DIY Thermal Pad Swap on M1 MacBook Air Brings MacBook Pro Benchmark Numbers

A user has made some thermal upgrades on his brand-new M1 MacBook Air to great effect.

A new MacRumors forum post from user downshiftdre explains how he ordered an aftermarket thermal pad in hopes to increase performance on the laptop.

“I ordered the 200mm x 200mm x 3mm thermal pad and it will be arriving tomorrow,” downshiftdre explains. “The 3mm is because the heat sink appears to sit lower and therefore farther from the back case when it is closed. The 3mm will ensure contact to the aluminum.”

He outlined his plans to make the swap in his original forum post:

Since the heat sink on the M1 MBA is an elongated piece from the processor all the way to the edge, I plan to cover the whole piece edge to edge. Since this processor barely breaks a sweat I will also remove the sticky tape covering on the case to ensure best adhesion. I have no issue with additional heat that will be on the backside since I know this processor barely heats up doing mainstream things.

Geekbench doesn’t seem to have any impact on M1 thermal since the processor barely heats up to 50C without breaking a sweat through multiple repeated runs of up to 5 times with no change to score.

The test will be performed with Cinebench R23 through the 10 minute thermal test run for multicore to see if the score drops into the low 6000s or not. On the single loop, multicore runs from YouTube it seems the M1 MBA and MBP are aligned in scores and only on the 2nd or 3rd run does the MBA begin to throttle.

After making the swap, downshiftdre posted the results for his 10 minute Cinebench R23 test. Here are his results:

Before thermal pad mod:
6412 with a warm backshell case near where backshell meets hinge

After thermal pad mod:
7713 with a hot backshell case (i can touch it and leave my hand on it but is like a hot cup of tea)

The heatsink has a lot of top surface area so it is able to quickly transfer heat to the backshell. While watching the thermals, it appeared the system stabilized into a heat equilibrium at around 3-4 mins in. After the test was complete the system quickly went back down to ambient temps within a few minutes and the backshell did not retain heat[…]

Overall, if you dont want to spend $300 for the M1 MBP, this $15 reversible thermal mod gets you near equal to it since it seems the M1 MBP barely even runs its own fan based on all youtube reviewers.

The user also performed the same test, just over 30 minutes. Here are his results:

30 min Cinebench R23 score: 7734!!! (in line with the 7713 10 minute score).

Before temps
CPU cores: 22C
Battery: 22C
Battery Proximity: 22C

During temps (halfway 15min mark)
CPU cores: 82-90C
Battery: 35C
Battery Proximity: 28C

End temps (1min remaining)
CPU cores: 82-90C
Battery 35C
Battery Proximity: 28C

Battery drained from 100% to 80% within the 30 minutes.

My conclusion is that the battery is not impacted by the heat in the backshell as shown by the “battery proximity” temperature only rising 6C delta from 22C to 28C. The actual battery temp rose from 22C to 35C likely due to the massive and rapid battery drain occuring during the long and high powered cinebench test.

While downshiftdre’s swap definitely takes a bit of technical know-how and could very well void your MacBook Air’s warranty, the change is surprisingly showing number similar to the brand-new M1 MacBook Pro.