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Constantly within your computer, disks spin at thousands of revolutions per minute, and electrical power zigzags through labyrinthine circuitry.The CPU is a place especially prone to overheating, as it consists of extremely compact circuitry that is being used at high capacity virtually all the time.
There's a lot of heating going on inside your laptop case, and if there wasn't some mechanism to cool it down, then you wouldn't even be able to touch your laptop, let alone work on it.
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Dangers of Overheating
Overheating poses considerable risk other than some seared fingers, however. If your laptop is simply too uncomfortable to actually have on your lap, then its usefulness has already been compromised somewhat.
Additionally, an overheated CPU is more prone to mistakes, leading to more system freezes and crashes. A consistently hot CPU will also have a shorter lifespan than its cooler counterpart. It will affect basic computer functions as well, such as the quality of LCD screen graphics.
If the CPU is kept cool and well within operating temperature, on the other hand, it's simply going to be more efficient. CPUs that are kept sufficiently cool are easier to overclock, always a plus, and will last a longer amount of time. Expect fewer bugs while you're at it too.
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Keeping It Cool
“Computer cooling” is the broad term used to describe mechanisms to keep your laptop cool, including your CPU. This generally works not by adding something cold into the mix, but by dissipating the heat. more efficiently.
A passive mechanism for doing so is by using heat sinks. While the design of heatsinks can be quite complicated, the basic concept is to maximize the surface area of the laptop through which excess heat will be dissipated. For CPUs in particular, this often means placing it near the corner of a laptop and by creating ridged ventilation patterns on the adjacent surface. Allowing air to simply circulate through the laptop does wonders for internal temperature.
Making sure that air circulation is maintained around the laptop case is also important. Placing the laptop on surfaces that won't wick the heat away is a bad idea. There are many products available to help you along with this, such as cooling pads for laptops, or you can simply have a DIY approach and elevate the laptop slightly in the air using objects from around the house.
Another method, albeit a more active one, is to include a fan in the laptop casing near the CPU. While this might be a bit noisy and ruin a zen moment or two, it's highly effective, and usually only kicks into place when passive methods just aren't good enough.
Of course, both the fan and the heatsink needs to be cleaned on a regular basis to remove any built up dust, which may in turn cause overheating. This can be done yourself, with a little mechanical know how and a bit of common sense, or by a professional.
Just minimizing your CPU usage can also minimize the amount of heat generated. That doesn't mean you have to stop playing processor-intensive games, just that you might want to poke around for some software specifically designed to streamline and control CPU usage.
The design of the CPU itself is always being improved for greater energy efficiency, which in turn decreases the amount of heat. Some creative heatsinks are also being dreamed up, such as this patent for heating of the LCD screen using excess heat from the CPU.