The Problem With Overheating Laptops

Dangers and Reasons Why Laptops Overheat

Laptop smoking
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Laptops are unfortunately prone to overheating. Unlike desktop PCs, a laptop's hardware components are in close proximity to each other with little room for air movement.

Plus, as a computer gets older, the components work less efficiently and can overheat easier. Also with time is the unfortunate fact that the inside of the case collects dust and other debris from the surroundings, which if left uncleaned, can force the fan and other parts to overwork.

The current trend towards miniaturization - stuffing faster processors into ever smaller cases - is also increasing the potential for laptops to overheat. In fact, researchers who are trying to solve the problem with nanoelectronics are predicting that if this continues, laptops will be as hot as the sun in a decade or two.

In other words, hot laptops are a real problem!

Dangers of Overheating Laptops

Even if it isn't running at 6,000 degrees Celsius, if your laptop overheats, it can do some serious damage to both your body and the internal hardware.

A laptop that's too hot can actually scald you. Sony recalled thousands of VAIO laptops due to possible burn hazards. There's also some indication that working with a hot laptop in your lap, where they were designed to be, can potentially cause male infertility.

Regarding the device itself, operating a laptop at very high temperatures leads to failed hardware components (video cards, motherboards, memory modules, hard drives and more are susceptible to damage) and decreases the lifespan of your computer.

It can also be a fire hazard; faulty laptops have actually burned down houses.

Signs of Laptop Overheating

So, what's the difference between an overheating laptop and one that's just a little hot? What about using laptop when it's hot outside - is that okay? It's important in any scenario to keep a watchful eye on what a hot laptop looks and feels like.

If your laptop feels hot and shows any of the problems below, chances are it's overheating or getting there:

  • The fan is constantly running and making loud whirring noises
  • The computer is struggling to perform basic tasks like opening a new browser window
  • Mysterious error messages are popping up in random programs
  • Lines are showing up on your laptop screen (a sign your video card is overheating)
  • The system is freezing or you're getting the dreaded BSOD (Blue Screen of Death)
  • The laptop abruptly shuts down on its own
  • Certain areas of the bottom of the laptop are hot, like where the fan, RAM, processor, or battery are located

If your laptop is overheating, take steps immediately to cool down your laptop and prevent further overheating damage.

Note: Some of these signs just indicate slow or outdated software. For instance, a computer that has problems running certain applications doesn't necessarily mean that it's too hot, especially if it doesn't even feel hot to the touch.

How to Test the Internal Temperature of Your Laptop

If your laptop is just plain hot, find out if it's running too hot by using a free program to check the internal laptop temperature and find its optimal temperature.

Some system information tools support temperature readings too.

On that note, having one of those programs on your computer has the added benefit of letting you check up other stats about your computer and not just the temperature of the internal components.

What to Do When a Laptop Gets Too Hot

There are a number of things you can do to address an overheating laptop. Here are some suggestions:

  • The simplest solution is to just take a break from using it. If you've been on your laptop for six hours non-stop, it's not uncommon for it to get hot
  • Keep the laptop positioned on a flat, hard surface. Sitting it on your lap for an extended period of time can block the fan and make it harder for the internal parts to remain cool
  • Replace the battery if it's unable to hold a charge for very long
  • Put your laptop into power save mode (from the Power Options Control Panel applet) to prevent it from using more power, which can make the battery area hotter than it needs to be
  • Shut down programs that use lots of system resources. Something that's using most of your RAM or CPU, or is always writing to the hard drive, forces those components to work, which can make them hot over time
  • Buy a laptop cooler to sit your laptop on
  • Open the laptop and blow out all the dust that has collected on the hardware