My Laptop or Notebook Is Too Hot. What Are Cooling Options?

April 27, 2009

in computer performance,computer-related health

by David Hakala

A man using a notebook on his lap for a prolonged period got his private parts burned. Another person’s laptop suddenly burst into flames on a conference table. Urban legends or not, these tales highlight one of the major problems of laptop and notebook computers: They get hot!

The problem is threefold. Miniaturizing computer parts concentrates the heat generated by microchips. Squeezing parts into the smallest space possible leaves little room for air to circulate and cool things. Faster, more powerful processors generate more heat despite chip makers’ clever engineering of cooler-running chips. Excess heat is not only uncomfortable for users, it can cause computers to malfunction or break down. Fortunately, there are software tweaks and add-on products to supplement built-in cooling systems.

Programs such as FanControl for MacBooks and SpeedFan for Windows let you control the speed of your laptop’s cooling fan and the minimum CPU temperature at which the fan turns on. When running on AC power instead of battery, it’s a good idea to set the fan so it always runs. You might find the fan’s continuous sound annoying but think about what it’s doing: driving damaging heat out of your laptop is a good thing. But that hot air has to go somewhere and the further from your laptop and your body, the better.

Laptop cooling pads sit between your lap and your laptop, keeping the hot machine off your body. Most cooling pads feature one or more fans, powered via your laptop’s USB port, to draw cool air across the laptop’s bottom and blow hot air away. But all cooling pads are not created equal.

Feel around on your laptop’s bottom after it’s been running for half an hour or so. There will be a hot spot where the CPU resides. You want a cooling pad with a fan near that hot spot.

Choose an aluminum cooling pad over plastic. Metal conducts heat away from a laptop rapidly, while plastic is an insulator that actually traps heat. Metal is also more durable.

Keep your laptop cool and it will last longer and perform better.

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at

{ 1 comment }

Dan Kurahashi 01.24.11 at 10:21 am

David you are right about Aluminum cooling pad. I use Koolsink ( , no noisy fan, no power used, just simple and effective.

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