Langa Letter: Curing Laptop Overheating - InformationWeek
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2/10/2005
02:50 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: Curing Laptop Overheating

Sometimes, Fred Langa says, fixing a too-hot laptop/notebook computer is as simple as "Whooosh!"

Our test case is a high-mileage IBM ThinkPad that's been used almost literally every day for several years.

(click image for larger view)


Our test case is a high-mileage IBM ThinkPad that's been used almost literally every day for several years.
Real-Life Example: Cleaning A Laptop's Cooling System
Consider this test case: An IBM ThinkPad that's several years old. It's my personal laptop; it's used almost literally every day.

As with almost all hardware work, your job will go smoother and be easier if you work in a clean, well-lighted area. Because you'll be peering into small openings on your laptop, you may also find it useful to have a bright flashlight on hand, in addition to bright ambient lighting.

With the laptop shut off (not "suspended," "sleeping" or "hibernating;" but shut down all the way), start by unplugging all cables from the unit, and then remove the battery pack, which usually is on the bottom or in the side of the laptop. (Check your owner's manual for exact instructions.)


With the laptop shut down completely, unplug all cables and remove the battery pack, following the instructions in your owner's manual.

(click image for larger view)

With the laptop shut down completely, unplug all cables and remove the battery pack, following the instructions in your owner's manual.

Start with a thorough visual inspection of all the laptop's case openings, and make a mental note of any dust and dirt accumulations.

First, find the air exhaust, intake, and fans(s), if any. On this laptop, the exhaust is on a rear corner of the case; the intake is on the bottom of the unit, and there is one fan in the intake, blowing cool air into the system. Other laptops place the fan on the exhaust side of the air path, sucking warm air out of the case; still others use more than one fan.

Note the dust on our test system (see photo): Six of the small exhaust openings are substantially blocked with fine, gray dust, and there's more dust visible on the heat sink fins, behind the plastic grill.

Half a dozen of this laptop's exhaust openings show significant dust blockage.
Half a dozen of this laptop's exhaust openings show significant dust blockage.

(click image for larger view)

The intake area also shows visible dust buildup (although it's harder to see in the photo). There's a modest accumulation of dust on the top edges of the fan blades; around the edge of the circular opening; and on some of the plastic grillwork that's directly over the fan.



Several of the intake openings also show dust buildup; and dust is clinging to the leading edges of the fan blades as well.

(click image for larger view)

Several of the intake openings also show dust buildup; and dust is clinging to the leading edges of the fan blades as well.

While the inlets, outlets, and fan are the obvious places to look, be sure to check any and all other openings in the laptop. For example, the docking port opening on our test system shows a light dust buildup.

Laptops often have many openings, any of which may be susceptible to dust buildup. Here, the docking port opening on our test system shows a light dust accumulation.
Laptops often have many openings, any of which may be susceptible to dust buildup. Here, the docking port opening on our test system shows a light dust accumulation.

(click image for larger view)

Similarly, the card slots, network plug openings, floppy and CD drive openings and the like also need inspection: A flashlight or other bright light source may help you peer inside the smaller/darker openings without having to take anything apart. Make a mental note of any locations where you find a dust build-up.


Be sure to check the card slots, network plug openings, floppy and CD drive openings, and so on. A pencil eraser can help open access doors that are too small for your fingers (but don't let the metal ferrule contact anything inside the system). A flashlight or other bright light also will help you to see inside.

(click image for larger view)

Be sure to check the card slots, network plug openings, floppy and CD drive openings, and so on. A pencil eraser can help open access doors that are too small for your fingers (but don't let the metal ferrule contact anything inside the system). A flashlight or other bright light also will help you to see inside.

Laptop hard drives and RAM banks are heat producers, and a layer of dust can act like a sweater, trapping heat inside. If these components are readily accessible on your system, you can carefully remove their access covers to see if any dust is accumulating there. Be sure you only look; don't touch, as these components are static-sensitive.

If you wish, you can carefully remove the access covers for the laptop's RAM and hard drive. These delicate electronic devices are static-sensitive, so don't touch them: Just open the access ports and look to see if any dust is accumulating around these heat-producing parts. (Note: In this and some of the other photos accompanying this article, some personally identifying information on the laptop has been blurred.)
If you wish, you can carefully remove the access covers for the laptop's RAM and hard drive. These delicate electronic devices are static-sensitive, so don't touch them: Just open the access ports and look to see if any dust is accumulating around these heat-producing parts. (Note: In this and some of the other photos accompanying this article, some personally identifying information on the laptop has been blurred.)

(click image for larger view)

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