A Mac can perform a lot of functions simultaneously, and generally, it can take the heat. Making the heat manageable for users, however, is largely in the hands of the user. If it's shutting down on its own, there is likely a problem that needs to be diagnosed by a professional at an Apple Store or Mac Genius Bar. The shut down feature in Macs is for actual overheating and is not a cooling feature -- it could indicate a potential problem with the computer's hard drive and/or fan and cooling system [source: Mac Forums].
If your Mac laptop is getting really, really hot but isn't shutting down, there are some user "controls" to consider:
Give it clearance -- If the bottoms and sides of a laptop can't breathe, say they're smushed into soft surfaces like pillows, legs or couch cushions, fans are blocked and heat goes nowhere but back through the thin computer casing itself. Keeping the bottom slightly raised or on a surface like a rubberized lap tray and making sure the vents are actually venting and not blocked allows heat to circulate outside the machine, keeping it cooler. Using an external lap desk fan or even room fan can also keep air moving through and around.
Give it air -- Gently puffing (not blasting) compressed air and softly wiping the vents keeps them clean and clear. Much as an air conditioner stops working well when its filter is dirty and it can't push as much hot air out of a room, a dusty or hair clogged laptop vent works less efficiently.
Give it a break -- Technically, Macs can churn through all the work you give them, but running or opening a lot of complex programs at the same time can tax the CPU, the central processing unit, and heat things up. Taking breaks for shutting down or just keeping an eye on what tasks are running and then uncluttering the workload helps. Just as refocusing your eyes from the computer screen to a point in the distance can refresh your vision and focus, sleeping or blinking laptop operations pulls everything back to a cool center.
And if your feet are planted firmly in the PC camp, these same tips work for non-Mac laptops too.
Even the best, brightest and highest end laptops will get hot when pushed to their limits, and it's the highest performing machines that tend to create the most heat. Those studies of toasted-skin syndrome mentioned earlier were completed by observing the computer habits of a 12-year-old boy who played computer games for eight hours a sitting, and a college student who propped her laptop on her lap for six-hour stretches. If you're feeling the burn and getting lizard legs, it might just be time to cool it.
Keep reading for links to more hot computer-related topics.
- Cheng, Cisco. "Toasted Skin Syndrome Caused by Hot Laptops." PCMag.com. Oct. 14, 2010. (Aug. 5, 2011) http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2370773,00.asp
- Derene, Glenn. "Mac vs. PC: The Ultimate Lab Test for New Desktops and Laptops." PopularMechanics.com. Dec. 18, 2009. (Aug. 5, 2011) http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/tests/4258725
- Mac Forums. "The Official "My MacBook/Air/Pro Is Overheating What Do I Do" Guide." http://www.mac-forums.com/forums/apple-notebooks/194862-official-my-macbook-air-pro-overheating-what-do-i-do-guide.html
- Martin, James A. "Mac vs. Windows Laptops." PCWorld.com. July 9, 2008. (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.pcworld.com/article/148032/mac_vs_windows_laptops.html