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Ask Max: MacBook Fan Running at High Speed

Asked on 11/04/2011:

Over the last few months my MacBook has developed the "habit" of the fan periodically running at high speed. I went online to see if I could get any help for the problem there and it seems to be a common problem for a number of people. On one forum I found the advice to "reset the System Management Controller" which, another person on the forum said worked for them. Mine looks as though I have a removable battery but I've never taken it out before so I have several questions:

  • How do I know if I have a battery that I can remove myself?

  • Is there any trick to removing it? (It looks like a press and slide kind of deal, like the back of a cell phone)

  • Is "resetting the System Management Controller" the solution to my fan problem?

  • If not, can you tell me what would be?



The System Management Controller, is a componant that manages functions like, sleep, wake from sleep, thermal controls, remembers the time, as well as volume settings. In some cases, the SMC may become corrupted and begin to exhibit unusual behavior. On the bottom of your computer, there is a coin-screw that can be turned 90 degrees. This releases the battery. It shouldn't require any real amount of force to remove. Once the battery is out, you can perform the SMC reset process.

To reset the System Management Controller for Laptops with removable batteries:

  • Shut down the computer

  • Disconnect the MagSafe power adapter from the computer- if it’s connected.

  • Remove the battery

  • Press and hold the power button for 5 seconds

  • Release the power button

  • Reconnect the battery and MagSafe power adapter

  • Press the power button to turn on the computer

The SMC reset may indeed provide the solution but keep in mind, certain applications generate more heat and will kick the fan up. With my MacBook, I've noticed that any web-page running flash for more than a few minutes kicks the fan up.

There is an entire PowerMax article on how to reset the SMC and the PRAM, "Two Great Go-To Fixes for a Temperamental Mac." This article shows ways to reset the SMC for desktops and laptops without removeable batteries, too. 

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