Tips to Keep Your Laptop Cool

With the growth of telecommuting and travel, laptops have quickly become the go-to work tool for over desktop computers. The extra mobility and portability of laptops often come at the sacrifice of reduced graphics potential, slower processing, and overall lower computing power. Despite some continued advances in hardware and software optimization, one of the biggest problems with laptops is overheating. Read on to learn more about how to cool down a laptop that is overheating.

How Laptops Generate Heat

All of the internal components in a laptop are powered by electricity, so they naturally generate heat as a byproduct. As electricity passes through circuits, wires, and microchips, it meets some amount of friction. Much like rubbing your hands together, friction of any intensity will create an amount of heat. Some components, like LED lights, require less electricity, and thus output less heat. Other internal components require much higher amounts of electricity and produce excessive heat as a result. The components that tend to generate a higher internal temperature include:

  • CPU - The central processing unit (CPU) essentially handles every single process within the computer that doesn’t involve graphics.
  • GPU - The graphics processing unit (GPU) handles all graphics-intensive processes.
  • Heat sinks - Heat sinks are placed over the CPU, GPU, or both and help to absorb and dissipate some of the heat generated by either processing unit.
  • Hard disk drive - The hard drive (HDD) comprises small discs that spin as they record, store, and access data. Even solid state drives (SSD) will generate some heat even though they do not have any moving parts.

While any single one of these components can get too hot, the cause of a laptop overheating usually comes from the cumulative heat generated by all of these components at once. Between the GPU/CPU temperature, heat sinks, and HDD functionality, it comes as no surprise that an overheated laptop could come as a result.

How Your Laptop Cools Down

Most manufacturers understand that laptops and computers can generate heat and that heat can potentially accumulate. Manufacturers incorporate a variety of design features to combat the potential for laptop overheating. This includes:

  • Fans – The most prominent tool for cooling down your laptop, fans draw in cool air from outside the computer and blow it over the hot components within. Most laptops are designed such that the hotter they operate, the harder the fans spin to disperse the heat. A cooling fan that is running particularly loud is one of the most obvious signs that your laptop is producing excess heat.
  • Vents – In conjunction with fans, vents help heat to escape from the inside of the computer and draw in cooler air.
  • Material – The material used for the laptop’s body is for more than just aesthetics. The right materials can support heat dispersal. Lower-end machines might use plastic, which is less permeable. That means that you may not outwardly feel the heat, but that heat is also more easily trapped within the computer. High-end laptops tend to be made from metal or polymers. You may notice the heat output from your laptop more with these materials, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That means at least some of the heat is flowing out of the laptop instead of getting trapped inside.

How Laptops Overheat

Given the precautions in design and operation, overheating shouldn’t be an issue for a laptop that is functioning properly. A laptop may overheat based on a variety of factors.

Blocked Vents

Vents that are blocked by dirt, dust, and other debris prevent proper airflow, which traps heat inside the laptop’s body, resulting in a very hot laptop.

Room Temperature

The temperature of your room naturally has an effect on your laptop’s internal temperature. Hot summer days can leave your laptop running hotter than normal. This can be exacerbated further if your laptop is constantly exposed to sunlight.

A Broken Fan

The fan is the main cooling component in any machine, so if your fan is broken or not operating properly, you can generally expect your laptop to generate excess heat even with the most minor of operations.

Hardware Upgrades

Whether you’re upgrading your RAM or replacing the sound card, new hardware is a good way to keep your laptop current without buying an entirely new machine. Unfortunately, some new hardware requires much more resources, forcing your laptop to work harder and generate more heat in the process.

Software and Performance Issues

Not all laptops were designed equal. Where one laptop might easily compress videos and run games at their highest settings, others may not. If your laptop isn’t particularly powerful, it may struggle with anything from video editing to having too many tabs open on your browser. That can cause your machine to chug and overheat.

How to Cool a Laptop

Depending on what’s ailing your machine, there may not be a single fix that will prevent your computer from overheating. Here are some tips for keeping your laptop cool.

Clean Your Fans and Air Vents

Fans and vents clogged with dust tend to be the number one culprit of overheating laptops. To take care of excess dust and debris in your vents, invest in a can of  compressed air. Make sure your laptop is turned off and unplugged. Spray the canned air into the air vent in short bursts. Use cotton swabs or a damp (not wet) lint-free cloth to wipe down the laptop’s vents until they have clear airflow again.

If possible, consider opening up your laptop to reach the fan for a dusting. Just be careful and understand that opening your laptop’s panel may void your warranty.

A Hard, Flat Surface

Despite the name, laptops should optimally not be used on your lap. This often results in blocked vents and fans and also transfers your own body heat into the laptop, making it easier to heat up. Instead, try your best to place your laptop on a hard, flat surface, whether that’s your desk or a lap table. This can usually help provide better airflow and keep your laptop cool, while also promoting good laptop ergonomics.

Invest in a Laptop Stand

Laptop stands come in all forms. The basic model allows you to prop up your laptop to reduce pressure on your wrists, optimize viewing angles, and maximize airflow along the bottom of your machine. Some laptop stands even include extra built-in fans to provide further cooling potential.

Adjust Your Settings

Check and adjust all your settings, from the brightness of your display to your power supply management. Close idle tabs that are eating up your CPU. You essentially want to prevent your computer from overloading on systems processes that could potentially lead to an overheating problem.

Monitor the Temperature

There are a variety of programs available that allow you to monitor your laptop’s temperature and control the speed of your fans. These programs can help if you find that your fans are not clicking on when your laptop is hot, though inoperative fans may point to other issues.

Consider your Laptop’s Age

If you’ve done everything you can and you are still left with a hot laptop, consider the machine’s age. If it’s reaching its upper years, it may be time for a full replacement. Even with all the adjusted power supply settings and optimized software, there’s only so much you can do for a laptop that is reaching obsolescence. Just make sure that you dispose of the laptop properly before you invest in a new one.

An overheating laptop can be a physical pain to you and can contribute to slower computing and overall worse performance. With some regular maintenance and a laptop stand, you should be able to keep your laptop comfortably cool for optimal usage.


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