Vista on My MacBook Pro is Hot—Boiling Hot!

I recently told the long story of how I installed Windows Vista on my MacBook Pro by means of Apple’s Boot Camp technology. To make that story short: it was difficult and took a long time because of a bug in the Mac OS 10.5.2 version of Boot Camp Assistant, but I did eventually succeed. See the earlier post for details.

Once I had Vista set up and running, the first thing I did was to test the science education programs I sell, since that was my main reason for wanting access to a Vista machine in the first place.

Both programs installed and launched without any problem. I had expected OnScreen Particle Physics, which used standard “old-fashioned” Windows routines for its drawing to the screen, would work smoothly, and users had reported success with it under Vista, but I had not tested it myself, so I was glad to see that everything I could think to try worked without a hitch.

OnScreen DNA was the one I had more concerns about. I had been advertising it as being for Windows XP, since I knew that its use of Open GL for three-dimensional graphics might be an issue for some configurations under Windows Vista. All the software that OnScreen Science sells has a sixty-day guarantee of customer satisfaction, so no one was in danger of losing any money by buying it to run on Vista, but I wanted to get a clearer answer about Vista compatibility, especially since new PCs all have Vista installed unless the buyer makes a special effort to get Windows XP instead, which some companies are actually doing.

When Vista was first released I did a very quick test of OnScreen DNA on a machine running Vista Home Premium. The software installed and launched without difficulty, but had a major problem showing animations (its whole basis, really) under Vista’s new Aero look. Once I switched into Vista’s “Windows Classic” theme (which has a pre-XP look to discourage its use, I suppose), all went well however.

I was almost certain that the animation problem with Aero was due to Microsoft’s having provided no default support for Open GL under Aero. Open GL, which I’d used to program the three-dimensional interactive graphics of OnScreen DNA, is a software interface to accelerated graphics hardware available for Macintosh and Linux as well as Windows. Its use had meant that the hardest part of the OnScreen DNA coding needed to be done only once, which had shortened development time by untold weeks. While it seems evident that Microsoft wants to discourage the use of Open GL, preferring instead to lock people into using DirectX, which is only for Windows, I knew that they had left the door open for graphics card manufacturers to provide their own custom drivers for Open GL. Since a substantial number of Windows games and screen savers etc. have been programmed using Open GL, I had assumed that providing Open GL drivers would become in time standard practice for graphics card makers, but this was a little bit of a gamble.

An online reviewer for PC World, who was taking a look at OnScreen DNA Lite, the free edition of the software which mainly deals with details of DNA’s double helical structure but lacks the simulations of how DNA works found in the advanced editions, encountered the Vista animation slowdown and queried me about it. I told him what I knew, and he proceeded to run the software either in Classic theme or under XP, then gave the software a favorable review but with a caveat about Vista Aero. I had in the meantime had some positive reports from users running OnScreen DNA under Vista and imagined that others must be running without problem on Vista as well, though I continued to advertise it as being for XP.

I was certainly curious to see what would happen running OnScreen DNA for Windows on my Intel Mac. It was gratifying to see that it was snappy and without any issues that I could uncover running with the full-blown Aero look. So the drivers that Apple was providing for running Vista on a Mac must support Open GL, which I took as more evidence that the driver support I’d been counting on was likely to be there on new machines.

So everything was OK, right? Well, pretty much everything except that my MacBook Pro sounded like a twin-engine model airplane trying to build up enough speed for takeoff against a strong headwind. I’d never heard such noise from the cooling fans. They seemed to be going full blast once they got started. I remembered that when the MacBook Pro first came out, a number of people had complained about excessive fan noise, but I had not encountered it. Apple laptops have a reputation for running hot—so much so that Apple will correct you if you call them laptops (they’re notebooks) to prevent you from complaining about a hot lap—but this seemed a good bit more than what I was used to.

I was especially concerned since the higher temperature and fan revving seemed to be associated with running the 3D animations of OnScreen DNA. I decided I should get quantitative about it and downloaded a free Windows program called speedfan, which promised to display computer temperatures, as well as letting you set the fan speed according to temperature in order to better control how hot it would be allowed to get.

I was shocked to see that the cpu temperature was going as high as 100°C. That’s 212°F, the boiling point of water! I hadn’t ever given the temperature of my laptop much thought, figuring that, although it might feel pretty hot to the touch, it was probably nothing to worry about. This high a temperature just didn’t seem reasonable though.

Some online research led me to an article in which the reviewer was concerned about the “excessive” 60°C temperature he was seeing on his MacBook Pro. This really made my temperature sound bad, but a little more research produced a less alarming assessment. The machine in the review just mentioned had a 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo cpu, which supposedly is OK at temperatures up to 73°C, so the concern should not be great at 60°C. My MacBook Pro, however, is from the first generation Core Duo models. Those are supposed to be OK up to 100°C, so I am not really in the kind of danger zone that my first reading of the Core 2 Duo machine review had led me to fear. Nonetheless I am right at the margin on occasion.

A number of articles I found made it seem that Apple’s overuse of thermal paste was a well-documented cause of high temperatures in the early assembly runs of MacBook Pros. Some sites had instructions on how to crack your laptop, remove Apple’s paste, and put on a little bit of a better kind. I’ve installed RAM and a hard drive or two, but I don’t think that is something I want to attempt.

I had never monitored temperature under OS X, so I had no way to compare it to Vista, though I felt Vista must be running hotter. I downloaded the Temperature Monitor app from the Apple download site, and used it to monitor my Mac temperatures. The temperatures I mention in the rest of this piece are those from the cpu monitor. Unless it was in a quiescent state, the MacBook Pro was always hotter than 60°C. Running OnScreen DNA in an uninterrupted animation of DNA replication, I once saw the temperature climb to around 90°C. However, the same test at a different time saw the temperature peak at 80°C, with the fans bringing it down to around 75°C, where it would be maintained.

Similarly, running Vista, monitor readings on a day different from that when the 100°C had been measured found a peak temperature of 90°C. I speculated hopefully that some intervening Microsoft upgrades to Vista (they install some without giving you a choice) might have improved things. This brings me to my next Jerry Pournelle type adventure: installing Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1).

Although Microsoft had earlier said Vista would not need service packs to fix bugs etc. in Vista, they had had to issue one if only to sell Vista to the holdouts that always wait for the first service pack before upgrading. I hoped that SP1 might lower the operating temperature further. Plus there was a vaguely worded promise of improvement in running games “not really designed for Vista” (not using DirectX, in other words, is my guess), which I hoped meant better Open GL performance.

Vista SP1 was made generally available March 18. Microsoft strongly recommended ordinary users upgrade through the standard Windows Upgrade program, which performs the same function as Software Update does for the Mac. But Windows Upgrade found nothing new for me. Microsoft online documentation had said that Windows Upgrade would just pretend you hadn’t asked if it detected a problem driver on your system—this without so much as giving you a hint that SP1 was available at all, never mind the specific reason you were not going to be allowed the upgrade. Thinking it might help to install a few optional upgrades I had skipped, I went ahead and did that. Windows Upgrade did then offer me something new, but it was a small upgrade. Installing it and restarting did not change things.

I wondered if an Apple driver might be causing me to get the cold shoulder from Windows Upgrade. A message I left on Apple’s Boot Camp forum brought replies from others that had successfully installed SP1 via the Windows Upgrade utility, so I knew it was possible on a Mac if not necessarily one with my exact configuration. But after numerous failed attempts to get the word from Windows Upgrade that SP1 was ready and waiting for installation on my Mac, I decided to go against Microsoft’s strong advice and download the 440 megabyte SP1 installer to do it myself. Once it was downloaded and launched, the SP1 installer informed me I needed 3 gigabytes of hard drive space in order to carry out the installation. I had been afraid my 1.75 gigabytes of free space on the Windows partition would be too meager, and it was.

Contrary to what I mistakenly said in my earlier post about Boot Camp, I had actually created a Windows partition of only 12 gigabytes. I was surprised to see after installing Vista that I only had about 300-400 megabytes free on the Windows partition. There really wasn’t much in the way of program files to get rid of. Most of the space was taken up by the Windows folder and a couple of humongous (2 gigabyte) files, one obviously for virtual memory paging and the other (hiberfil.sys) that turned out to be for “hibernating” or storing the contents of memory for quick return to your computer’s state without rebooting and relaunching programs. Since I had never known about hibernation, I figured I could live without it. I found instructions online for ditching the hibernation file through the Windows command line, since a drag to the recycling bin wouldn’t do the trick. That had bought me a little space, but not enough to install SP1. I could see no way to free sufficient space.

I already knew that it was impossible to just expand the Windows partition because of the different formats used by the two operating systems sharing the hard disk. I would have to start all over with Windows installation, as far as I could tell. But then a little more research made me aware of a very useful program that anyone using Boot Camp should know about: WinClone. It saved me a lot of trouble. It is donationware, and I was happy to make a donation after having used it successfully. Using WinClone, which runs under Mac OS X, but can read from and write to a Windows partition, I made an image file of everything that was on my Windows partition. Since I was going to have to get rid of the partition anyway, I wasn’t too worried about whether WinClone would work.

Next I used Boot Camp Assistant to eliminate the Windows Partition. I then rebooted using the iDefrag boot dvd I had made earlier, thinking I would need to defragment to make sure I could make a new and larger partition for Windows using Boot Camp Assistant. However, the visual evidence of a very defragmented drive shown by iDefrag (and of course the 12 gigabytes of the just wiped out Windows partition would be empty) convinced me I could stop the defragmenting and proceed directly to making a new Windows partition. Boot Camp Assistant successfully created a 17 gigabyte partition in a fairly short time without any problems. I then quit the program and relaunched WinClone, this time using it to “restore” the new larger Windows partition.

I then restarted Windows. It made some complaint about something having changed, so that it needed to check everything. I told it to go ahead and check. It was eventually satisfied and launched Vista. I logged in and started the SP1 installer again. This time it ran, warning me that it might take an hour and would restart several times in the process. It worked.

Now I had Vista with SP1 installed. Would it help keep the temperature lower? The answer was no. Even worse, I was now seeing the 100°C temperatures again. However, based on subsequent tests, which have measured the peak temperature under Vista once more at 90°C, and even brought below that by the fans, I have to conclude that there is some other factor that raises the floor of the temperature, and I think the ambient temperature can be ruled out.

In any case, Vista with Boot Camp consistently runs 10-12°C hotter than OS X on my machine. Running my graphics intensive program OnScreen DNA, the temperature peaks somewhere between 80-90°C, under Mac OS 10.5.2 and can usually be reduced a few degrees by the fans as they rotate faster. Running the same software under Vista on the same machine sees peak temperatures of 90-100°C, which can also usually be reduced a few degrees by the fans. I don’t have the data to back it up, not having monitored temperatures under Mac OS 10.4, but, based on my increased awareness of fan noise, I have the feeling that 10.5.2 may run hotter than 10.4.

Even if I could forget about the temperature, the fan noise is not something I’d want going in the background if I were trying to demonstrate the Vista version of my software, which militates against using the MacBook Pro for demos. Actually, I don’t think I could stand working with the fan noise for long anyway, as it is louder than my old Dell box. These high temperatures are occurring in March, where the ambient room temperature is 22-24°C. It will be considerably hotter in the office during the summer. This has not been a problem in the past, but that was before Leopard and Vista, so I can’t be sure what will happen.

All in all, my hopes of getting a topnotch Vista machine out of my first-generation MacBook Pro using 10.5.2 Boot Camp have so far been disappointed. I think I know Apple well enough not to expect any sympathy or direct help from them (though the Apple user forums are helpful). Not to be disloyal or anything, but Apple does not like to acknowledge it has been the cause of any problem you encounter with its products. If only my audience were a little bigger… Maybe I should try to get some conservative talkshow host to go on the air with my problem. Would that work? Too crazy!

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