Laptops are still the workhorse of choice for the majority of users, despite the attractiveness of tablets and the affordability of the desktop. You just can’t beat a proper mobile workstation when you need to get real work done.
This portability comes at a cost, however. Heat buildup has long been a problem, a result of cramped designs and high capacity batteries. If your laptop is overheating, take a look at our guide on how to fix an overheating laptop.
Today we’ll take a look at what you can do to make those fans work less.
Before We Begin
Laptops, touchscreen hybrids, and even some handheld games consoles ship with fans for one reason: to dissipate heat by circulating air. Most of the time when your fans fire up, it’s because they’re supposed to. Even an expensive machine like the latest MacBook Pro sounds like a drone taking off when under extreme load (or a cat).
If the environment is hot, your laptop will need to work harder to dissipate heat, which means more fan noise. If you’re covering the vents at all, which can often happen when using a laptop on soft furnishings (like a bed), the laptop will get hot. If you’re playing a 3D game, using webGL or other resource-heavy browser technologies such as Google Chrome Experiments, or rendering video then you’ll also experience heat buildup.
Note: If your fans suddenly sound different and are making a loud rattling or buzzing noise, it’s likely a bearing problem and the fan should be replaced. If your fans sound normal but are still running constantly, the fan unit itself is unlikely to be the issue.
1. Kill Your Processes
Fans that suddenly whirr up out of nowhere are responding to demands placed on the hardware, commonly the GPU. The best way to solve this is to eliminate the demand, by killing the process.
Mac users can isolate and kill unwanted processes using Activity Monitor, while Windows users can use Task Manager. Linux users also have a number of options available to them for managing rogue processes.
If heat is a problem it might be wise to prevent too many processes starting when your computer boots. Windows users have a lot of choice for managing this, while Mac users can head to System Preferences > Users > Startup and remove anything unnecessary. And no, we haven’t forgotten about Linux users either.
2. Mac Users: Reset SMC & PRAM
One quick tip for Mac users who are encountering constant fan noise is to reset the system management controller (SMC). The SMC is responsible for all sorts of everyday macOS things, and out-of-control fans are a classic symptom of a problem. You could also try resetting the PRAM, which is explained in the article linked above.
3. Buy a Cooler
Laptop coolers used to be fairly innocuous-looking plates of metal with fans in the base, that would help maximize available airflow. These days they’re covered in LEDs, with variable wind speeds, temperature sensors, and in-built USB hubs.
Fortunately peripherals like the Havit Laptop Cooling Pad still perform their job of keeping your laptop cool. Coolers are ideal if you use your laptop on a desk or in another static position. They’re an especially compelling purchase for those looking to play demanding 3D games, render video, or put their machine under load for extended periods of time.
Image credit: Stephen Sizemore via Flickr
In addition to the cooling baseplates onto which you place the laptop, you can also now get clip-on vacuum fan coolers which literally suck the hot air straight out of your machine. The Opolar LC06 is one example designed with rapid cooling in mind. Most of the reviews are positive, but a few (like this one) warns that machines with rear vents may encounter problems — you specific laptop may dictate whether this will work for you.
Remember: External coolers offer a remedy to your heat problem, but they aren’t a great long-term solution if your machine is constantly hot. In that case, you might want to…
4. Clean Your Laptop
Loud fans are a sign of heat, and if your fans are always loud then that means your laptop is always hot. Dust and hair buildup is unavoidable, and only serves to reduce airflow. Reduced airflow means poor heat dissipation, so you’ll need to physically clean the machine to make things better.
Image credit: Timo Kuusela via Flickr
Warning: If your machine is still under warranty, opening it will void that warranty (including after-market extended warranties like AppleCare). If you don’t know what you’re doing you could also damage something, so be careful or consult a friend with a little more experience.
In order to clean your machine you’ll need a can of compressed air, a screwdriver to open your laptop, and patience. You should also use an anti-static wristband and unplug your machine from the power (and if possible, remove the battery) to avoid damaging the internals or yourself with static electricity.
Use the air in short bursts to remove dust and hair from the internal components, particularly around fans and heatsinks. We’ve covered the cleaning process for MacBook and iMac users before, and we also have a thorough laptop cleaning guide which covers ports, vents, and internals.
5. The Software “Fix”
Most laptops will allow you to control your fan speed using third party software. This allows you to control the volume of the laptop, at the cost of airflow. It should go without saying that reducing your fan speed is only going to make your laptop hotter, and reduce its lifespan in the longrun.
These apps can also be used to gain access to a large amount of information about your computer’s internals, so they’re not all bad. For Windows users we’d recommend something like SpeedFan, while Mac users can use smcFanControl (or try Fanny if you’re more interested in temperature monitoring).
If you want to do the same and you use Linux, you’ll need to install the lm-sensors and fancontrol packages. Check out this StackExchange thread on Fan Management for more information.
Fans Still Running?
If nothing seems to be helping, you’ll probably want to take your machine to a service point and get a professional to look at it for you. Be prepared to be told that the issue is hardware-based, and that you’ll need to replace something (like the motherboard) to fix the issue. If it’s a big enough job, it might be cheaper to buy a new laptop.
If heat is a problem for your current laptop, you might want to consider this when it comes to buying a replacement. Mobile-focused hybrids like Microsoft’s Surface and the iPad Pro generate heat, but they use more efficient (and ultimately) less powerful mobile chips to cut down on the problem.
Laptops that use a metal chassis, like Apple’s MacBook range, are also better at dissipating heat. Every MacBook is built into a giant heatsink, and the longevity of Apple’s machines would suggest that this is an effective design move.
Did we help solve your noisy fan issue? Laptop still sounds like a jet engine? Leave a comment below and we’ll try our best to help you out.
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