How to Cool Down an Overheated Laptop

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Have you noticed your laptop or netbook being warm to the touch? Is it warm enough that you've thought about looking for a way to cool it down? Does the screen go blank at times or do you notice other odd behavior? We'll talk about remedies in a bit, but first lets talk about how laptops and netbooks are cooled and why they can overheat.

All computers generate heat. The primary source of heat inside of mobile and desktop computers are the CPU and Graphics chips. This heat must be dissipated or these devices will live a very short life ranging from minutes to just hours.

How is this heat managed? A device called a heatsink is attached directly to these chips. A fan inside the case then blows the warm air across the heatsink and outside the case. In a desktop there's lots of room for large heatsinks and multiple fans. In some desktops liquid cooled systems are used. Although the space available inside a desktop is advantageous for cooling, this is not so for laptops. Because of the reduced space, cooling and heat removal is a challenge.

How is a Laptop Cooled? To cool the CPU and Graphics chips inside of a laptop, a special heatsink is used. This heatsink typically uses heatpipe technology to move the heat from the device to a radiator which has a fan attached to blow air through its fins to the outside. This is where warm air can be felt coming out of your laptop. Yes, a radiator, much like a car is inside your laptop! If the space between the fins get clogged, then air flow is restricted, causing heat build up on the CPU and Graphics chips. This is what happens over time to the majority of laptops that overheat. So how can you tell if your laptop is overheating?

Three warning signs your laptop is overheating.

1) Touch – Feel the bottom of your laptop. If there is an area that is significantly hotter than the rest, your laptop might be overheating. Put your hand near the air vents, there should be a discernible amount of airflow when the fan is on. You should feel warm air coming out of the laptop when the computer is operating under load.

2) Sound – Do you hear the fan running at high speed? If so does this occur more now, than when it was new? When a laptop is first turned on, often times the fan runs at full speed until the operating system begins loading. After logon the fan should slow down. If the fan resumes high speed shortly after the laptop has been on, your laptops cooling may be compromised.

3) Performance – Does your laptop slow down or even lockup after a short period of use? Does the processor appear to be running near 90% capacity or more after its been on for a while? Does the screen go blank shortly after being on or is their other odd video behavior? If yes, your laptop's cooling system may need servicing especially if the symptom is present with the previous two.

Can Overheating Harm Your Laptop? Yes.

If left unattended, your laptop could become permanently damaged requiring the replacement of the motherboard to make it work again.

Now for prevention and remedy.

1) Compressed Air – when you first got your laptop the cooling system was operating free and unrestricted. As time goes by though, a buildup of lint and dust can create problems. Canned compressed air can be used to maintain the cooling system and in most cases prevent a clog from building up. Spraying compressed air into the exit vent once every two weeks to thirty days will be sufficient. However, once a clog has built up inside the fan chamber, compressed air will not work. In fact it may dislodge the lint clog and jam the fan.

2) USB Coolers and Chillers – If your laptop is overheating from a clogged cooling system. Then an external cooler will do little to help. These devices are good however for one thing.

3) Keeping the vents unobstructed – Operate your laptop or notebook in such a way that the intake and exhaust vents are not obstructed. "Great advice!" you say, "But what if I like to sit it on a soft surface such as my couch or my bed?" Well that's where the USB coolers do come in handy. Their hard surface will keep the vents unobstructed and provide a little more airflow. Also, consider a lap desk for your laptop

What if your laptop is overheating due to a clogged cooling system?

The best remedy is to have it properly serviced by a professional. The laptop will need to be taken apart, the heatsink removed, cleaned and then reassembled. Once that's done, most laptops get a new lease on life.