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Customer Review

201 of 215 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Looks, Speedy Laptop. Gets hot and loud under moderate CPU load., August 15, 2011
This review is from: Apple MacBook Air MC966LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop (OLD VERSION) (Personal Computers)
I have been using my new 13" Macbook Air, 256GB, Core i7 for just over a week and here are my impressions...

First, the good stuff...

- The industrial design is absolutely gorgeous and rock-solid. The laptop is thin, light and pleasure to look at.

- Screen is 13" but the resolution is comparable to that of most 15"+ laptops. Perfectly usable for graphic/software development. While Macbook Air uses (supposedly) an inferior TN panel compared to Macbook Pro, I did not find a drastic difference between the two (I also own a 17" Macbook Pro). The Air has slightly smaller viewing angles and perhaps not as good colour reproduction, but the differences are subtle. Also, there's a lot less glare on Air's "glossy" display compared to glossy Macbook Pro.

- Performance is great, in some cases it bests the Quad Core i7 17" Macbook Pro, thanks to its SSD Drive. Startups/shutdowns are super fast and the applications open/close almost instantly. Having said that, do not expect to do any serious gaming on this little guy. The built-in Intel graphics chip has hard time handling even 5 year old games and is actually slower than nVidia chip on the previous generation Air.

- Expect to get about 4-5 hours of mixed use out of "7 hour" battery. That's what I average while doing some Photoshop and web dev work, browsing, listening to music and viewing a few video clips.

Now, the negatives...

Well, it's one negative really, but it is something I find extremely annoying. The laptop gets VERY hot when CPU usage approaches 50% and the fan kicks in full-blast at 6,000+ RPM.

I first noticed the excessive noise when I was transferring my data and applications from the time machine backup upon initial setup. The fan stayed on entire time, CPU temperature was approaching 90C while being only 30% utilized.

I continued to experience high heat/fan noise issues throughout the week. Sometimes it was during routine web browsing where some of the websites contained Flash elements. Starting Windows XP in Parallels would immediately set the fan in motion, again, sometimes hitting 6,000+ rpm. Playing Civilization IV, a fairly old game, had fan going full blast entire time with CPU again reaching 90C. Apple's own "Cosmos" screensaver brings the CPU temperature up to 80-85C and the fan up to 4500-5000rpm. The most annoying thing -- none of these tasks were taxing the CPU at more than 50%!

I did a fair bit of research on this issue. There are multiple discussions on Apple, MacRumours and other forums about excessive heat and fan noise. Also, many report increased heat on their older Apple laptops after upgrading to Lion, so perhaps (fingers crossed), there's a patch on the way that will improve thermal management somewhat.

The thought about returning the Air for refund did cross my mind, but I decided to keep it in the end. I am not a gamer and doing my work (web/mobile development) is not very taxing on the CPU, however, I do not think it is unreasonable to expect relatively quiet operation on such premium laptop with only 50% CPU usage. I can only hope that Apple is listening and looking to remedy the problem.

***Update: March 28, 2012***
It has been several months since I purchased the Air, so I thought I'd write a quick update.

There were no software updates from Apple that would fix the overheating issue. Some claim in the comments that the thermal problems are limited to Macbook Air Core i7 version, however, I got to play with friend's Core i5/120Gb Air and got the fan hitting 6,000+ rpm simply by opening two browser tabs with YouTube videos in them. The playback has become choppy pretty quickly as well. The fan was also audible on pages with a few Flash elements in it (like newspaper sites). It seemed slightly (very slightly) less prone to heat issue, but it's definitely there.

I also played around with an 11" Macbook Air Core i5 at the Apple Store and, interestingly enough, it handled Flash far better than (supposedly) more powerful 13"... I opened 5! 1080p YouTube videos and still wouldn't hear the fan... Quite amazing actually. The difference seems to be the i5/i7 processors in the 13" Air that can hit higher clock speeds but nearly frying the internals in the process.

If you find your Macbook Air fan going off like a jet engine every time you visit YouTube or any page with Flash content, here are a couple of browser plugins that I found helpful (they block movies until you specifically click on them):

- FlashBlock for Firefox

- ClickToFlash for Safari

There's a model refresh coming sometime this summer, apparently, and I hope Apple will figure out the way to solve this problem. Of course, much depends on Intel chips that they're going to use in new models.
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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 16, 2011 2:11:34 PM PDT
Den says:
I'm guessing it's 50% usage, but you're actually pegging one core at 100%.

Still disappointing -- I want the tech to get to the point where these things don't even HAVE fans, so that the keyboard is left as the only moving part...

Posted on Aug 17, 2011 8:00:18 AM PDT
DeeCee says:
Thanks for your honest review. I also have a 17" MacBook Pro. But I wanted to point out that it also has a TN screen...not an IPS. IPS is used only in the 27" Cinema Display, iPhone4, and iPads. But the MBP has a higher color gamut TN display so it can display more colors vs. the Air which I also have.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 18, 2011 4:26:39 AM PDT
Alex Green says:
Thanks for the correction. Yes, it is indeed a TN panel, but of a higher quality. I adjusted the review accordingly.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 18, 2011 4:33:24 AM PDT
Alex Green says:
"I'm guessing it's 50% usage, but you're actually pegging one core at 100%."
I actually said "at no more than 50%". 40% is usually enough for the temperature to shoot up to 80-90C and for the fan to go into full blast. And no, it does not mean one core doing all the work. Any competent OS will distribute the load between the cores and will do so dynamically as CPU instructions are processed.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 19, 2011 4:00:26 PM PDT
Wayne Ngo says:
Hey Alex, I have a base model 13" Air and I can also attest to this heat and loud fan noise. My first 2011 Air ran quietly under moderate browsing but my replacement (1st one had wifi problems) would get extremely hot and the fan would kick on and stay on for long periods of time while producing loud noises.

Posted on Sep 11, 2011 3:35:08 AM PDT
I've had my current model 13" MacBook Air (i5) for over a week now. The fan has come on just once - when it was 90 degrees outside and I did not have my ceiling fan on in the living room. As someone who owned the original and 2009 MacBook Airs, with hard drives, I can attest that heat and fan use are not a problem with this model, with the SSD and more RAM.

One tip for laptop use is not to block the vents. For example, placing your laptop on a soft surface like a bed is not a good idea.

Posted on Sep 30, 2011 1:59:37 PM PDT
kkp says:
Very good review. One worst thing about Apple Macbook or Macbook pro etc., is drastic increase in temperature even with small amount of usage. I never liked Apple Macbook or pro.

Posted on Oct 25, 2011 8:08:49 AM PDT
D. Bowers says:
My wife and her friend both have apple laptops, and both complain about how hot their computer runs. I can't understand why they get so hot. I have two pc laptops, both run cool.

Posted on Oct 30, 2011 2:26:27 AM PDT
Sun Wukong says:
@Alex. Have the same rig as you do, but not once has the fan come on in the course of a month. Of course, I'm not running graphics- or CPU intensive-applications. Just some word processing, web browsing, and reading/sending emails on this thing for me. Anything heavier, I rely on my MacBook Pro, which does in fact run hot.

Posted on Nov 11, 2011 5:31:56 AM PST

I believe your problem with the heat and noise is due to the i7 chip you have. After reading tons of reviews and forum posts, it seems there is a whole lot more heat and resulting fan noise in the i7 version compared to the i5 version. I actually could have gotten the i7 version cheaper than the i5 version (craigslist), but I went with the i5 version since it runs much quieter and cooler, with only a 10% or so difference between the two processors which wouldn't be that noticeable. It seems a lot of people on various forums also feel like the heat/noise from the i7 isn't worth it for the 10% increased speed. It's probably too late to help the original poster, but maybe it can help someone else looking at the Airs. In the weeks that I have had my i5 13" Macbook Air, the only time the fan has come on is when I play Starcraft and at no other time.
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