I’m getting emails almost every day asking about updates to my 15” MacBook Pro heat and fan-noise drama. Here’s the gripping conclusion to that incredibly interesting saga:
The 2.0 GHz, 6490M-equipped replacement model does indeed run much cooler than the 2.3 GHz with the 6750M that I returned. The 2.0 has far less fan noise under normal usage, with the fans only spinning up audibly when the CPUs are under a sustained moderate to heavy load.
I think my 2.3 was a lemon and exhibited its heat and fan problems unusually severely, but even a properly working one has a lot more heat to move in most usage than the 2.0 GHz model. Both the 2.3 GHz CPU and the 6750M GPU run significantly hotter than the 2.0 GHz CPU and the 6490M GPU, respectively.
The battery life of the 2.0 isn’t much better than the 2.3: if I’m conservative with brightness, force the use of integrated graphics, and don’t stress the CPU much, I can get about 3–4 hours out of it. That would have been great five years ago, but our standards are higher today.
This discussion has become mostly moot, though. A few days ago, Apple stopped selling both models and quietly updated the CPUs and GPUs across the entire MacBook Pro line. Neither a 2.0 GHz CPU nor the 6490M are available anymore: the coolest-running 15” configuration is now the maybe-too-hot 2.2 GHz CPU with the definitely-too-hot 6750M GPU. The high-end configuration, at 2.4 GHz, has an even hotter 6770M GPU.
Neither the CPU nor the GPU have undergone a die shrink and both upgrades are higher-clocked versions of their predecessors, so the heat has likely increased substantially. And now, the cooler-running configuration is gone.
Both the CPU (with Ivy Bridge) and the GPU (with the 7000 series) families are slated for significant die shrinks soon, which should cut the heat and substantially increase battery life. Increased performance of the integrated graphics with Ivy Bridge may even allow the next 15” to cut the discrete GPU entirely for even more power and heat savings. These savings could finally allow a MacBook Air-style redesign of the 15” MacBook Pro.
Ivy Bridge probably isn’t shipping until next spring. So if you’re not in a rush, I wouldn’t suggest getting the current 15” MacBook Pro. The next update is probably going to be a huge improvement.