2018 Edit: Although this review is some years old now, the author of Macs Fan Control has kept the software up to date and this review is still as valid as it was when it was originally written. And Macs Fan Control is still in use on my MacBook Pro even today (although it’s a new machine and the idea of opening it up and applying thermal paste is less enticing on a new machine!)
Many people believe that Apple know what they’re doing when it comes to keeping their MacBook’s at the right temperature. I tend to disagree, since I do a fair bit of gaming (see my previous posts regarding playing EvE Online under Parallels for example) and both my processor and GPU get ridiculously hot before the Macbook fans decide to speed up from their default. This is on top of the fact that I’ve reapplied the thermal paste on the CPU and GPU (which did make a pretty decent difference in itself).
I think it’s a whole lot cheaper to replace the mac fans every few years (which incidentally, I’ve never had to do) instead of replacing the logic board because the GPU has failed due to heating problems. With that in mind, I run Macs Fan Control – a little app that sits in the toolbar and once set up you never have to worry about it again. It’s similar to smcFanControl but provides a little temperature readout in the toolbar along with the speed of one of the fans. This helps you to figure out the lower and upper thresholds for temperature should you need to.
The application is simple to use, and can monitor various different sensors within the Macbook Pro and adjust the speed of the fans according to whichever sensor you set up. Of course, given that there are only 2 fans, you can only set it to monitor 2 separate sensors. As you can see from the screenshot on the left, you can set the base threshold, or the temperature above which the fans will start to speed up, and you can set the top temperature – which is the speed at which the fans will run at maximum speed. You should set these to be values that speed up the fans gradually before the temperature becomes too great, but not too early that they’re running full blast in normal usage and causing extra noise and wear. For my MacBook Pro 17″ the values in the screenshot are the ones I use and they give a good balance between speed, temperature and noise.
You may also note from the screenshot that I use the CPU proximity sensor instead of the GPU or CPU. I find my MacBook CPU and GPU temperatures can fluctuate wildly from moment to moment and the fans were speeding up and slowing down almost every couple of seconds. With the proximity sensor the temperature is considerably more constant – rising slower and falling slower and thus I feel that the stress on the fans is reduced.
You’ll also notice that you can set the fans to a constant speed, or you can reset them to be controlled by the system – and of course, each fan is individually controlled, so you can set one to ramp up if your GPU gets hot and one to ramp up if your CPU gets hot.
I’ve used various fan controllers for the Mac in the past, but Macs Fan Control has been the easiest to set up and the most reliable in operation, and is still being actively developed by the author – which means that as new OSX becomes available, you can be reasonably sure an update will come out shortly to maintain compatibility. The latest version is already compatible with OSX Mavericks.
Whether you’re converting videos from your Mac to your iPhone or playing 3D games on your Mac or a myriad of other applications that can cause the Mac to burn lots of energy, Macs Fan Control can help keep your MacBook Pro cooler than it used to run.