Manually controlling your Mac’s fan speeds is a way to increase airflow and keep your computer cooler. But is it a good idea to fiddle with these settings, or should you let macOS handle everything for you?
Why Change Your Mac’s Fan Settings Manually?
When you use your Mac, it generates heat, and this heat output increases significantly when the computer is under load. If you have a desktop model like Mac Studio, it’s harder to see. If you’re using a laptop like a MacBook Pro, you’ll feel the heat on the keyboard and on your lap.
If you feel like your machine is overheating, increasing the fan speed will help dissipate heat faster and keep your Mac cooler. This can make it more convenient to write or store, and can have significant implications for performance and longevity.
When your Mac gets too hot, the fans can only do so much, and performance drops to limit heat output. This is called “thermal regulation,” and it’s not limited to Apple computers. Having a more aggressive fan curve that causes the fans to spin before Apple’s preset limit can help prevent thermal overclocking.
MacOS can be a bit conservative with fan speeds as Apple tries to strike a balance between functionality and usability. This can result in a less aggressive behavior of the fan, which helps reduce noise.
On the other side of the equation, you may find that your Mac is too noisy and want to lower the fan speed for a quieter experience. This is not recommended as you can damage the longevity of the equipment and you will also cause thermal issues that will limit the performance of your machine.
Why does your Mac get hot?
All computers generate heat as a byproduct of normal use. This applies to almost every component, including the CPU, GPU, memory, and even internal drives. Even the newest, most efficient Apple Silicon Macs have powerful thermal management systems inside, although Apple refused to put a fan in the M1 MacBook Air.
Putting your car under load is the main reason you’ll notice it heating up. Playing 3D games, displaying high quality videos, producing music with many different tracks, running virtual machines and similar uses will generate a lot of heat.
Heat build-up can be aggravated by other factors, one of which is dust. Over time, the inside of your Mac will collect dust, which prevents heat from dissipating. This causes your machine to run hotter as it ages, which can result in more audible fan noise. You can combat this by opening up your Mac and giving it a good clean.
Ambient temperature can also greatly affect your Mac’s ability to cool itself. Using your Mac in a hot environment will naturally cause it to run hotter. Warmer air can’t dissipate as much heat as cold air, and the problem is even worse if the humidity is high. If you like to use your MacBook on your lap or on a surface that might block airflow (like a bed), then you’ll have a big impact on the machine’s ability to cool itself.
Charging and using your Mac at the same time can also lead to faster heat build-up because the battery generates heat as it charges. This is a good argument against leaving your Mac plugged in all the time, but remember that taxing the hardware will also cause it to use more power.
Finally, if you’re running an unsupported version of macOS that was never intended for your MacBook, you may find that it’s especially demanding on your hardware. Since Apple never intended this to work on a Mac, you may want to take matters into your own hands and protect your hardware with more aggressive fan behavior.
How to monitor your Mac’s temperature
You can use third-party software such as iStat Menus ($9.99) or Hot (free) to view information about your Mac’s internals. You can use these apps to monitor the internal sensors on both Intel and Apple Silicon Mac models to get an idea of how hot each component is.
You’ll also get general information about the temperature, but it’s hard to know when it’s too hot. In general, your Mac should not get hotter than 80ºc (176ºF) (on the CPU core), some consider 90ºc (194ºF) to be an acceptable ceiling. Ideally, you should only see these temperatures under load, such as when rendering video.
If you have a Mac with an Intel chip, you can see your machine’s thermal settings (when macOS limits CPU speed to 60% or less) using the free Warm app. If you see the app’s menu bar icon turn orange, you’re thermally underpowered. If you notice this happening a lot, you may want to be more aggressive with your fan speeds.
Less precise to use, but still acceptable, is the metric touch. If your Mac feels too hot to use comfortably, you may want to consider manually controlling the fan speeds to make it more comfortable.
They Should Consider Before Changing Fan Speeds
Thinking of reducing your fan speed? Don’t do it. If noise is your main concern, cleaning your Mac thoroughly to get rid of dust should be your first step. You can also buy a laptop cooling pad to help ventilate your laptop.
If you want to increase your fan speed, there are some things you should consider first. Cleaning your Mac should also be your first step to remove dust and other debris. Changing the way you use your Mac can help, as can using a cooling pad or laptop stand and external accessories to better ventilate your Mac.
Best Laptop Cooling Pads
Increased fan speed will cause additional wear and tear on your fans, which can shorten their lifespan. This is a double-edged sword, as the increased airflow can better protect the hardware that causes your laptop to heat up. Fans should be relatively easy (and fairly cheap) to replace if they fail, but logic boards and NVMe drives cost more.
Increased fan speed also means increased power consumption. You may set different rules when running on battery or mains power, but either way it’s something to think about, especially if it’s a MacBook you’re using as a portable workstation.
Finally, higher fan speeds mean more noise. It’s a small price to pay for greater convenience and better protection for your hardware, but it’s something to consider.
How to Manually Set Your Mac’s Fan Speeds
You can set your fan speed manually using the free version of Mac Fan Control or the previously mentioned premium software iStat Menus ($9.99).
If you turn to Mac Fan Control, you can access the main features for free. It allows you to set two presets (Auto and Full Blast) and set manual values for each fan module inside your Mac. Purchasing the Pro version ($14.99) allows you to save individual presets according to activities such as playing games or viewing videos.
If you use an (Intel) Mac to boot to Windows, you can purchase a combined macOS and Windows license ($24.99) to control your Mac fan speed within Windows as well. This is a good idea if you use your Mac for gaming and find that the standard Windows fan control software doesn’t work with Apple hardware.
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Most people should let macOS handle the fans
If you have a modern Apple Silicon Mac with an M1 or M2 processor, you probably don’t need to worry about this. Not only is your machine a few years old, but these chips are more efficient in terms of heat generation than the Intel chips that came before them. Not many MacBook Air users there is fans.
However, if you have an older machine and are concerned about extending the life of your machine, it is a good idea to increase the fan speed to better disperse the heat. Want to apply the same logic to your battery? Also learn how to make your MacBook battery last longer.