The same hugely impressive M1 chip powers both the Macbook Air and MacBook Pro, but the Air throttles performance when it gets too hot. But what if it doesn’t get too hot? In this 8.5-minute video, Linus shows Tech Tips show how he modified an Air to match the performance of a professional … for a price.
During testing, Linus found that the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro performed almost the same in terms of benchmarks over shorter periods of time. However, as soon as a benchmark test had to take longer, the Air began to throttle itself to make sure it didn’t overheat while the Pro was able to hold its performance.
Why? The most notable physical difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro is active cooling. The Pro has a fan, while the Air remains whisper-quiet thanks to its fanless design. The Air manages to be fanless thanks to clever technology from Apple. It uses a heat sink inside the case to draw heat away from the CPU. All of the heat the CPU generates is drawn away from this heat sink, and the only place it can get after that is inside the computer, with the exception of a single vent at the bottom of the screen.
At a certain point, however, this passive cooling is no longer sufficient to prevent the CPU from overheating. Eventually, that heat sink heats up to the point where it equals the temperature of the CPU, and the computer then has to throttle its performance to reach equilibrium and not harm itself.
Linus decided to test adding cheap thermal pads to this heat sink to improve its ability to passively remove heat from the CPU by connecting the sink to the aluminum base of the air. As you may know, aluminum is an excellent material for lowering heat.
The result of this change? Not only does it fit the MacBook Pro, it easily outperforms it. Linus speculates that the reason he can outperform the Pro is because it takes the Pro a moment to turn on his fan and see the results, and in that short period of time he falls behind the air that doesn’t have to perform such task: it can just chug on.
Sounds like a great modification anyone who buys an Air should make, right? Well, maybe not. The disadvantage of this modification is that the temperatures at the base of the computer saw rose by seven and a half degrees.
There are actually rules that determine how hot one is Laptop for the safety of consumers, and as is to be expected, a jump of seven and a half degrees leads to this safety threshold being exceeded. So it’s likely that this mod will give you serious discomfort if you’re with one Laptop work on your lap.
The only main reason the MacBook Air isn’t as good as the off-the-shelf MacBook Pro is the heat, as long as you don’t mind risking damage to your “sensitive parts,” as Linus says he doesn’t I see no reason not to do this because it is completely reversible. Even so, he admits he’s not sure there will be any long-term downsides that could arise. But as long as you don’t plan on that Laptop laying on your lap when you ask him to do some serious math, he’s a fan of adding cheap thermal pads to the heat sink in the MacBook Air to make it work with the strengths of the MacBook Pro.
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