I Made My 2018 Macbook Pro Run Quietly with Ableton Live

I like my Intel MacBook Pro and will probably hold onto it for a while. But for music production it’s been more than a little annoying with its tendency to blast fans at full speed. I’m happy to say I solved that problem!

In my case it was always the CPU and GPU that were very hot. After I got inspired by a guy who water-cools his 2015 MacBook Pro, I decided to do what he did, only without the “water” part.

My Biggest Fans

I started by getting two regular 12V 140mm fans and securing them using two plastic left-over IKEA spacers. I connected them to a 12V USB power cable. That I connected to a diagnostic USB port on my LG display clearly labeled DO NOT USE. Well, power is all I needed from it and the nice thing is that when I turn off the power strip for the desk, the fans stop as well. Here’s how the fans look on the laptop stand:

If you’re here to tell me it looks ugly then, y’ know, I’m not even arguing. The thing is though, that already made a difference on its own and made the internal fans less eager to spin up. And you cannot really tell the fans are there from the front:

And most importantly: you cannot hear them. You can feel the air moving though when typing on an external keyboard on the desk.

Thermal Shielding of the Bottom Plate

The laptop runs hot and probably to avoid getting sued, Apple applies thermal shielding to the bottom aluminum cover where it gets most hot. So I got rid of that, as the water-cooling blog post suggested:

There’s more of the shielding but I only removed it from the area where the CPU and GPU are. Sorry, I don’t have a picture of the bottom plate with that piece removed, I got too excited to put it all back up together.

Thermal Pads

I got a 2mm thick 80x40 thermal pad, cut it in two pieces and applied it over the entire CPU, and the rest over the GPU. Some commenters on the water-cooling blog post suggest that part is actually where most of the gain comes from. Again, sorry I don’t have pics of that since I was too quick to put it all back together.

Results

It totally works. You can see the end result on the front image above: there’s Ableton Live running with very low latency settings, and a bunch of CPU spiky plugins like Raum. The laptop runs its internal fans on minimal settings, making it totally silent, and the CPU temperature is below 70℃. Note that that his while the battery is charging. This is in a 22℃ room on the fan stand.

After an hour of idling on full battery with no foreground apps open, the CPU average is 39℃ with the warmest core being 40℃. Both GPUs also report 40℃. The hottest element is the Platform Controller Hub Die at 48℃.

When I push the laptop, the CPU average gets to 85℃ and by then the internal fans spin up to around 3500 RPM which is still much quieter than the max 5500 RPM. All in all, I’m seeing a -15℃ difference from this operation and my biggest annoyance with the laptop is removed. Great success!

Advice

Don’t do it, it will void your warranty and you might lose your data or burn yourself.

If you already opened older Macbooks, the newer ones are different. Use a disassembly video. In particular, after unscrewing the pentarstar screws, you need to use a tool to unclamp the bottom plate from the case. There are two clamps on each side of the case. When unclamping, make sure not to reach too deeply into the case, the plate is quite flat.

After removing the shielding, the raw aluminum below will chip. Make sure to clean that up and vacuum what you can’t see.