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Once, while we were sitting on the beach at camp using our laptops, my wife turned to me and asked, “Does it hurt the computer for it to warm up a little bit in the sun?” My knee-jerk reaction was to say that it doesn’t make a bit of difference. Then, a few memories from some of my engineering college classes came back and I remembered that as temperature rises, electrical conductance drops and components can degrade more quickly than normal. The real question is how much do those laptop cooling pads that you can place under your laptop for cooling the CPU really help?
Today, I’m going to take a scientific look at that question and see if we can’t quantify the answer – something you can point to any time any of your friends ask you whether or not cooling the CPU really matters.
The Method & The Measurement Tools
There are two variables to measure here – CPU temperature and cooling power. The experiment that I’m going to do in order to check for the correlation between those two variables is to benchmark the temperature profile of my Sony Vaio during normal operating conditions in my living room. Then I’m going to attempt to lower the core temperature of my laptop by using a USB powered cooling fan for 5 minutes and then for 10 minutes, and take additional benchmarks.
Choosing the measurement tool was easy – I just turned to my trusted source for free software, MakeUseOf! The best application for this purpose is SpeedFan to measure temperature (reviewed earlier by Kyle). First, to take a baseline of the normal operating levels of my CPU temperature, I’m going to take a snapshot of all temperatures as well as a graphical snapshop of the core temperatures. First, SpeedFan displays my current CPU temperature as shown here.
As you can see, the temperature of my Duo Intel Core processor averages about 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 degrees F). Next, I switched to SpeedFan’s charting feature for a short history of the core temperature range.
The core temperature range is from 35 to 37 degrees F, and this is with seven windows open, including an online radio stream. I’m going to see if I can increase my core temperature at all by opening up a YouTube video stream, Microsoft Word and a few additional Internet browsers.
By opening multiple windows and Internet streams, you can see that my core temperature has gone up a few degrees to about 39 degrees F. As you can imagine, some people open a large number of applications and windows without realizing the effect that doing so has on the work required from the processor and the resulting temperature increase for that component.
Experiment #1 – Cool Laptop For 5 Minutes
In this first test, I’m going to cool the laptop itself (and in effect the core temperature as well) of the laptop for a total of 5 minutes. For cooling the CPU, I’m using a USB powered notebook cooler pad rated with an air flow of 28 CFM and dual fan speed of 1500 rpm. Hypothetically, this should obviously cool the CPU even though the demands of multiple applications have driven the core temperature up. Let’s give it a shot – I’ll see you back here in 5 minutes.
Whew…okay that wasn’t too bad. The laptop doesn’t feel a lot cooler, but let’s take a look if I’ve chilled the Intel Duo Core at all.
Sure enough, five minutes using the cooling fan pad dropped the core temperatures from almost 40 degrees Celsius down to just over 37 degrees Celsius. While this is only a 3 degree drop in the core temperature, such a differential can really make a difference in the life of the processor.
Ideally, I’d like to see the fan bring the processor temperatures down to normal operating temperatures even with the additional applications open, but even after 10 minutes of cooling you can see that it just isn’t possible (at least not with this particular cooler).
It appears that while cooling the CPU of a laptop using these cooling fans certainly does make a difference, the cooling ability is limited by the device itself such as the airflow and fan speed.
Experiment #2: Cool Laptop Under Normal Operations
Motivated by the very clear results from the experiment above, I wanted to see how much cooling the fan under my original “normal” use conditions would help with CPU temperature. Once I closed down the YouTube video stream, the extra browser windows and the Microsoft Word app, I applied cooling for another 10 minutes and then checked the core temp history using SpeedFan again.
In this case, the ability of the cooling fan to cool the CPU was even more dramatic. While I was originally operating just under 37 degrees Celsius, using the cooling pad dropped my normal core temperature all the way down to almost 32 degrees Celsius – a significant 5 degree drop in core temperature. Given that any increase in temperature can shorten the life of electrical components over the long term, this 5 degree drop could have a very positive cumulative effect on the life of your laptop CPU.
The conclusion from my own testing is that yes, cooling the CPU in laptops does make a difference. Now it’s your turn – what do you think, do you think using a laptop cooling pad makes any difference in the life of your laptop? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.