What to do when your laptop keeps overheating

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If your laptop tends to overheat, you’re probably familiar with the following signs: fans that spin faster than a jet engine, a computer too hot to use on your lap, and the general feeling that your machine is fighting for its life. Constant overheating is no way to live with a laptop—in fact, you can help cool it down using different methods.

Why Laptops Overheat (And Why It’s A Problem)

An overheating laptop is more than a comfort issue. If your laptop gets too hot, it can actually prevent the machine from performing as well as it should. It’s because the processor, which acts as a kind of “brain” of your computer, and the GPU (the chip controlling your computer’s graphics) should not get too hot. If these processors were allowed to get as hot as possible unchecked, it would permanently damage or ruin the chips.

Once the components reach a certain temperature, usually above 90°C, the system begins to slow down its peak speeds and performance in an attempt to cool things down. It’s great for preserving those computer components, because they might fry otherwise, but it’s not great for your ability to get things done.

If you’re just sending emails and doing light browsing, you might not notice the throttling too much. But if you rely on your computer’s speed to get things done, these slowdowns can be a pain.

How to keep your laptop cool

There are several ways to keep things cool on your laptop; Although not all methods work for all machines, these steps can help reduce the temperature of your computer, while increasing overall performance.

Check the fans

One of the ways many laptops keep their components cool is through the use of fans. Your computer can be especially curious when the fans kick into high gear. The idea here is to take cool air from the room and pump hot air away from the machine. Over time, however, dust builds up on the fans and eventually diminishes their ability to move air in and out of the laptop. Fans work overtime, components don’t cool, so your machine slows down to reduce heat.

The first thing to do is to clean your laptop’s air vents with a can of compressed air. If the dust and debris aren’t too heavy, this non-invasive procedure can quickly help your laptop cool down again.

If things are still too hot and your laptop is easy enough to open, you have access to fans. From there you can use a brush, compressed air or a vacuum cleaner to gently repel dust and debris. If you don’t know how to properly open your laptop, there’s probably a tutorial online on how to open your specific model.

Of course, not all laptops have fans. If you have a MacBook Air, Chromebook, or other thin and light laptop which do not have a fan-cooling, you’ll want to consider other alternatives here.

Pay attention to your surface

Your laptop needs a flat, cool surface for optimal performance. If it has fans, that’s helpful for air circulation, but the heat will dissipate more easily when the laptop touches such a surface.

However, soft, uneven surfaces, such as sheets, pillows, or rugs, are not good for heat management. Soft materials can block vents, hindering the fans’ ability to circulate air through your machine. These materials are also inefficient at dissipating heat, which means heat will build up in your laptop.

As a general rule, place your laptop on a hard surface—tables, counters, desks, etc. You can also hang your laptop on a stand or use a laptop cooling pad to facilitate air circulation.

Thermal paste and thermal pads

Thermal paste allows heat from your CPU and GPU to move more efficiently to the heat sink, which keeps things cool. Thermal pads, on the other hand, help draw heat away from the heatsink, so the two thermal tools work well together. Let’s start with thermal paste: Although all laptops come with thermal paste out of the box, the paste weakens over time. Also, sometimes the paste used when crafting isn’t ideal or isn’t applied effectively, so you’re at a disadvantage right from the start.

Reapply thermal paste is not an easy task, although, especially if you’re not used to opening up laptops and tinkering around inside them. Once you open your laptop and gain access to the CPU and GPU, you will need to remove the previous layer of thermal paste and apply a new layer.

You can apply thermal paste to virtually any device with a CPU and GPU. However, the harder these devices are to open, the trickier the process. Some laptops are designed to be easy to use; others, like MacBooks, are notoriously difficult to open. To make matters worse, most MacBooks have their CPUs and GPUs facing away from the backplate, which means you have to take the whole machine apart, then flip the board, just to gain access to the processors.

Application of thermal pads, on the other hand, is often much easier. Linus Tech Tips improved the performance of the fanless MacBook Air M1 by simply adding thermal pads to the device’s heatsink. While significantly increasing the base temperatures of the MacBook Air, it actually beat the MacBook Pro M1 with its fan cooling system in a stress test.

Whether you’re looking to add thermal pads, apply thermal paste, or do both, your best bet is to research a tutorial for your specific laptop, just as you would for any repair.

do less

It’s natural for us to push our computers, especially if we’re multi-tasking. The above methods should naturally improve your device’s performance, so you might be able to run more apps anyway. However, even with these cooling strategies, your laptop may not be able to handle the multitude of programs you are running at any given time.

If you keep too many Chrome tabs open, for example, try to keep open only the ones you really need. Iif you don’t need to keep your game The Sims in the background while you work, keep it closed until it’s time to play again. IIf you want to edit a video, but the overheating is causing slowdowns, try closing all applications except those needed for the editing project.

Being aware of how you use your laptop can go a long way in keeping things cool, especially the longer you keep your machine on.

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