I’m sure most laptop owners had problems with overheating at some point or another. These devices are terrible when it comes to heat dissipation (excluding high-end gaming grade laptops here) due to their tiny vents and very low profile radiators. Laptop manufacturers usually have to make these compromises in order to keep their devices slim and portable.
Ultrabooks offer a good alternative to traditional laptops. These avoid (to some extent) overheating problems by using low-power components like mSATA SSDs or low-voltage processors and sometimes don’t have a dedicated video card, but these greatly increase the price of these devices. Nevertheless, with heavy usage even ultrabooks overheat and there have been thousands of users complaining of these issues.
What causes laptop overheating
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It’s important to know what causes overheating in laptops, as most of us have bad habits when it comes to the way we use these portable devices. Understanding the root of a problem is the first step in dealing with it. There are a number of factors which contribute to overheating, but the main one is dust.
- Dust is a computer’s arch-enemy. Dust collects in the intakes of your computer, rendering your vents almost useless. During my time as a computer technician, I’ve seen some laptops (and desktops) which had their vents completely clogged. In these cases, the airflow in the device is almost gone and heat builds up until the fail-safe kicks in and it shuts down.
- Improper placement of the laptop can also cause overheating. I know it’s much more comfortable to keep lie down in bed with your laptop besides you, but due to the fact that the surface isn’t flat and hard, the laptop can sink in and its vents get covered. This again keeps heat from escaping and causes overheating. This is also true for any other soft surface you could place your laptop (blankets, lap, cloth etc).
- Closing the lid while the device is still on is another example of what to avoid if you don’t want to have overheating problems with your laptop. In many cases, the keyboard and palmrest act like heatsinks and although they don’t contribute that much to the overall cooling of the device, they still help out a little. When you close the lid and your laptop remains powered on, the head from the display and the heat from the main body of the device are locked in and the overall temperature skyrockets.
- Placing a powered on laptop inside a closed container like a briefcase or backpack is something that should be avoided at all costs. If kept for a long period of time, it’s not unheard for the device to actually catch on fire (although very rare). However, if heat builds up in this closed space, it can overheat and even damage your laptop.
- A high amount of power drawn by the laptop makes its components hotter. If your processor is heavily used by resource-intensive applications, these tasks overwork the processor (which is the hottest component inside your laptop), and makes it draw even more power. As it works harder, it needs more juice to power itself, and more voltage results in more heat. But this effect isn’t limited to just the CPU, as HDDs often get pretty hot and so do graphics cards (if you have a dedicated GPU).
- A poorly configured BIOS can be another cause for laptop overheating. Usually, there are safety measures in your laptop’s BIOS which keep it from going too far (temperature-wise). These are responsible for sudden shut-downs, but at the same time, these are put there to keep the hardware from frying itself. It is highly recommended that you don’t modify these options if you’re not 100% sure what you’re doing.
- Low quality (or old) thermal grease on your CPU, GPU and other modules will contribute to overheating. Due to the fact that the thermal grease loses its properties, heat transfer between the chip and the heatsink is lessened, causing components to run at higher temperatures.
How to deal with laptop overheating
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Now that you know what are the main causes for laptop overheating, you can pretty much guess how to deal with this issue. But just be sure, we’ll give you a crash-course in computer/laptop maintenance so you will always know how to keep your laptop cool and never have to research this page again. Keep in mind that you might want to implement more than one of these solutions and tips, as all of them work together to keep your laptop from overheating.
First of all, as we’ve mentioned before, try to keep your laptop away from dust as much as possible. Even so, no matter how much you try to protect it, the vents will still become clogged over time. To remedy this problem, you will have to purchase a compressed air can and clean the vents as best you can. If you’re not worried about your warranty, you can even take it apart and clean the inside thoroughly. A small electronic vacuum cleaner can also be of use in this situation.
As for laptop placement, you should always keep it on a flat, hard surface so that the vents underneath have a way to draw cold air. Additionally, you can purchase a cooling pad, which sometimes comes with integrated vents. These devices are widely available online or in pretty much any computer store you walk into. As a DIY solution, you can place your laptop on an egg carton. The shape of the cardboard will ensure that the laptop has ample ventilation, as well as provide a flat and sturdy surface. I’ve used this method myself and I can attest from personal experience that my laptop had no overheating issues afterwords.
You can also minimize the power draw of your laptop to make it run cooler. The amount of work the components do is directly proportional to the amount of heat they generate. Closing background processes and scheduling maintenance when the device is idle would be preferred, in is this scenario the laptop will only have to deal with part of the workload at a time.
Note: If you’re using the laptop at your desk, consider plugging it in into a wall socket and taking the battery out. The battery is a source of heat which can contribute to laptop overheating
Changing your thermal grease isn’t something you should attempt yourself if you don’t have any experience with building computers (although it’s really simple once you get the hang of it). Only by changing the cheap thermal grease from my laptop with Arctic Silver 5 (I’ve been using this product for years now and I can’t say anything bad about it), I saw a 5-10 degree difference in processor temperature. Changing the grease can be done at home or at any computer service shop once every 6 months or so.
If you are attempting to change the thermal grease yourself, be very cautious as to not touch the connectors on the back side of the CPU or the pins. Clean the old thermal grease carefully and apply a very thin layer of the new material and spread it evenly over the capsule (and in some cases, over the chipset and other components).
Note: The layer should be extremely thin and pay attention to CPU alignment! Also, more advanced techniques like CPU lapping can be attempted, but only by those who have experience in the field.
Regular maintenance is the key for keeping your laptop running as it should for a longer period of time. If you’re feeling confident enough, once every 6 months change its thermal grease and at the same time use a can of compressed air to clean all the heasinks and vents. If you keep to the guidelines presented in this guide, you shouldn’t have any issues with laptop overheating. Also, it would be a good idea to use some monitoring software to have an idea of how hot your laptop is running. CoreTemp or CPUID’s HWMonitor are good examples of such software, as they allow you to see the temperature of your CPU (each core temperature), GPU or other components.