apple design fault - that the MBA has amplifying channels inside it for the speakers and that these same channels amplify the fan noise (if the fan is noisy to begin with!).

    I'm leaning towards a base model 13" MBA with 4GB RAM, as these appear to have had the fewest problems (simply from reading these forums and searching the Net). I can live with the specs, but should I really be considering the 11", as I understand the CPU generates about 70% less heat?

    I know a few things about pulling laptops apart, but I'm no expert by any means, so any technical advice appreciated.

  2. tom vilsack macrumors 68000

    tom vilsack

    Nov 20, 2010
    ladner cdn
  3. Mopar thread starter macrumors member

    Feb 24, 2011
    I'd rather not have to pull it apart in the first place! But still, thanks for the link.

    I guess my real question is, which model is going to give me the least amount of trouble in the opinion of those who have already bought and used them at home and on the road?
  4. GekkePrutser macrumors 6502a


    Aug 18, 2005
    According to the Anandtech review (don't have a link now but it's top 10 on google) the 11" runs cooler than the 13" and has lower fan speeds in general. If you're really concerned with it, maybe that would be the way to go. He did say the fan on the 13" was very audible and he did review the lowest 1.86 Ghz model.

    Considering you also have a 15" portable it might do as a second laptop? But that's for you to decide of course.

    I'm in roughly the same boat, I'm deciding between the 11" and 13", I was also holding out for the MBP update, expecting a smaller and lighter case design. So it was a disappointment for me too, the MBP didn't become air-like (it doesn't even have the deep sleep feature which should have been easy enough to implement)
  5. clivesmithy macrumors newbie

    Feb 25, 2011
    I bought the MBA 1.4 128GB 2GB model when it came out last october.
    It runs very cool and is silent if this helps. There not cheap, it worked out the same price as the base model MBP.. but is a great ultra portable, for travelling etc. Also the SSD does not generate heat.
  6. Hands Sandon macrumors 6502

    Aug 3, 2008
    My thinking was along the same lines as the OP, so I got the 11". However, I thought I could just increase the minimum font size to have a web page text slightly bigger, but that distorted the page too much for my liking, too often. So I returned it and got the base 13", which fits a full screen web page perfectly, in most instances (the slightly narrower width of the 11" often prevents a fully displayed larger page size through pinching out on trackpad).

    They both are very quiet and cool. I've had the 13" and not once would I ever describe it as being in any way hot or loud. In fact it's by far the coolest and quietest laptop I've ever used. This 13" has the faster samsung ssd, the 11" did not, but I haven't timed anything. In actual use both seemed super quick to where I haven't noticed a difference.

    Strangely I thought I'd notice an increase in weight between the two, but because the 13" is much bigger it feels thinner and for what you get, lighter. It's like lifting up a box that's big so you expect it to be heavy when in fact it's lighter than a small box you've just carried. The 13" weight, or lack of it, has more of a wow factor when moving it say off my lap because of that. It feels flatter and thinner in real use than the 11".

    The speakers go about twice as loud as the 11" and have a much fuller sound, which I really notice too.

    Even running cod4 the fans aren't loud. A feint low whirl of the fan is all I hear and the game drowns it out completely anyway. It feels only very slightly warm after several hours and that's playing it with 1440x900 and all the settings maxed out.
  7. topmounter macrumors 68020


    Jun 18, 2009
    FEMA Region VIII
    I'm very happy with my 13" MBA ultimate... While I'm not playing SC2 on it, so far it has never gotten more than a little warm and I can't say I've ever heard the fan that it allegedly has inside.
  8. Mopar thread starter macrumors member

    Feb 24, 2011
    Thanks for the replies everyone. I've done a little more research and it seems there are a few different problems being encountered by new MBA owners.

    Firstly, the fans don't seem to be very good quality to begin with: reports of noisy bearings necessitating whole fan replacements, as well as fan clusters jumping out of their hubs and making a "ticking" noise when they can't turn - apparently a good bash with the palm of a hand on the underside of the machine knocks the fan back into place! Not entirely reassuring!

    Then there's the issue of fans spinning up harder than they should - which seem to be software related (Flash updates), or OS management related.

    The 13's also appear to be noisier than the 11s because the 13s are bigger inside and seem to amplify the noise more (related to the speaker channels, I assume), but also because they get hotter (see below)

    In fact, thanks to GekkePrutser for the Anandtech review heads-up. Here's what the review said:

    ^ That's obviously one of the problems right there. But it goes on . . .

    I guess this must be related to the 1.4GHz vs 1.86GHz CPUs in the 11" and 13" models.

    Which leads me to wonder: would the 2.13GHz CPU produce even more heat than the 1.86GHz CPU?

    Obviously a higher clock speed is going to generate more heat, but if the faster CPU performs a task quicker, perhaps this prevents the CPU from overheating in the first place? (Ie, produces more heat, but for less time - with more time to cool down).

    That I don't know and would welcome a response or explanation.

    I've pretty much made up my mind I'll now be getting a 13" with 4Gb RAM. It has a better screen and battery life - simple as that. What I need to decide now is whether to get the faster CPU and/or bigger SSD.

    Would a bigger SSD affect battery performance? Would it generate more heat? Again, answers appreciated.

    At least it's encouraging to hear a lot of people are not having any problems with their machines. I'm just a little wary after having quite a few issues with Macs in recent years, ever since they started to build things "cheaply". Quality comes at a price. But so does lack of quality!
  9. Schorsch0815 macrumors newbie

    Nov 10, 2010
    I am in the same situation. Waited forthe new MBP and now I start to read the MBP threads again.

    I use Skype a lot. I got a MBA 13" low CPU but otherwise maxed out. I can second the statement: It’s still too small of a fan to really be considered loud in the grand scheme of things, but it’s loud enough to be annoying. Fans speed goes up to 6K and the noise is big. Skype, Youtube , same.

    Too loud for a conference room, library, ..

    Went to the shop, they had never heared about this problem, their own MBA is dead silent, ...

    Faulty machine? I took another one home (I love Apple service). Same noise issue, I returned it the same day. And waited for the new MBP. Till Thursday..

    Now, I need a solution for vdo chat. Has anyone experience using Facetime VDO on an MBA 13"? Is that anywere less noisy?

  10. Mopar thread starter macrumors member

    Feb 24, 2011
    The problem is - and trust me, I've been through this many times before - the Apple Stores are just to noisy to pick up the fan buzzing. Even if it seems quiet, there is something always going on in the background. There are people browsing, other machines playing videos/music, phones ringing, store assistants talking to each other etc. It's not until you get back to the quiet of your home or office that you notice how loud these things are.

    There's nothing worse than going to all the trouble of taking a machine into the store (especially if it's a large iMac), plonking it down and saying to the techs "Can't you hear that?"" and they go "What?" and you think "Actually, it doesn't sound that bad in here . . ." but of course as soon as you get back home, it drives you nuts!
  11. Schorsch0815 macrumors newbie

    Nov 10, 2010
    Correct. Before I took the second MBA home I tried Skype in the shop. In the shop you can't hear a thing. Dead silent. At home folks turned their head when I started Skype and the fan kicked in.

    Anyone experience with Facetime on a MBA 13"?
  12. 2IS, Feb 26, 2011
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2011

    2IS macrumors 68030

    Jan 9, 2011
    The fan in my MBA 13 was certainly audible when skyping or watching 1080p video for prolonged periods of time. I say "was" because after installing coolbook the fan speed, noise and the heat generated have all been reduced significantly.

    During normal usage and even watching most video's, the system is silent. If I put my ear right up to the keyboard where the vents are I hear a faint whisper. During more intensive tasks I'd say the noise reduction is ~50%
  13. Mopar thread starter macrumors member

    Feb 24, 2011
    Coolbook - good advice. It appears to be an almost mandatory install for these models.

    It's probably worth mentioning I live in Australia. It's hot here almost year-round, so you can understand my concerns about heat/fan noise etc.

    If anyone else lives in warmer climes like I do, I'd be keen to hear your experiences too. Cheers.
  14. madgick macrumors newbie

    Jan 11, 2008
    I too have had the skype+fan issues on my macbook. My solution since then has been to use skype on my iPhone. The thing was made for calls after all and it works perfect with the headphones too. Shame that the best solution I could find for the macbook was to not use it though I guess, plus this is assuming you all have iPhones but I'd be suprised if I'm wrong ;)
  15. Psilocybin macrumors 6502a


    Jan 16, 2011
    Ontario, Canada
  16. stylinexpat macrumors 65816


    Mar 6, 2009
    Very true..
  17. Mopar thread starter macrumors member

    Feb 24, 2011
    Right, just bought a maxed-out 13" MBA: 2.13GHz C2D, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD. Got the 10% education discount (wife's a teacher) and a free iPod worth A$289 in the deal. Plus it'll be a tax deduction anyway.

    Didn't realise you could only BTO online (been a while since I bought a new BTO Mac), so by the time I got to the Apple Store and was told I couldn't get my 4GB of RAM on any other 13" model, I figured I might as well get the "ultimate". All the 128GB MBAs in the shop had the slower Toshiba drives, too (checked six of them), so wasn't confident I'd get a fast one. However, this thing kicks the new MBP 13's arse after comparing them side-by-side. Lighter, nicer screen and plenty fast for what I need. Couldn't bare to look at that lo-res, glassy MBP screen compared to this.

    So . . . so far, so good. Updating software, plugging into LAN and running a bit of Flash hasn't taxed it at all. It's quiet, cool and fast - I'm impressed. Crashed System Preferences a few times before updating from 10.6.4 to 10.6.6, but so far no dramas since the updates and repairing disk permissions. Will load up some more software and put it through its paces some more tomorrow. First impressions are good. If the fan doesn't start whining after giving it a bit of a stick, I'll be happy I made the right choice.
  18. jimboutilier macrumors 6502a

    Nov 10, 2008
    You will drive yourself nuts looking at subjective, anicdotal flaw reports on products. Everyones tastes, thresholds and usage patterns are different so at best these things just give you a feel for the level of buzz about a product. Even professional, supposedly objective reviews can only go so far given their small sample size. What's a deal breaker for one person another will not even notice. So trying one out for yourself is the only way to be sure.

    That said, MacBooks are thin and that means they generally run warm. Fan noise in a quiet environment can definitely be an issue but in most typical office environments it might not be noticeable.

    The 11" MBA is the coolest running Mac to date because of it's ultra low voltage processor. I wish apple had put a ULV processor in the 13" MBA. I had always heard bad things about the performance of ULV processors but I am extremely impressed with my 1.6ghz ULV. I bought it as a secondary travel machine and it's become my primary everyday machine for everything and does not seem slow in any way. It's also virtually silent and very cool almost all the time. At one point I wondered if there was something wrong with the fan because I had never heard it and used SMC fan control to force it high. Even at max it's very quiet and I've never seen it that high on it's own. About as high as I've seen it on it's own is 4000 rpm and it's still extremely quiet there.

    I can't vouch for the new 13" MBA but I can say that I had a revA and a revC MBA and both were quieter than my larger Macs at a given fan speed. The revC was also a fair bit quieter than my revA.

    Good luck in your decision

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