Keep your laptop cool the right way

Laptops by their very nature use smaller and more compact systems than their desktop counterparts. Unfortunately, this applies to the cooling system — the heat sink and fan assemblies — as well. Anyone who has any experience with computers, or electronics in general, knows that heat is one of the biggest enemies of electronics.

With the smaller and more compact cooling systems of laptops, unfortunately they have smaller fans and less airflow space, and are more quickly and more frequently affected by dust build-up in the heat sink and fans than desktops. However, even though the air flows through a smaller space, it works very well to cool the laptop, provided that the air spaces aren’t blocked or clogged.

Note that during heavy usage, its normal (and expected) for your laptop to get a little warm on the bottom. However, if you can’t put your hand there without having to pull it away, it’s too hot.

Most laptop users who have experienced an overheating laptop turn to a readily-available but poor choice of solutions: the laptop cooling mat. These poorly-designed devices are generally flat plastic “trays” with a USB-powered fan or two in the middle. They only serve to stir the air under your laptop and actually do very little to cool its hard-working internal electronics.

Signs of an overheating laptop include slow speeds (the processor clocks down to lower it’s heat output after it reaches a certain temperature), random sudden shutdowns (the processor shuts the system down in an “emergency” when clocking down still can’t cool the system), and program freezes, crashes, and more (hot processors become unstable, and the heat can affect nearby components). It’s also not uncommon for sustained periods of high heat to permanently damage your laptop’s motherboard or other components. So, protect your investment and do the right thing: clean it.

Preventing the problem of an overheating laptop is easy to do. Simply blow the air vents out periodically with compressed air. This 2-minute job serves to quickly evacuate the dust and dirt from the heat sink and fans, and keeps the air flowing as it should.

Unfortunately, once the dust has accumulated past a certain point, it’s sure to have formed a giant dust bunny and the compressed air will do very little. It’s simply too large now to go back the way it came in, but it’s still not too late. You’ll have to disassemble your laptop far enough to get the heat sink (and possibly the fan) out and clean it by hand.

Depending on your laptop, it may be a quick operation, or it may not. Use your favorite search engine to find disassembly instructions for your specific model, and budget yourself an hour or so, depending on the length of the procedure.

It’s extremely important that you reapply a thermal compound to the processor before the heatsink is reattached. Thermal compound serves to fill in the small gaps between the processor and the heat sink for ideal heat transfer.

Have a story about an overheating laptop? Have a photo of a giant dust bunny to share? Have some other feedback? Please feel free to share it in the comments below!