How To Keep Your Laptop Cool

We’ve all been there. You leave your laptop on the bed for 5 minutes and when you pick it up it’s hotter than the sun! Laptops are well known for cooling and ventilation issues. Due to their small form factor, the heat has less places to go. It also doesn’t help that the fan is underneath.

So how can you make your laptop run cooler and perhaps even quieter than what it may be currently? There are quite a few solutions and most of them cost little to nothing so let’s get started.

Why do laptops typically get hot?

There are quite a few reasons why your laptop might be getting a little warmer than usual. The most common reason is because they’re laptops. Laptops in general don’t have such great cooling systems. Laptop cooling systems usually involve an exposed centrifugal fan attached to a relatively small heat sink. The fan’s job is to simply blow air through the heat sink. The heat sink is basically a mesh of thin metal that is perched on top of the processor and any other chips that require cooling. Between the heat sink and the processor there is usually a substance called thermal compound which basically allows for a more efficient transfer of heat from the processor die and the optimal thermal point of the heat sink. The high temperature is usually caused when the temperature of the processor exceeds the cooling system’s capacity and cannot deliver adequate cooling to combat the rising temperatures of the processor. Even if the cooling system of a laptop is enough to allow for the high temperatures of the processor, the high temperature is most often caused by external events that can make laptop produce more heat than it should. So, how can we control these external events?

Point one: Clearance

Clearance is the easiest way of lowering the temperature of your laptop. When we say clearance we are referring to the gap between the base of the laptop and whatever the laptop happens to be placed on. You can increase the clearance with anything really. If the laptop is on a bed, place something solid and stable about an inch thick underneath the back of the laptop, the charger brick for example. This will not only give the laptop some room to breathe (because the vents are usually situated around the back of the laptop) but you’ll be counter-productive as it’ll prop up the laptop at a more ergonomic angle for typing.

Okay so say this isn’t working for you, you could use something a little more professional. But you’ll likely have to pay some money for it. This is where a laptop riser or cooler could come in handy.

So what these accessories basically do is prop up the laptop and offer additional cooling solutions. They’re available in all different shapes and sizes from different brands at different prices. Some are literally just a perforated wedge to fit under the laptop, whilst others can offer fans that are powered by the USB ports of the laptop you put on top of it.

So these devices are probably your best bet to keeping your laptop as cool as possible.

Another important tip is to not use the laptop on a bed as the fan will be trying it’s hardest to suck in air but in the process pulling the bed sheet(s) flat against the intake grille of the laptop, potentially causing the laptop to overheat and at the same time sucking in a load of dust and clogging the heat sink. Which swiftly brings us on to our next point of cleaning.

Point Two: Clean out!

It’s likely after a few years of use (perhaps a shorter amount of time depending on the dustiness of your environment) your fan and heat sink assembly will be struggling to cool effectively due to them being caked in dust. Mmm cake… Back on topic. You have a few options to evict this debris from your system and they are as follows:

  • Compressed air sprayed directly into the fan and any vents. (Your best bet)
  • Foot pump with a tapered end sprayed directly into the fan and any vents. (Works quite well in the event of compressed air not being present)
  • Vacuum cleaner with nozzle placed directly over the vents. (Slim chance of it making any sort of a noticeable difference, you may also cause a build up of static which could damage the sensitive electrical components of the laptop.)
  • Take that sucker apart! (Really not advised if you don’t know what you’re doing, can end with tears, blood (with dust in the wounds), sweat and worse (a broken laptop!). If you know what you’re doing though, this may be the best solution as you can make sure ALL of the dust is gone and hey while you’re at it you could even put on some fresh performance thermal compound which again brings us swiftly onto our last and most advanced solution. Gotta love how I bridge these separate points without you seeing it coming!

Point Three: Replace the Thermal Compound

Thermal compound is essentially the paste that has to be applied between where the processor meets the heatsink. Thermal compound is usually a whitish or greyish colour and is typically a highly viscous paste. The compound has to be applied in certain ways for certain processors. This includes graphics processors, controller chips, Intel processors and AMD processors. There are also a variety of different ways to apply the compound based on the model of processor.

So what basically happens is over time this thermal compound starts to dry up and doesn’t conduct heat as well as it originally did, so you’re going to want to replace it with something better.

I’ve recommended a few different compounds such as in the quote below from the very same article. Again! I’m so lazy.

“My personal favourite is Arctic Cooling’s MX-4 thermal compound which is easier to apply than AS5 (Arctic Silver 5) and typically improves thermal conductivity by a few degrees. This compound is also non conductive and typically comes in a large syringe so you’ve got plenty for more compound jobs.”

So replacing something as simple as the goo between the processor and the heat sink can seriously change your laptop temperature for the better. So it may be worth trying if you haven’t already. But as i also mentioned in the previous point, it’s not for inexperienced people. You’ll likely need to take the entire laptop apart to gain access to the CPU die and the fan and heat sink assembly. Makes me wonder why laptop manufacturers don’t put a nice little door on the bottom of the laptop for easy access to the processor and the fan and heat sink assembly. I mean they do it for the hard drive, memory and network card so why not the processor? I suppose we’ll never know.

Either way these were just a few points to help you decrease the temperature of your laptop. I hope you found this article educational and somewhat entertaining.