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Learn to Keep Your Laptop CPU Safe from High Internal Temperatures

written by: John Garger•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 8/10/2010

Laptop CPUs are notorious for overheating for a variety of reasons. Learn about the most common causes of overheating laptops and how you can keep your laptop's CPU temperature within a comfortable range.

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    Laptops are expensive investments that are vulnerable to damage from accidental drops, scrapes, and misuse. However, what’s going on inside of your notebook computer can cause costly damage and force you to either abandon the laptop and buy a new one, or incur expensive repairs to fix it.

    The CPU (or processor) is one of the most expensive components in your laptop. It is prone to overheating and is both difficult and costly to replace if it is damaged. Keeping your laptop’s CPU cool is a sure way to avoid having to replace it if it is subjected to too much heat over a long period of time. Overheating can greatly reduce the life of the CPU and force you to invest in a new laptop sooner than you may have wanted. The graphics processor, or GPU, is also expensive to replace and can often run to hot.

    This article discusses four things you can do to keep your laptop’s CPU cool and ensure that it doesn’t conk out before its time. Luckily, it costs either nothing or very little to make sure your notebook’s CPU does not overheat. These tips can all be applied to and also benefit the GPU.

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    Check the CPU Fan in Your Laptop to Make Sure It Is Working and Clear of Debris

    Laptop CPU Fan Like desktop computers, many laptops use a heatsink and fan combination to cool a CPU from the heat it generates. Unfortunately, there is little room to work with in a laptop meaning that both the heatsink and fan are quite small. Your laptop may have been designed to work with such a small cooling unit, but it may be operating at the top of heat threshold.

    For maximum cooling, make sure that your laptop’s CPU cooler is working. Fans for a laptop’s CPU are small but they are also cheap, usually costing only a few dollars. However, these fans are not only cheap in price but in quality as well. Often, laptop CPU fans stop working leaving the heatsink as the only barrier between a working CPU and one that will overheat. If you laptop is suddenly quieter than you remember, check to be sure that the CPU fan is still spinning.

    Laptops see far more environmental changes than their desktop big brothers. Moving the laptop from place to place exposes it to far more dirt, dust, and unclean air. The result can be a CPU and cooler that are caked with debris. This can have several results. First, it may not be operating at full capacity in terms of airflow because the fan’s blades are filled with dust and cannot spin as fast. Second, debris on a laptop’s CPU fan can cause a bottleneck in the fan’s airspace causing greatly reduced airflow. Finally, the dust forms an increasingly thick blanket on the surface of the heatsink, interfering with how much heat is allowed to escape.

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    Power Down Other Components in Your Laptop to Keep the CPU Cool

    A CPU can only be as cool as the ambient temperature surrounding it. Hot air around the CPU means that your notebook’s CPU is not as cool as it could be. The result is a CPU operating at a temperature higher than it could be which can, if high enough, shorten the life of a CPU.

    Although the CPU is likely the number one heat-generating component in your laptop, other components can generate quite a bit of heat too. In particular, your notebook’s hard drive is probably the number two heat-generating component. A hot hard drive increases the ambient temperature in your laptop and reduces the amount of cooling that the CPU’s heatsink and fan can accomplish.

    However, hard drives aren’t the only contributors to rising ambient temperature within your laptop. Spinning optical drives such as DVD-ROMS and Blu-Ray drives can add quite a bit of heat to the inside of a laptop. Even external devices such as USB drives can increase the temperature inside your notebook by a few degrees.

    To keep your laptop CPU cool, unplug any devices you will not be using for a while and remove any optical media such as CDs, DVDs, and others from their drives to prevent them from spinning up and increasing the heat inside your notebook.

    Although you cannot remove your laptop’s internal hard drive, you can tell the operating system to power the hard disk down when it has not been accessed for a specified amount of time. This is especially good advice if you leave your notebook plugged in but unattended for a long time. There is no reason to leave your laptop’s hard drive spinning and adding heat inside of the computer if you are not using it. Also, should you bump into the table on your way back to the laptop, a stationary disc is far less likely to have issues from shock or drop than a spinning one.

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    Keep Your Notebook CPU Temperature Cool by Monitoring the Environment and Using a Laptop PadAlthough your notebook uses a heatsink and fan to keep its CPU cool, there are two things you can do help keep the temperature down inside of your notebook computer. Using a Laptop Pad and thinking carefully about the environment in which you use your laptop can help keep your laptop’s CPU cool and lengthen the life of your notebook computer. Learn how to keep a laptop cool and prevent the CPU from overheating.
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    Monitor Your Laptop’s Environment to Keep Its CPU Cool

    As mentioned above, laptop’s see far more environments than desktop computers. When you take your notebook computer with you on the road, to work, or to school, try to remember to consider where your laptop is located while you are using it.

    Using the laptop near a direct heat source such as outside with the sun beating down on it or near a heat register can greatly increase the temperature inside the computer. This is especially true if you live in an area that often experiences high temperatures. What is a normal environment to you may be at the fringe or over the line of the heat threshold recommended by both the CPU and laptop manufacturer’s recommended operating environment.

    Finally, be prepared to clean your laptop computer from time to time. Like a car, all computers require some basic maintenance and tune-ups occasionally. If you are uncomfortable doing it yourself, consider hiring a computer technician to open up and clean the inside casing of your laptop. You’d be surprised how easily your laptop can become overridden by dust and other small particles.

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    Buy a Laptop Pad to Keep Your Notebook Computer Cool

    Laptop Pad from XPad There is actually one piece of hardware you can buy to help keep your laptop’s internal environment cool. Investment in a Laptop Pad is probably the smartest thing you can do to ensure a long life for your notebook’s CPU.

    The Laptop Pad serves two functions. First, it helps to draw heat from the laptop through conduction between the bottom of your notebook and the laptop pad. If you have ever used your laptop on your lap, you know that your computer can throw a lot of heat out of the bottom of your notebook. Second, the laptop pad acts as a barrier between the heat generated by you notebook computer and your body. If you often use your laptop in your lap, a laptop pad is necessary.

    One of the most popular laptop pads on the market is Edova Innovations’ XPad. The XPad is a non-slip laptop cooler but it acts as a heat shield between you and your notebook computer. At just US$19.95, it is a wise investment that serves several functions beyond just helping to keep your CPU cool.

    ThermalTake Massive23 St Notebook Cooler Some Laptop Pads incorporate fans in them to maximize the amount cooling to the bottom of the notebook computer. However, these types of Laptop Pads are not intended to be used on your lap, and will eat into battery life if used on the go; they are bulky desktop models but they do serve their purpose well. Thermaltake’s Massive23 ST Notebook Cooler is an example of such a desk laptop cooler. At US$38.99, it represents a much larger investment.

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    The CPU in your laptop is one of the most expensive components to replace if the processor overheats and is damaged as a result. Even if the processor does not sustain damage, an overheating processor is the cause of several problems that can be downright frustrating to troubleshoot and fix. Follow the advice in this article and your notebook’s processor will stay cool and last longer.