Guide to Cooling Down Your Notebook Computer

by Reads (142,627)

by Charles Jefferies

Does your notebook run hot or overheat? If it does, you are not alone. This guide is designed to help you reduce the temperature of your notebook considerably, all for little or no money and a few tweaks.

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for any damages caused if you use this guide.  Be careful and all will be fine, but do proceed at your own risk!

Step 1: Fan Cleaning

Cost: $0-$7

Time: 10 to 15 Minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Applies to: Everyone

Maintaining your notebook is important. The occasional wipe down is good, but that doesn’t take care of the inside. Dust accumulates inside the notebook’s cooling system after a while. It prevents air from flowing freely and traps heat.

In order to get the dust out, you need a few supplies. The best way to get the heat out is with some canned compressed air, but that will cost you about $5 – $7 per can, depending on the store. It is well worth the money in my opinion. It can also be used to blow out the keyboard and other places in and on your notebook, such as ports. A cheaper but less effective way of getting dust out is by using a cotton swab and a handheld vacuum cleaner. I will show you how to do both.

Before you start, turn off the notebook completely, unplug it from the wall, and take out the battery. Push down the power button a few times to drain any electricity running around.

You must open up your notebook to access the fan(s). Turn the notebook upside down, and look for the compartment(s) where the fan(s) are. I suggest placing a towel under your notebook so the top doesn’t get scratched. Unscrew all the screws holding down the compartment and carefully remove it. Place it and the screws in a safe place where they won’t roll away.


CPU Fan vent (view large image)

With the internals of your notebook exposed, don’t touch any of them — oil from your hands is not good to get on the components, and you want to minimize the risk of damaging anything.


The internal components exposed. (view large image)

Using canned air:

Open the package, read the directions on how to use the canned air — it is very straightforward — point and shoot. Before you start blasting the air into your notebook, squirt it a couple of times to get any moisture out of the nozzle. Once nothing but air comes out of the can, then you are ready to start. Hold the nozzle about 1-2 inches away from the fans and other dust-coated components and use quick bursts to blow any crud off. Be sure to blow out the fan and heat vents too, not just the physical fan. That’s all you need to do. Some packages of canned air come with a plastic tube which you can insert into the nozzle. It helps concentrate the airflow. I recommend using this if your package has it — you can get hard to reach places easier and it is more effective.

Using cotton swabs:

Take the cotton swabs and brush off all the fan blades and anything else that has dust on it. Once the swab is coated in dust, flick it with your fingers to clear the dust off of it. Don’t use the same swab the whole time, get a new one after a couple of uses.

When you are finished, get the handheld vacuum cleaner and suck up all the dust. Don’t touch the notebook with the vacuum. Use your lung power to blow out the dust and help the vacuum cleaner as well. Repeat the steps above if there is still dust you missed in there. Get out as much as you can.

Number Two: Cooling Pad

Cost: $15-$30

Time: 1-2 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Applies to: Everyone

A cooling pad is the best possible investment you can make for cooling down your computer. They increase the airflow under the computer, and greatly help the cooling system.

There are many different coolers on the market. I will be reviewing two here:

Testing:

I tested each cooler with my notebook’s CPU undervolted and no Arctic Silver coolant applied (more on that later). The load temperature was measured while running 3DMark05. The room temperature was about 66 F during these tests.

To see how well each cooler worked, I measured my standard temperatures while the notebook sat on a marble countertop. Standard temperatures:

Idle: 46 Celsius CPU, 49 Celsius HDD

Under Load: 57 Celsius CPU, 52 Celsius HDD

Targus Chillmat

This is a simple, no-frills cooler with a basic design and quiet operation. It is lightweight, easy to transport, and draws its power from a USB port. I purchased my Chillmat from Best Buy for $29.99 — it can be had for cheaper online, just shop around.


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Constructed entirely of plastic, it has two fairly large fans in the center and rubber knob-things on the top to suspend your notebook off the surface. The overall build is quite durable and sturdy — it won’t flex if you try to bend it. It serves as a great platform to put a notebook on in your lap.

Testing:

Idle: 42 C CPU, 45 C HDD

Under Load: 58 C CPU, 49 C HDD

The Targus Chillmat did a pretty good job of cooling down my notebook. With the notebook in an idle state, the hard drive dropped a full four degrees. The hard drive is located at the front of my notebook, so it is hard to cool down. The idle state CPU saw a drop in temperature as well. Normally at 46 C at idle, I saw a 4 C drop to 42 C using the Chillmat. The area around the vicinity of the CPU stayed noticeably cooler.


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One aspect of the Chillmat that I thought could be improved is the efficiency. The fans on the Chillmat are designed to draw air from the underside of the notebook and thrust it out the back. It would be better if the designers had focused on drawing heat from the back of the notebook and helping carry it away. It seems to me, just a higher velocity airflow across the bottom surface of the notebook would be more beneficial than a slow draw downward. The notebook gets cooler because of the air pushed upward by the fans, not the air pulled in.

I’d recommend the Targus Chillmat to those wanting a simple, quiet cooling solution that is easy to transport. It works well, especially for those who like to put their notebook on their lap.

Pros: Quiet, durable, and easy to transport. USB powered. Simple design.

Cons: Cooling could be more efficient.

Spire Pacific Breeze

The Spire Pacific Breeze cooler is a rectangular, blocky unit with two case fans (essentially) embedded in either end, which take in air from above and thrust it out the bottom. The case fans have bright blue LEDs embedded in them — you like them or you don’t. It’s not very portable, but it is durable. Power is provided by a USB port.


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The Pacific Breeze did an excellent job of keeping my notebook cool, but with some compromises. Take a look at the tests first:

Testing:

Idle: 37 C CPU, 42 C HDD

Load: 56 C CPU, 44 C HDD

Air comes out of the Pacific Breeze very fast, and in great volume. This could even qualify as a desk fan. The combination of a lot of air moving quickly across the bottom of my notebook does wonders for heat reduction. My CPU temperature is exceptionally low, and the hard drive is well below the standard temp. The functionality of the cooler is great, but the practicality isn’t. It’s loud — very loud. There are two settings for the fan speed, low and high. On low, the noise is very audible, and can be disruptive depending on the environment you’re in. It basically sounds like a low-powered hair dryer. Forget about going to sleep with this in your room. On high, the sound increases considerably, I’d estimate by about one-third. Think of this as a hair dryer on medium. The sound is also more high-pitched…the low speed sounds like a growl.


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My second point can be a compromise, depending on what kind of person you are. If you like LED lights and like to have a cool-looking setup, they’re great. If you don’t care about looks, well, the lights can be annoying. They cast a faded, cool blue light all around the area of your notebook. Decide for yourself whether you like them or not.

Pros: Does an exceptional cooling job. Cheap and simple. USB powered.

Cons: Very loud. Blue LEDs can be annoying.

Number Three: Undervolting

Cost: $0

Time: 10-15 min (install, set voltage), 1.5-2.5 hours to test

Difficulty: Moderate-Hard

Applies to: Technical/More Advanced users

This is not a step everyone can use — my guide only applies to an Intel Pentium M (Sonoma) processor.

Undervolting is a no-cost way of cutting down heat and power consumption in your notebook by reducing the amount of CPU voltage. It also increases battery life.

You will need a program to undervolt — I will be using Notebook Hardware Control (NHC) for my Intel Pentium M 750 (1.86GHz) CPU.

Once installed, run NHC and go to the CPU Voltage tab. Here you will see the multipliers on the left, and the voltage for that multiplier on the right. What needs to be changed is the voltage. Make sure all your other running programs are closed, and that you won’t need to use the notebook for a couple hours — the new voltages you set must be tested for stability.

Most people can take down the voltage by .200V; my notebook has been stable for months. I don’t guarantee that yours will be able to do the same, all are different.

Set each of the multipliers down by .200V. After you set each multiplier, hit “Set” to do a short stability test. You’ll need to restart your computer if for some reason it freezes up. Each short test takes thirty seconds. Once you have set all the multipliers, I recommend doing the full stability test.


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Depending on how high or low-clocked your Pentium M is, it can take between three and four hours to do a full test. If done correctly and successfully, undervolting can take off several degrees from your CPU, and add a noticeable amount of battery life. My Pentium M 1.86GHz, without undervolting and not on a cooling pad, normally runs at 52 C. When undervolted, I lost six degrees, and am now running at 46 C. Not only Pentium Ms can be undervolted; look into whether or not your processor can.

Step Four: Arctic Silver 5

Cost: $7-$30

Time: 20-40 minutes to apply

Difficulty: Hard

Applies to: Advanced users

Arctic Silver 5 (AS5) is a thermal compound made of 99.9% pure silver. It can take off up to ten degrees from your CPU, which is substantial. Keep in mind that this isn’t the easiest option, but can yield excellent results if done right.

Before you buy AS5, make sure you can get direct access to your CPU. If you cannot, then this step is not possible.


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A view of my notebook’s CPU with the heatsink removed.

Turn off your notebook, unplug it, and remove the battery and bottom compartments to access the CPU. You may need to remove the heatsink or fan assemblies above the CPU. The rest of the procedure can be found on Arctic Silver’s website in thorough detail, more than I could type up for you here. Link to procedure.

After allowing the Arctic Silver 5 thermal compound to set for the recommended 200 hours, I have seen a 3 C drop in temperature — it gets better over time. Up to seven degrees can be taken off.

I also noticed a difference in the amount of heat put off at full throttle. My notebook’s fans do not come on nearly as often as they used to because the peak temperature is lower by 2 C.

Conclusion

After cleaning out the fans, getting a cooling pad, undervolting the processor and applying Arctic Silver 5 thermal compound, the results have been more than impressive for my notebook. Originally, I had a 46 C CPU temperature at idle, and the hard drive 49 C. After doing all of the above, my temperatures are down to 36 C CPU, and 42 C HDD. That’s a 26.5% drop in the CPU, and a 14.3% loss in hard drive temperature. Hopefully, you will be able to achieve some of the same results I did. The time and effort are well worth it if you have a hot notebook, or even a modestly warm one. At most, you’re looking at spending around $50 if you opt for the more expensive Targus ChillMat; I spent a total of $31 for canned air, a Pacific Breeze cooler, and a small tube of thermal compound.

Anyone up for a weekend project?

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