How To Fix An Overheating Laptop

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LaptopCooling04   How To Fix An Overheating LaptopLaptops have undergone an incredible amount of development over the past couple of years. A steep increase in performance was facilitated by chips that are ever more densely packed with transistors. In parallel, the amount of processors was multiplied, the hardware was put into slimmer cases, and better graphics cards enabled bigger screens with higher resolutions. These developments, however, come at a cost: heat.

The greatest threat for your laptop, except for your your coffee mug, is overheating. It can cause hardware failure and permanent damage. In this article I will introduce ways that you can prevent or fix an overheating laptop and thus improve the performance and the extend the lifespan of your laptop.

How Do You Know Your Laptop Is Overheating?

A sure sign that your notebook gets too hot is when your fan always runs 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 shutdown to prevent hardware damage.

LaptopCooling03   How To Fix An Overheating Laptop

Refer to the article 3 Laptop Computer Temperature Monitor Apps That Could Save Your Hard Drive to find out how you can measure the actual heat values inside your laptop.

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What Causes Overheating?

In two words: insufficient cooling.

The reasons include dust blocking intake grills or exhaust ports, a clocked up fan, or a degenerated thermal grease (aka thermal compound) between the heat sink and the CPU.

How Can You Prevent or Fix an Overheating Laptop?

There are several hardware fixes that 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 flow of air. 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:

  • shut down the computer.
  • remove the battery.
  • unplug the power strip.
  • 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.

LaptopCooling01   How To Fix An Overheating Laptop

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.

Inside My Laptop has some great tutorials on how to fix your laptop, including How to apply thermal grease on laptop processor.

2. Keep The Laptop On A Hard & Flat Surface

Most laptops suck in cooling air through their bottoms. If the laptop sits on an uneven surface like a blanket, pillow, or your lap, the flow of air into the laptop is disturbed. Subsequently, the cooling is not optimal, 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.

3. Invest In A Laptop Cooler

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.

LaptopCooling02   How To Fix An Overheating 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 causes a more rapid 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.

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 the Undervolting Guide on the Notebook Review forum for more information about this procedure.

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.

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

How often do you clean your laptop to prevent it from overheating? Do you have any additional tips and tricks to share?

Image credits: Steve Cukrov, Sergej Khakimullin,  Olga Popova, Jiri Pavlik

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20 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Cote

what about macbook’s??
any tips?

Shotgun joe

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

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

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

surprisingly, the app is free :-)

Reply

Smayonak

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

Reply

Antriksh Yadav

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reply

Tina

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

Reply

Tina

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.

Reply

Antriksh Yadav

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!

Reply

Smayonak

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.

Reply

Antriksh Yadav

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/

Reply

Bradley Wint

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.

Reply

Macfan95

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

Reply

neil

cool this will help us.

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