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Updated on 27 June 2017.

Laptops have become more powerful and compact than ever before. A steep increase in CPU performance was facilitated by chips that are ever more densely packed with transistors. In parallel, slimmer cases pack an ever increasing number of processors and stronger graphics cards support bigger screens with higher resolutions. These developments come at a cost: excess heat.

The greatest threat for your laptop, except for your coffee mug, is overheating. It can cause hardware failure and permanent damage. Let me show you how to prevent or fix an overheating laptop and thus improve the performance and extend the lifespan of your computer.

The Basics of Overheating Computers

How Do You Know Your Laptop Is Overheating?

Just because your laptop seems hot PC Operating Temperatures: How Hot Is Too Hot? PC Operating Temperatures: How Hot Is Too Hot? Excessive heat can affect your computer's performance and your hard drive's lifespan. But how can you tell if it's overheating or just hot? Read More doesn’t mean it’s overheating.

A sure sign that your notebook gets too hot though is when your fan is always running at maximum speed. You may also experience reduced performance because the CPU cuts back its clock speed to escape heat pressure. Moreover, the fail-safe software may trigger a sudden shut down to prevent hardware damage.

If you want to measure the actual heat values inside your laptop, you can use a tool like HWMonitor.

What Causes Overheating?

In two words: insufficient cooling.

Potential reasons include dust blocking intake grills or exhaust ports, a clogged up fan, or a degenerated thermal grease (aka thermal compound) between the heat sink and the CPU. You can fix all of these things yourself, though some jobs will be tougher than others.

If you need a quick fix and don’t have the handy skills to de-lid your CPU Two Ways to Cool Down Your Defective Overheating Intel CPU Two Ways to Cool Down Your Defective Overheating Intel CPU Looking to purchase a Haswell or Ivy Bridge Intel CPU? A secret may change your mind. According to bloggers, Intel recently got caught using thermal paste on its CPUs and lying about it – the... Read More  and apply fresh thermal paste, read on.

How Can You Prevent or Fix an Overheating Laptop?

Several simple hardware fixes can cure overheating.

1. Fix Internal Cooling

The first and most important thing you need to do when your laptop is overheating is to clean the fan(s) that provide(s) cooling to the CPU and graphics card. Over time, they build up layers of dust and dirt that slow them down and block airflow. Consult your laptop’s manual or manufacturer to find out how you can open the laptop to access and clean these parts.

Before you attempt to do any cleaning, however, follow these steps:

  1. Shut down the computer
  2. Remove the battery
  3. Unplug the power strip
  4. Ground yourself

Carefully clean the fan(s) with a cotton swab dipped in a drop of alcohol. Make sure the alcohol has completely evaporated before you reconnect the laptop to the power. You can also use a vacuum cleaner to remove the dust and dirt that clocks up the fan(s). To prevent damage to the fan, do not let it revolve in the wrong direction. If you want to use canned air to clean the fan, arrest the fan by holding it down.

Next, you can clean the exhaust port by sucking out air with a vacuum cleaner. The exhaust port usually sits on the side of the laptop. It’s the opening that blows out hot air.

The intake grills are small openings that allow air to be sucked into the laptop by the revolving fans. They can sit on the sides or at the bottom of your notebook. To clear the intake grills, spray them with canned air.

Finally, you can apply fresh thermal grease to the interface between the CPU and its heat sink. Again, please consult the laptop’s manual or manufacturer to obtain instructions on how to disassemble these components.

See our guide on cleaning out dust from your MacBook or iMac How to Clean Out Dust From Your MacBook or iMac How to Clean Out Dust From Your MacBook or iMac Cleaning dust out of a Mac isn't as easy as cleaning dust out of a PC, but it's not impossible. Here's what you need to know. Read More if that’s the hardware you use. Furthermore, Inside My Laptop has some great tutorials on how to fix your laptop, including how to apply thermal grease on your laptop’s processor.

2. Keep the Laptop on a Hard & Flat Surface

Most laptops suck in cooling air through their bottoms. Uneven surfaces, like a blanket, pillow, or your lap, obstruct your laptop’s airflow 5 Ways To Utterly Destroy Your Laptop, Slowly But Surely 5 Ways To Utterly Destroy Your Laptop, Slowly But Surely Your laptop is a fragile piece of machinery. It’s a complex system packed with fast hardware, yet it also finds itself in constant use. This is how you prolong its lifespan. Read More . Subsequently, the cooling is impaired, heat builds up, the surface becomes hot, the temperature of sucked in cooling air increases, and eventually the laptop overheats.

This scenario is easily avoided by keeping the laptop on a hard and flat surface. You can use something as simple as a tray or get a special laptop holder or lap stand. We’ve previously shown you how to build your own laptop stand or you could buy a laptop tray.

Personally, I’m using this laptop stand for surfing on the sofa:

SONGMICS Right/Left handed Laptop Desk Bamboo Foldable Bed Tray w' Tilting Top&Drawer ULLD004 SONGMICS Right/Left handed Laptop Desk Bamboo Foldable Bed Tray w' Tilting Top&Drawer ULLD004 NATURAL BAMBOO: 100% Natural Bamboo, environmental friendly, moisture resistant and easy to clean Buy Now At Amazon $35.99

3. Invest in a Laptop Cooler or Cooling Pad

Laptop coolers are meant to provide additional cooling. However, getting the wrong cooler can actually make the problem worse. Before you purchase a cooler, you need to understand the flow of air into and out of your laptop.

As mentioned above, most laptops suck in air for cooling from the bottom. This makes sense because warm air rises upwards. However, a cooler that sits underneath the laptop and sucks air away from it, does not contribute to laptop cooling and rather accelerates overheating.

If your laptop has intake grills at its bottom, purchase a cooler that blows cool air upwards, i.e. into the laptop. You can also get a passive cooler that does not consume power and merely absorbs heat.

If you’re handy, you can build your own laptop cooler or cooling pad 5 Cool DIY Ways To Keep Your Laptop Cool 5 Cool DIY Ways To Keep Your Laptop Cool Read More . We even found a solution that will cost you under five bucks!

What Are Potential Software Fixes?

If none of the hardware fixes result in lasting improvements, you can also revert to software fixes that address the performance and power usage of your laptop. However, addressing excessive heat with a software fix means you give up performance in favor of preserving the hardware.

You can either reduce the brightness of your screen or reduce the CPU clock speed. In Windows, underclocking or undervolting is done in the BIOS, but can also be controlled through software tools. Consult our undervolting guide How Undervolting Decreases Heat & Increases Battery Life How Undervolting Decreases Heat & Increases Battery Life Would you believe that many computers and smartphones can run cooler and consume less power? A trick exists, called undervolting, which can increase your CPU's efficiency with few drawbacks. If performed right, devices generally produce... Read More  for more information about this procedure.

If you own a MacBook, try one of these fixes MacBook Air Overheating? 5 Things You Can Do MacBook Air Overheating? 5 Things You Can Do You might think your MacBook is overheating if it sounds like a hairdryer and feels like a grill. Here are some things to try when you can no longer stand the heat. Read More .

The Top 3 Signs Your Laptop Is Overheating

Finally, let’s lighten this up a little. This list was inspired by a Top 11 list on BBSpot.

  1. You’ve underclocked the CPU so much that the Commodore 64 team is overtaking you on Folding@Home.
  2. Frodo tosses the one ring into your keyboard.
  3. Al Gore shows up to kick your ass.

How often do you clean your laptop to save it from overheating? Do you have any additional tips and tricks to share? Let us know in the comments section below!

Image Credit: alphaspirit via Shutterstock.com

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  1. Karl Haussermann
    October 22, 2016 at 2:49 am

    I wouldn't recommend the vacuum portion. A vacuum of any size tends to build up a lot of static electricity even if you were to use a wrist grounding strap. I'm only saying if you were to remove the backplate and were close to any circuitry, shouldn't be an issue of your just cleaning the outside of the intake.

    • Tina Sieber
      October 23, 2016 at 10:43 am

      Thank you for your feedback, Karl!

  2. Cecelia Cooper
    October 8, 2016 at 5:26 am

    Thanks.

  3. Steven Holman
    July 1, 2016 at 11:28 pm

    i have noticed that my acer aspire v5-552 has two fans on it. the left side has normally been the one to speed up all the way. the right one has been at an average speed. ive taken out the fans on numerous occasions. the thermal compound appears to have gone down a considerable amount. i suppose it would make sense for one fan not to acknowledge my cpu overheating. i'm currently defragging my hard drive and hwmonitor appears to display the cpu at 100 c. my cpu is an amd a10 quad core processor. as soon as i close the lid the fan speed goes back to normal. ive occasionally noticed spikes in the fan speed at other times but for 20 second intervals.

  4. bachrain
    February 12, 2016 at 10:30 am

    this is problem is so hot, it's all over the internet. heheh. HOT, get it?

    • Cobra
      November 13, 2016 at 6:55 pm

      Yes I got it now.

    • Cobra
      November 13, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      Yes yes, got it now sir.

  5. Anonymous
    October 10, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    I'm using a 13-yr old Dell Inspiron.....an original 1100. It runs a DESKTOP P4, which generates a lot of heat! Now, these old girls were quite bulky by today's standards, and consequently there's a lot more space inside of them for the air to circulate.

    One trick I use, in addition to always using her on a flat surface, is as follows:-

    1) Junk the standard rubber feet. These only give give millimetres of clearance, at best.

    2) Replace them with what are known to DIY-ers as 'bump stops'. They're easily available in most hardware stores; are about 10 mm tall, self-adhesive, and simply press into place. They'll raise your laptop a lot further off the deck, giving more clearance, and ensuring that there's plenty of room for air to circulate.

    The P4 pulls 63W TDP.....and usually runs at or around 50/55C. Which for that high a TDP, is quite acceptable. You have to remember, mobile , ultra-low-power CPUs weren't even on the drawing board in those days.....

  6. Human Being #89683
    May 4, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    Al Gore shows up to kick your ass
    my frend told me what it meant. She was like, WTF.

  7. neil
    January 12, 2011 at 5:27 am

    cool this will help us.

    • Huntracony
      January 11, 2016 at 8:13 am

      Haha, cool, get it? Because it's about cooling.

      • Cobra
        November 13, 2016 at 6:56 pm

        haha , shall we laugh ?

  8. Macfan95
    January 2, 2011 at 5:26 am

    I use smcFanControl on my macbook. I like it because it puts a little icon on the menu bar that tells what the temperature is and how fast the fan is going. Also you can make your own settings for it, for example, I have a default setting (which uses whatever the computer itself wants to use depending on the temperature), then I have a "HigherRPM" setting (Makes the fan go at about 4,000RPM for the more heavy apps like iMovie and Garageband), then lastly I made a "Gaming" setting that clocks the fan as fast as it can go for the heavy games like Call of Duty.

    http://www.macupdate.com/app/m...

    • Bruce Bruss
      September 24, 2016 at 10:45 am

      People keep recommending SmcFanControl, but it's the worst of its breed.

      Macs Fan Control is better in every single regard:

      - easier to use
      - way more flexible (eg: you can trigger fans by temperature)
      - way prettier

      http://crystalidea.com/macs-fan-control

  9. Bradley Wint
    January 2, 2011 at 3:19 am

    hmm dell doesnt seem to have put that shut down feature in their recent XPS models. Rather it just starts to lag like crap. My 1640 constantly overheats but the problem is the poor positioning of the fan exhaust, plus with an overclocked video card (overclocked by Dell)... it's even worse. Bought a Zalman NC2000 cooling pad and it solved the problem. The unit itself remained cool, but the exhaust still pushed out some hot air...nonetheless the temp was regulated very well even in intense games. Undervolting is a good idea but remember if you get BSODs, you're undervolting too much.

  10. Antriksh Yadav
    January 1, 2011 at 6:02 am

    Wow! I did NOT know all that, being the geek I am! Thanks for all the info. Mine is an almost four-year-old laptop. So I need to carefully experiment. Of course it doesn't have an Intel Core series CPU.

    But thanks very much for all that. I got some good material for my blog. You can visit it at http://rightnowintech.com/

  11. Smayonak
    December 31, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Undervolting doesn't reduce performance, other than the extremely small amount of RAM it consumes (which is utterly negligible). What you are thinking of is Underclocking/throttling, which limits the CPU multiplier, putting a ceiling on performance.

    You can actually undervolt and OVERCLOCK at the same time.

    Individual CPUs have varying voltage tolerances. Manufacturers by default oversupply CPU voltage to simplify production (this is no longer true on the i-Core platform) but this causes inefficiencies and reduces battery life while increasing heat.

    Undervolting's shortcoming is that not all CPUs will support a lower voltage setting. Sometimes the lowest setting will cause BSOD. You need to tease out the lower limits of each individual CPU.

    Most CPUs have a default voltage supply of around 1.285. I find that lowering to 1.1-1.2 volts is usually rock solid stable and results in between 10-20% lower temps.

  12. Antriksh Yadav
    December 31, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Oh, sorry. I didn't notice that. I can try undervolting it. That may fix the issue. But the performance will be reduced too. And yes, with my BIOS, I can't change the temperatures. And that would really mess up the hardware the next time it overheats. Ha ha.

    BTW, I have a new VAIO now, which I really love. Of course, it does not overheat!

  13. Tina
    December 31, 2010 at 6:12 am

    True, shutdown is a sign of overheating. I pointed that out in my introduction: Moreover, the fail safe software may trigger a sudden shutdown to prevent hardware damage.

    What you can do in the BIOS is undervolt the laptop, i.e. reducd the maximum performance of the CPU. I don't think messing with the maximum temperature that triggers a shutdown, however, is a good idea.

  14. Tina
    December 29, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Cote,

    I would assume that you can apply the same hardware fixes, i.e. make sure the internal cooling works and the intake grills are not blocked. You can also get a cooling pad for your MacBook.

    To monitor your fans on an Intel Mac, you can use this tool: http://www.macupdate.com/app/m...

  15. Antriksh Yadav
    December 29, 2010 at 5:06 am

    I know my laptop overheats when it SHUTS DOWN! You forgot that part! Laptops, to protect themselves, shut themselves down when the temperature rises beyond a certain limit. This depends on the BIOS setting hard wired into it. Sometimes, you can modify it too.

    • Tina
      December 31, 2010 at 5:12 am

      True, shutdown is a sign of overheating. I pointed that out in my introduction: Moreover, the fail safe software may trigger a sudden shutdown to prevent hardware damage.

      What you can do in the BIOS is undervolt the laptop, i.e. reducd the maximum performance of the CPU. I don't think messing with the maximum temperature that triggers a shutdown, however, is a good idea.

      • Antriksh Yadav
        December 31, 2010 at 7:40 am

        Oh, sorry. I didn't notice that. I can try undervolting it. That may fix the issue. But the performance will be reduced too. And yes, with my BIOS, I can't change the temperatures. And that would really mess up the hardware the next time it overheats. Ha ha.

        BTW, I have a new VAIO now, which I really love. Of course, it does not overheat!

        • Smayonak
          December 31, 2010 at 7:10 pm

          Undervolting doesn't reduce performance, other than the extremely small amount of RAM it consumes (which is utterly negligible). What you are thinking of is Underclocking/throttling, which limits the CPU multiplier, putting a ceiling on performance.

          You can actually undervolt and OVERCLOCK at the same time.

          Individual CPUs have varying voltage tolerances. Manufacturers by default oversupply CPU voltage to simplify production (this is no longer true on the i-Core platform) but this causes inefficiencies and reduces battery life while increasing heat.

          Undervolting's shortcoming is that not all CPUs will support a lower voltage setting. Sometimes the lowest setting will cause BSOD. You need to tease out the lower limits of each individual CPU.

          Most CPUs have a default voltage supply of around 1.285. I find that lowering to 1.1-1.2 volts is usually rock solid stable and results in between 10-20% lower temps.

        • Antriksh Yadav
          January 1, 2011 at 5:02 am

          Wow! I did NOT know all that, being the geek I am! Thanks for all the info. Mine is an almost four-year-old laptop. So I need to carefully experiment. Of course it doesn't have an Intel Core series CPU.

          But thanks very much for all that. I got some good material for my blog. You can visit it at http://rightnowintech.com/

        • Tina
          January 1, 2011 at 8:34 am

          Thanks for clearing that up Smayonak! I clearly mixed up undervolting and underclocking!!!,

  16. Smayonak
    December 29, 2010 at 1:14 am

    Macbooks function in the same way as Tina described, relying on the components of the heatsink and fan. Unfortunately, the same options available for Windows are unavailable for the Mac. However, there exist basic tools for increasing the minimum Fanspeed of your Mac, which will boost cooling performance:

    http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/23137/fan-control

    The big difference between Macs and most other notebooks is that the Macbook's components are better laid out. For example, the newer models have the intakes and outtakes on the upper surfaces of the unit, so that it does not get clogged by uneven surfaces. Macs also appear to have better resistance to dust accumulation, although they're harder to clean once dirtied.

    http://www.andrew.co.za/2008/02/quick-macbook-clean.html

  17. Cote
    December 28, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    what about macbook's??
    any tips?

    • Shotgun joe
      December 29, 2010 at 1:31 am

      Well, what about them ? They are not laptops now, are they ? Does Steve Jobs have a new name for his portable computers ? Don't be ridiculous.

    • Tina
      December 29, 2010 at 7:07 am

      Cote,

      I would assume that you can apply the same hardware fixes, i.e. make sure the internal cooling works and the intake grills are not blocked. You can also get a cooling pad for your MacBook.

      To monitor your fans on an Intel Mac, you can use this tool: http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/23049/smcfancontrol

    • Macfan95
      January 2, 2011 at 4:26 am

      I use smcFanControl on my macbook. I like it because it puts a little icon on the menu bar that tells what the temperature is and how fast the fan is going. Also you can make your own settings for it, for example, I have a default setting (which uses whatever the computer itself wants to use depending on the temperature), then I have a "HigherRPM" setting (Makes the fan go at about 4,000RPM for the more heavy apps like iMovie and Garageband), then lastly I made a "Gaming" setting that clocks the fan as fast as it can go for the heavy games like Call of Duty.

      http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/23049/smcfancontrol

      • Aibek
        January 5, 2011 at 9:28 am

        surprisingly, the app is free :-)