Langa Letter: Curing Laptop Overheating - InformationWeek

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Fred Langa
Fred Langa

Langa Letter: Curing Laptop Overheating

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

Wrapping Up
Replace any covers or access panels you previously removed, and reinstall the battery pack. When the laptop is right-side up, you may wish to use some of your remaining compressed air to blow out the keyboard area. Cotton swabs also can help clean any other cracks and crevices around the screen or keyboard.

You also may wish to use a soft, slightly dampened cloth to wipe down the case and screen; be very careful not to rub hard on the screen, which may be vulnerable to scratching or breaking; and use care not to let any liquid drip into any part of the laptop.

On my laptops over the years, I've had good luck with plastic-treatment products such as "Armor All." Used sparingly (no drips!), it's improved the contrast on my displays by helping to reduce the appearance of the fine scratches that can accumulate on a laptop's screen; these scratches scatter light. After treatment, with less light being scattered, the whole display looks better. But different laptops are made from different plastics, and I can make no guarantees about how your system will respond: If you want to try this, you're on your own: Experiment carefully on an inconspicuous spot before trying a large area, and, again, use extreme caution not to allow any liquid to drip anywhere into your laptop.

When you're done cleaning, fire up the laptop, preferably on AC power, so it will run at full speed and produce maximum heat. Listen carefully: The fans should operate as they did before. For example, if your fans always came on at initial startup, at least for a few seconds, make sure you hear them spinning during this startup. Or, if your fans normally would come on after, say, five minutes of full-power operation, wait the full five minutes to ensure the fans are now working properly.

If they're not, try a simple fix: With the laptop turned on and running, very, very slowly and carefully move it--no sharp jolts or fast, sudden moves!--so you have access to the fan. Using one of your cotton swabs from before, gently nudge the fan blades in the proper direction. Sometimes, that's all a fan needs to get going after it's been stuck: It may then spin normally for a long time to come.

But if not, your laptop needs service; it should not be used with a dead fan, or permanent damage may occur. If your laptop is out of warranty and you're mechanically handy, you may be able to open the case, remove the dead fan, and install a replacement yourself. But if the laptop is in warranty or if you're unsure of your abilities, call for professional help in replacing the fan.

When your laptop is running OK, use a thermal monitoring tool, such as the free SpeedFan utility, which lets you monitor the temperatures, fan speeds, and voltages inside many systems. (Not all SpeedFan features work on all systems, but the temperature monitoring--which is the most-important function--works on the majority of systems equipped with thermal sensors.) A tool like this can help you understand your system's thermal performance; and give you early warning to impending problems in the future.

In any case, with the fans spinning normally, and with your laptop's cooling system now dust-free and unobstructed, your portable PC should now run cooler--and maybe quieter--than before!

What's your take? What tools, tricks and techniques do you use to keep your laptop running smoothly? Join in the discussion!

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Fred Langa's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Fred Langa, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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