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Low-Tech Fixes: How to Stop Your Laptop Overheating

By Dustin Main Keep Things Running3 Comments


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So my gear gets around. I don’t drop it or crush it like some people, but it doesn’t get the baby treatment either. 

Sometimes I’m writing articles in 38c temperatures, dripping sweat on the keyboard with every keystroke. Other times I’m editing photos in rural towns in Myanmar, dust blowing in from the streets outside and coating everything I own. And that gets my laptop feeling very hot under the collar.

Recently, it gave me a not-so-subtle hint that it didn’t love this kind of treatment. After using it for a while, it started getting hot to the touch.  Seriously hot.  Like “ow, don’t touch that part of the laptop again any time soon” kind of hot.

The Unfortunate Victim

A laptop has a bunch of electronic components in it, and surprise, they get warm during use. So warm, in fact, that most require some sort of built-in fan to circulate air and keep things cool.

If the internal temperatures stay too warm for too long, you may experience performance issues, errors, and premature hardware failure. Yes, heat can kill your laptop.

When a laptop is in a safe, clean (read: boring) environment like an office, overheating isn’t much of an issue. On the other hand, when there’s so much dust around that you need a mask to keep it out of your lungs, imagine what’s accumulating inside your laptop?

Dust and dirt inside your laptop is bad news. Fans stop working as well (or at all), and all that gunk makes extra heat build up on those delicate components. If you’re noticing your laptop getting hotter than usual, or running slower in hot conditions, it’s time to take action.

The Low-Tech (and Low-Cost) Fix

For many laptops, it’s a fairly easy process to blow out the dust that’s caught inside.  You’ll need a can of compressed air, which you can pick up at many stationary-type stores or computer shops.

Laptop side vent (cpu)

Note: Some Ultrabooks and Macbooks are fairly sealed off, and the only way to really clean out the insides is to have it disassembled. We don’t recommend that you take your laptop apart unless you really know what you’re doing.

  • Shut your laptop down, and unplug it from the wall and other peripherals. It should be completely off, not just put to sleep.
  • Flip it over, and also check the sides. You’re looking for the air vents. These are our targets.
  • While keeping the compressed air can UPRIGHT, give several short (0.5sec) blasts toward each of the vents from 15cm/6″ away. It’s very important that you don’t tip the can sideways or upside down, as liquid chemicals can come out and spray into your laptop. This is bad.
  • A few blasts in each area should be enough, and you may see some dust flying out. Don’t overdo it.
  • Flip your computer back over, and boot it up.  That’s it.
Compressed air can and laptop

Note: If you’re a little afraid of tackling this yourself, find a local computer shop and ask them to blow the dust out for you. It often doesn’t cost much.

The Difference

I used the free software program SpeedFan for Windows to give myself a before-and-after look at the difference a few puffs of air can make. You may see a different set of titles depending on the sensors in your laptop.

HD0 Temp1 Temp2 Core 0 Core1
Before 45c 91c 64c 89c 85c
After 39c 55c 44c 57c 54c
Difference -6c -36c -20c -32c -31c

Wow.

My laptop no longer feels like it may spontaneously combust, and the fan that sounded like a plane preparing for takeoff is now just a quiet purr.

The Summary

  • Time: <5 minutes to fix
  • Cost: $7 for a can of compressed air
  • Saved: Extended the life of my laptop by getting it back to normal temperatures.

Do you have any stories of low-tech solutions when your high-tech problems pop up?  Let us know in the comments.

Fire image via Guido Jansen

About the Author
Dustin Main

Dustin Main

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Dustin just can't get enough travel or technology, but when he's not directly feeding one of those insatiable habits, you can probably find him at some far away ice cream shop taking pictures of empty cups. That, or on top of a mountain somewhere shooting photos and finding adventures to share on his website "A Skinny Escape".

Comments

  1. Avatar

    YES! I did exactly this with my Toshiba laptop when it started shutting off because of overheating… one quick once-over with the compressed air and it was good as new (and is STILL ticking, years later!).

  2. Avatar

    One little tip is to place pen or pencil between the table surface and the rear of the laptop to create a slight slant. It’s helps improve ergonomics while also creating a little bit of space that’ll do wonders in keeping the bottom of your laptop cool. Especially handy for those hot blooded ultrabooks!

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