Apple forgoes cooling systems in M2 MacBook Air
Screwdriver fiends iFixit ponder the wisdom of a 'fanless, heatspreader-less, non-upgradable laptop'
The engineers at iFixit have turned their tools on Apple's flash new M2-powered MacBook Air to find a startling lack of cooling.
Before cracking the beast open, the teardown team took a moment to wonder at the amount of ports crammed into a machine that is even slimmer than its predecessor, noting the return of MagSafe, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and – strangely enough for an Apple product – a headphone jack.
The Air's innards are secured by four screws on the underside which took a disconcerting amount of force to free, iFixit said. After some difficulty locating the battery connector, which was stowed away under some brackets and a "neat little trap door," the teardown could begin once it was safely disconnected.
The engineer's attention then turned to the logic board, which was removed by dealing with ever more brackets and screws. Clip-on shield dispatched, the team were aghast to find an incredibly minimal cooling system. Breezing over the empty space left for an "SSD chip we didn't pay for," iFixit started scraping around for a heat spreader but found only thermal paste and graphite tape.
"What's with this big gap? How does this thing cool down?" they asked. "The M2 is efficient, but this shield is super thin, so it's not helping much – and the case is lighter than last year... Maybe the M2 Air is secretly an iPad... or maybe Apple is just letting it run hot."
Apple's new ARM-based chip is indeed efficient, and the company has made sure that everyone knows it, claiming that the processor provides 87 percent of the peak performance of Intel's 12-core Core i7-1260P while using just a quarter of the rival chip's power.
So while Intel has the M2 beat, such a performance metric at about 15W power consumption is not to be sniffed at. We're going to go out on a limb here and say that Apple probably knows what it's doing when paring back cooling systems.
Looking at the logic board, iFixit was able to identify, among other things:
- Soldered-down octa-core M2 and unified memory package, with integrated GPU
- A single soldered 256GB NAND flash memory chip (instead of two 128s)
- A seemingly Apple-made Thunderbolt 3 driver, instead of Intel chips
- A USI chip that is likely just Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- Weirdly enough for a laptop, an accelerometer
Answers on a postcard for the accelerometer. Moving on, iFixit was able to free the trackpad via screws, washers, and an "annoying cable" but had some difficulty removing the four speakers thanks to screws being hidden beneath the laptop's hinge covers. The team noted that Apple has changed tack on audio, with the speakers pumping out sound between case and display via grilles rather than a perforated top case. "Apple's obsession with sound still comes through, and they sound great," they said.
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The audio board and ports tell a different story, however. The audio board is "adhered, but comes right up. Even better, every single port – the endangered headphone jack, prodigal MagSafe charger, and both USB-C ports – are modular, and not glued down. We love to see it!" Likewise, the TouchID button came out through the top case "with ease."
To the battery, then, and iFixit wondered if it had shrunk slightly compared to those in the last Air model. The four cells are secured to the case by a mix of screws, stretch-release adhesive, and a metal tray. The specs on the back give a capacity rating of 52.6Wh. The top two cells are wired in parallel and bottom two in series, making it operate like a three-cell battery, iFixit said. "Maybe don't think too hard about why; it doesn't make sense to us either."
As for the display, it pulled right off once those fiddly hinge covers were unscrewed.
This is iFixit's intial probing of the machine so it did not provide the coveted repairability score but the team conceded that the Mac Air "has been headed in a positive direction these days – more and better ports, a better keyboard, and a return to some more repairable ideas."
However, they did question the reliability of a "fanless, heatspreader-less, non-upgradable laptop." Time will tell, but think of the blissful silence without having a fan constantly whizzing. On the other hand, Apple will be providing parts for the M2 Air so at least it has been designed with some repairability in mind, and iFixit's video of the operation shows few real struggles. Cupertino has come a long way from the inscrutable, impenetrable black boxes of old. ®