August 13, 2010
Overheating laptops have gotten a lot of press over the last few years. The problem first gained popular attention around 2006, when reports of laptops actually catching fire started trickling in around the globe. The problem there was faulty batteries, and companies like Dell, Sony and Acer had to initiate major recalls.
The general issue of hot laptops is separate from those bad batteries, but laptop "explosions" certainly brought attention to the basic cause: Scorching heat is a bad trait for something that sits on your lap. People have actually gotten burned [source: BBC]. Short of that, hard
drives are damaged by excessive heat.
But if the problem isn't a bad battery, what's making these laptops so hot?
You've probably noticed that all of your electronics get hot when they run for a while -- try putting your hand on the DVD player after you play a movie. Electronic components generate heat when they're working, and your laptop is no different.
In this article, we'll find out why laptops get so hot and see what you can do -- in terms of both maintenance and add-ons -- to keep yours cool. You don't even have to spend any money to do it.
There are two major reasons why laptops have more of an overheating problem than desktops. First, since laptops are smaller than desktops, those electronic components are crammed in there more tightly. Since they're closer together, and since the casing of a laptop is so narrow, there's not much room for the heat to dissipate.
The other issue is power. As laptops get more powerful processors, and as operating systems require more of that processing power to run, more heat is being generated inside the case.
Of course, laptop manufacturers know about this, and there's lot of stuff inside the unit that's supposed to remove this heat. Fans, heat sinks and air vents all work to cool down a laptop while it's running. Sometimes, though, it's just not enough. Overheating can happen when a fan isn't working properly or there's some other malfunction. But sometimes, it's more the user's fault than the machine's.
So before we go discuss an external cooling setup, let's find out how we can help our laptops stay cool on their own.
Making sure your laptop's cooling abilities are working well can go a long way toward avoiding or fixing a problem. So one of the best ways to keep your laptop from overheating is simply to take care of it.
If you notice that your laptop is generating a lot of heat, and if the fans start kicking on at shorter intervals, the first thing to do is some basic maintenance:
* Check your fans: The best way to make sure your fans are working properly is to use diagnostic software, since the fans are inside the case, and sometimes opening a laptop case can void the warranty. Go to the Web site of your laptop maker and see if there's a fan-diagnosing tool you can download. If not, you can download one from another reliable vendor online.
* Clean the air vents: Most laptops use airflow to aid with cooling. They have intake vents near the front of the case, and exhaust vents at the back. Dust and debris can block these vents and impede airflow. Probably the easiest way to clean the vents is to blast them with compressed air. You can find compressed air products at any office supply store. You can also go over the vents them with a slightly damp (not wet) cloth.
* Check your BIOS settings: There are software settings that tell your computer how hot is too hot and at what temperature the fans should kick in. Sometimes, BIOS updates implement revised temperature settings, which can help you optimize cooling. Check your laptop manufacturer's Web site for a BIOS update, but be careful -- BIOS is a trickier software system to update than the usual operating system stuff. You may want to request some experienced backup.
Once you've got your computer's cooling system on track, you can work on your laptop habits to keep it that way. It's mostly just common sense stuff: Don't use your laptop in the sun, keep it away from radiators and heat vents, and never let it sit in a hot car. One habit that can really help, though, is a bit counterintuitive: Keep your laptop off your lap.
This is where some external tools can help.