Why is my laptop so Hot, How to Diagnose and Fix?

Ways to prevent your laptop from overheating

One of the worse things that can happen is for your computer to shut down right when you most need it. The tell tale signs were there but who knew…The fan was noisy, running on high speed all the time and your notebook was getting so hot you would think that something will start to melt any second.

As dust continued to accumulate inside the base, the overheating became worse and finally one day it just stopped working.

Fact:Even though all electronics work at higher temperatures after they run for a while they are not supposed to be on fire

This post is for those of that are wondering “why is my laptop so hot” and want to know what can be done in terms of maintenance and care and how to avoid doing it in order to try to save some money in the future on the repairs.

How does a laptop cooling system work?

Now…first of all let us try to understand what happens exactly when your system turns itself off due to overheating and then we will look into what to do to fix it and also at how to minimize the chances of this happening in the future.

Both Apple Mac and Windows systems have a cooling system that prevents the processor , the BGA and the GPU(graphics chip) among other components from heating too much. To put things in perspective, generally a notebook’s processor runs absolutely fine if the temperature is kept under 60 degrees Celsius.

The reason why laptops get hotter than desktop PCs is because all the components are smaller and crammed together inside what is effectively a plastic box. Since there is not a lot of space left inside there is no room for the warm air to dissipate.

Over the years software got more advanced and the hardware more powerful and as beautiful as that sounds the overall requirements have also increased. The more a computer can do, the more a processor needs to do as well which in turn generates more heat.

Some systems have separate cooling units, some have onboard components or add-on cards, but generally speaking laptops have just one cooling unit.

A cooling system has 3 parts: specially made metal plates through which the heat is transferred from the processor, a pipe made of copper(usually) through which the heat is transferred and a fan right at the end for blowing the hot air out and to take cold air in through the air vents.

Overheating problems can happen because of various reasons like a cooling fan not functioning properly or a bad hardware design(it does not happen too often) but most of the times the fault lies with the user.

Keeping your system on a soft surface like the bed, the couch or in your lap will block the intake of cold air through the air vents underneath the laptop and even worse it will bring in a lot of lint, fluff, hair and dust. All of this dust will then be carried away by the fan and deposited on to the air vent’s grill.

Over time, all of this will continue to build up and eventually a thick blanket of dust, lint, hair and fluff will cover the exit grill thorough which the heat is supposed to come out. And the next thing you know the fan becomes noisy and the computer hotter and hotter by the day, because all the air is trapped in while dust keeps on accumulating.

Too much heat can damage electronic components

The motherboard has inbuilt sensors that trigger the speed at which the fan spins based on the temperature recorded. This helps keep the overall temperature down to a manageable level but as dust keeps on building up the fan will have to spin faster to keep the temperature down until it gets to its maximum speed and can no longer control the temperature. When this happens the inbuilt sensors, as a fail safe, will shut down the machine in order to prevent extensive component damage.

This problem has 3 main effects. The first one is obvious, the more heat there is the hotter and noisier your laptop will run and of course as a second effect the laptop will run too hot and shut down. But the 3rd effect is the worse. Heat damages electronic components and solder connections and usually the first ones that become faulty are the hard drive and the main BGA and GPU chips

A quick explanation about how heat can damage the connection between a main chipset and the motherboard is that after the laptop has been shut down, the solder balls under the chipsets, due to so much heat start to crack once they cool down. Usually this is enough to happen once but as this is a process that takes some time to fully damage this type of connections, generally it happens over a longer period of time during which the solder joints keep on deteriorating until the connection between that chip and the motherboard is damaged.

Effectively the commands that a computer sends to different components on the motherboard are not processed because of broken solder joints(bad connections) and in turn this stops a computer from turning on or like in the case of a GPU fault the screen will display weird, random characters, coloured lines or nothing will come up on the screen.

So now we know how a cooling system works, what are the main causes of overheating and how too much heat can damage electronic components or connections.

If your laptop got to a stage where due to overheating it is shutting down or it is not starting up anymore, than you either need to strip it down to allow access to the heatsink and fan.A specialist computer technician that knows how to safely disassemble your system and carry out all the necessary repairs is a must if you are not sure what to do.

Tips on how to prevent overheating

Fact:Dust exists everywhere and no matter how careful we try to be, at some point any laptop will have overheating problems.

Another fact though is that there is always something that we can do in order to avoid this kind of problems and this easy steps will go a long way

Keep it on a desk

1.The first and the most obvious but also the most overlooked and usually the main reason why overheating happens is on what you keep your laptop on when it is running. As mentioned above, if the air vents are blocked because you are keeping it on the bed, a lot of fluff will get in and in the end it will clog up the cooling system. So keep it elevated by putting a book underneath it or anything that will not block the vents but keep it elevated

Cooling pads

2.Use a cooling pad. They are specially designed pads intended to protect your system from getting hot all sizes(15”, 17”. Etc), have fans inside and sit beneath the laptop. Of course like for anything else on the market there are better ones from long standing manufacturers like Zalman and other, cheaper brands.

There are 2 types of cooling pads, active coolers that use small fans to generate more air flow and passive coolers that absorb and help dissipate heat.

Use a vacuum cleaner…carefully

3.Another thing that also helps is to use a vacuum to clean out the dust. This really helps early on when only a thin blanket of dust has formed. It is very important NOT to blow air in! It will only move the dust inside the laptop’s base and if there is a thick blanket of dust already formed it will get stuck between the fan’s blades which in turn can damage the fan when maybe there is nothing wrong with it.

Control the fans with software

4.Check BIOS configuration but do it with care. If you do not know what BIOS is then maybe it is better to leave it alone as you can really screw up your computer. BIOS has options that allow users to control how cooling fans work, when they start to spin and also allow for target temperatures to be set.

Another way is to use a software that can control the fans, it will have the same effect as configuring the BIOS settings but it is generally safer to use. Still be careful not to set the target temperature too high.

Background processes

You can very easily open Task Manager to see what processes are running in the background. It will give you a clear picture about how much the CPU(processor) is being used by specific software installed on your computer.

read this article why is my computer so slow for a more in-depth explanation about background processes

I hope that this article helped to clear up some of the questions about why laptops get so hot and that now you will be able to use your system for longer