This $21 Mod Improves the MacBook Air’s Biggest Shortcoming

This $21 Mod Improves the MacBook Air’s Biggest Shortcoming
MacBook Air M2 (Photo: Michelle Ehrhardt/Gizmodo)

With the release of a redesigned MacBook Air M2, there is only one good reason to purchase the MacBook Pro 13: active cooling. As we’ve recently learned, Apple wasn’t exaggerating when it justified the existence of the MacBook Pro by claiming the MacBook Air isn’t designed for sustained performance, particularly when running demanding tasks. Various news outlets discovered that the MacBook Air will run hot and throttle, or slow down, under prolonged workloads.

The culprit? The MacBook Air lacks a fan. As a result, the notebook is pin-drop silent and ultra-thin but must rely on passive cooling via a heatsink and the efficiency of its M2 processor. If only there were a simple way to prevent the laptop from overheating while keeping everything the same.

Turns out, YouTuber Max Tech has a solution. Before we get started, this isn’t something I would recommend to anyone who purchases the new MacBook Air. Now then, after being frustrated with the Air’s thermal throttling, Max Tech cracked the laptop open and placed $US15 ($21) thermal pads, which are used to disperse heat, on top of the heatsink.

He then re-benchmarked the laptop and noticed considerable performance improvements. In some tests, the modded MacBook Air was even quicker than the MacBook Pro and its active fans. On Cinebench R23, the MacBook Air with thermal pads took much longer to heat up, reaching 108 degrees in 1 minute and 23 seconds versus 28 seconds on the stock version. The YouTuber’s MacBook Air even managed a higher score.

To be clear, the MacBook Air still gets hot very quickly, with or without thermal pads. Adding this inexpensive mitigation only delays the inevitable, giving users faster performance for more time before the system cools itself off by slowing down its engines.

You might be tempted to try this yourself, but we strongly recommend against it. Not because it doesn’t work — clearly, Max Tech is on to something. The problem here is that any modifications come with inherent risks. Opening a MacBook Air will likely void your warranty, so any future issues will need to be paid for out of pocket. And though the risk of damaging parts during this simple mod is low, using the wrong thermal paste could actually increase surface temperatures.

So you probably shouldn’t give this a go unless you’re out of warranty and confident in your DIYing skills. That said, the performance and heat management upgrades we’re seeing from such a simple mod raise some questions about the cooling within the MacBook Air. Could Apple have done more? Do the MacBook Air’s limitations exist to validate the ageing MacBook Pro? We can’t say for sure. Whatever the case, I hope Apple finds a way to find the best of its two cheapest laptops: one with a modern design that’s capable of running intensive tasks over longer workloads.