A recent iFixit teardown has revealed a startling lack of cooling hardware within the new M2 MacBook Air, even as an unprecedented heat wave cooks parts of Europe and the US.
As they take apart the M2 MacBook Air, iFixit notes that, a bit like its predecessor, the laptop doesn’t include a cooling fan, which isn’t surprising. What’s alarming, though, may be a very minimal passive cooling system. Apple has decided to scrap the warmth spreader as well, which was a part of the M1 MacBook Air, and instead only relies on thermal paste and graphite tape to chill the laptop. Experts are concerned but not overly worried.
"Apple has a fantastic track record for thermal engineering in the MacBook Air line of products," Tom Bridge, Principal Product Manager, Apple, at JumpCloud, told Lifewire over email. “If they're saying all they have is tape and thermal paste, they're almost certainly right.”
Under The Hood
As they took the lid off the device, iFixit noticed “an impressive amount of empty space,” but were perplexed by the warmth spreader, conspicuous by its absence.
“How does this thing cool down?” asked iFixit in their teardown. “Sure it had plenty of thermal paste and graphite tape, and yeah the M2 is efficient, but this shield is super thin, so it’s not helping much—and the case is lighter than last year, so? Maybe the M2 Air is secretly an iPad … or even Apple is just letting it run hot.”
And the ambient temperatures aren’t helping matters either. Valve recently warned that the Steam Deck operates best when the ambient temperature stays below 95° F, suggesting people don’t use it during the heatwave because the device will start to throttle performance to protect itself in higher ambient temperatures.
What does that say about the M2 MacBook Air?
iFixit Content Advisor, Sam Goldheart, told Lifewire via email that Apple spends plenty of time and money and effort designing its hardware, and that we really won’t know until and unless people start complaining.
Bridge believes the shortage of cooling could have something to do with the M2’s efficiency, and maybe all it really does need to cool is dollops of thermal paste.
“The benchmarks for CPU performance indicate a chip design that, despite a complete lack of active cooling technology, is capable of both 10-15% increases of performance and large battery life,” reasoned Bridge. “The lifespan of thermal paste is most frequently 7-10 years, and if it is your primary cooling vector, there is no way on earth you're going to cheap out on what's there.”
iFixit also highlighted the non-upgradability of the laptop because of Apple’s design choices, like the soldered SSD, which usually features a negative impact on the resale value of a device.
However, Bridge, who is a component of the MacAdmins Foundation that helps connect Mac administrators around the world, doesn’t expect this new generation of MacBook Airs to possess a lower resale value than its predecessors, for the straightforward fact that its use case profile is substantially lighter.
Goldheart also agreed that the planning choices don’t necessarily point towards planned obsolescence. However, she thinks that whether or not the M2 MacBook Air does hold up under internal and ambient heat, the sole way to ensure it has a long happy life is to make it even more repairable.
“If the board does cook, you ought to be able to replace its components,” explained Goldheart. “And because it stands, there's not plenty of modularity, and thus not a lot of salvageable parts, on the logic board.”
This, she argued, would probably translate into a prohibitively expensive repair, whether you swap the board or find a micro-soldering expert who wouldn’t have the advantage of Apple’s manuals and schematics, and Apple doesn’t do those repairs themselves.
“The long and short is that even without a lover , Apple may do better than the competition within the heat,” suggested Goldheart, “but makers like HP are often an excellent long-term solution since they support repair.”