For some reason, the noise a computer makes can really affect my experience using it.  And since most of the time I’m using my computer for work, it can affect my work attitude tremendously.  Yesterday I posted my initial impressions of fan noise on the new 14” MacBook Pro M1 Max.  At that point, I only had a couple hours to work on it, and mostly just installed some software updates and apps.  After using it a second day, I’ve had a chance to push the hardware a little bit more and get a better gauge on the fan noise.  I’m posting this for folks who may be on the fence between the 14” and the 16” due to noise and thermals.

In my office, I typically use a laptop in clamshell mode, hooked up to a Pro Display XDR.  This will trigger the fans to run at around 2500 rpm at idle on the M1 Max.  I can’t hear any fan noise until they start spinning above 3000rpm, so at 2500rpm they are inaudible to me.  This is in my relatively warm office, around 75°F/24°C.  Day-to-day tasks that use the GPU, such as Mission Control, feel absolutely fluid on the 6K display, which I couldn’t say about my previous 2019 MacBook Pro.

Let’s move on to tasks that present more of a load on the system.  I spend 90% of my day writing software.  What is the Mac like when building an Xcode project with 100k lines of mixed ObjC/Swift code?  To begin with, the build took just 17 seconds to complete, compared to 61 seconds on a 2019 16” MacBook Pro Core i9.  This is going to save me a ton of time every day, for sure.  While working on some larger projects, I can spend more than an hour every day just waiting for Xcode to compile.  Getting 45 minutes of time back every day is a game changer.

Returning to the thermals…the thing is, 17 seconds isn’t long enough to raise the fan speed at all on the M1 Max.  So I had to repeatedly build and clean the project for several minutes to get a gauge on how it would do on a bigger project.  The fan speed started increasing slowly after a couple of minutes, eventually reaching between 4000-5000 rpm. They are definitely audible at that point, though it’s a much less objectionable sound than the higher pitch from the 2019 16” MacBook Pro.  After I stopped compiling, the fan speed dropped back down below the audible 3000 rpm threshold after a couple of minutes.  

Next I moved onto Final Cut Pro, and exported a 15 minute 4K video.  Again after a few minutes this pushed the fans up to around 5000 rpm. Background rendering also raised the fan speed, but if I was just scrubbing the timeline and doing minor edits, the fan speed kept below 3000 rpm.  

Moving on to gaming, which admittedly I don’t usually have much time for these days.  I opened Cities: Skylines and left it running on a smaller town.  It hit the GPU around 65% and CPU around 300% on default graphics settings at 1920×1080 in a window.  Fan speeds settled around 4400 rpm, so the fans are audible…though difficult to pick out above the sound of the game (which was relatively low at the time).

To compare it to a few other Macs I have experience with: I would say the 14” MacBook Pro M1 Max is similar in noise level to the 2018 Mac mini i7.  It’s much quieter than the 2019 MacBook Pro 16” i9/5500M.  It’s quieter at idle, but louder under load than the 2013 Mac Pro.  Performance, of course, beats all these other Macs significantly…It’s worlds faster.

Overall, I’m impressed at the thermal headroom of this Mac.  I haven’t heard the fans when doing most day to day work… Keep the CPU below 200% usage on the efficiency cores and you’ll never hear the fans.  If I start pushing the CPU or GPU, it has to be for more than a few minutes before the fans really start needing to spool.  And typically my work will come in quick bursts (compiling), giving it plenty of time to cool before the fans even start to ramp up.  

That being said, I’m still not totally sure if I’ll keep this model or return it for the 16”.  The 16” is not the size I want, but my understanding is that it’s rare for the fans on that Mac to raise above 2000 rpm even under full load.  So I have to weigh whether it’s worth the $200 cost difference and larger size/weight while traveling to eliminate some fan noise.  I’m leaning toward keeping the 14” but still have some time in the return window before I need to decide.  Either option offers a fantastic machine on which to do some real work.