What to Do If Your Laptop Keeps Overheating

If your laptop is prone to overheating, you’re probably familiar with the signs: fans that spin louder than a jet engine, a computer that’s too hot to sit on your lap, and a general feeling that your machine is fighting for its life. Constant overheating is not the way to live with a laptop – in fact, you can help it cool down using a few different methods.

Why laptops overheat (and why it’s a problem)

Laptop overheating is more than a comfort issue. If your laptop gets too hot, it can actually prevent the machine from working properly. This is because the CPU, which acts as the “brain” of your computer, and the GPU (the chip that controls your computer’s graphics) should not overheat. If these processors were allowed to run as hot as possible unhindered, permanent damage or destruction of the chips would result.

As soon as the components reach a certain temperature, usually above 90°C, the system begins to reduce its peak speeds and performance in an attempt to cool the situation. It’s great for saving those compute parts as they might burn out otherwise, but it’s not as good for your ability to complete tasks.

If you’re just sending emails and browsing a bit, you might not notice too much throttling. But if you rely on your computer’s speed, these slowdowns can be painful.

How to keep your laptop cool

There are several ways to cool down a laptop; While not all methods will work for all computers, these steps can help keep your computer’s temperature down while improving overall performance.

Check the fans

One way many laptops keep their components cool is with fans. Your computer can be especially curious when the fans are running at full speed. The idea is to take cold air from the room and pump hot air out of the car. However, over time, dust builds up on the fans, which eventually reduces their ability to move air in and out of the laptop. Fans are running overtime, components aren’t cooling, so your machine is throttling to reduce heat.

The first step is to clean out the vents of your laptop with a can of compressed air. If dust and debris aren’t too bad, this non-invasive procedure can quickly get your laptop back to cooling.

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

Of course, not all laptops have fans. If you have a MacBook Air, Chromebook, or other non-fan cooled thin and light laptop, you should consider other alternatives.

Watch your surface

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

However, soft, uneven surfaces such as sheets, pillows, or carpet are not suitable for heat management. Soft materials can block the vents, preventing the fans from moving air through the machine. These materials also dissipate heat poorly, which means heat will build up in your laptop.

As a rule of thumb, keep your laptop on a hard surface – tables, counters, tables, 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

The thermal paste allows the heat from your CPU and GPU to move more efficiently to the heatsink, which provides cooling. Thermal pads, on the other hand, help move heat away from the heatsink, so the two thermal tools work well together. Let’s start with thermal paste: while all laptops come with thermal paste from the start, the paste will loosen over time. Not only that, sometimes the paste used in production isn’t perfect or applied inefficiently, so you’re at a disadvantage right from the start.

However, reapplying thermal paste is not an easy task, especially if you’re not good at opening laptops and fiddling around inside. After you open your laptop and access 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 almost any device with a CPU and GPU. However, the more difficult it is to open these devices, the more difficult the process. Some laptops are designed to be easy to work with; others, such as the MacBook, are notoriously difficult to open. To make matters worse, most MacBooks have their processors and GPUs facing away from the back, meaning you have to take the whole machine apart and then flip the board over to get to the processors.

On the other hand, applying thermal pads 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 this significantly increased the bottom temperature of the MacBook Air, it actually outperformed the M1 MacBook Pro with its fan-cooled system during the stress test.

Whether you want to add thermal pads, apply thermal paste, or do both, your best bet is to find the manual for your particular laptop, as you would for any repair.

do less

It’s natural for us to push our computers, especially if we’re doing multiple things at the same time. The above methods should boost your device’s performance naturally, so you’ll still be able to run more apps. However, even with these cooling strategies, your laptop may not be able to handle the multitude of programs you have running at any given moment.

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

Being mindful of how you use your laptop can go a long way in keeping you cool, especially if you keep your machine longer.

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