Signs and Dangers of Laptops Overheating

Quick action when your laptop overheats prevents long-term thermal damage

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Unlike most desktop PCs, a laptop's hardware components are in close proximity to each other with little room for air movement. Because they're prone to overheating, watching for the signs of thermal stress and protecting the laptop's fans from blockage protect your device against irreparable damage.

Risks of Overheating Laptops

A laptop that's too hot can actually scald you. Sony recalled thousands of VAIO laptops because of possible burn hazards. There's also some indication that working with a hot laptop in your lap 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

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

These issues could be from other causes, but they may point to an overheating issue, especially in combination with the laptop feeling more than warm.

  • The fan is constantly running and making loud whirring noises
  • The computer is struggling to perform basic tasks like opening a new browser window
  • Non-specific or unexpected error messages
  • Lines appear on your laptop screen
  • The system freezes or kicks a 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 your laptop to prevent further overheating damage.

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. Maintaining one of those programs on your computer offers 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

When your laptop overheats, prompt action is warranted. The simplest solution is to just take a break from using it. Power it down and put it in a cool, dry location until it's completely cool to the touch, then wait ten more minutes.

Keep the laptop positioned on a flat, hard surface while you're using it. Sitting it on any soft surface (your lap, your bed, the couch, etc.) for an extended period of time can block the fan and make it harder for the internal parts to remain cool, particularly when you've put a blanket on your lap.

Replace the battery if it's unable to hold a charge for very long. Defective batteries usually just wear out, but sometimes a battery with impact or thermal damage overheats—sometimes, catastrophically.

Try not to use your laptop while it's charging. Many laptops will run off battery all the time, and the charger tops it off. The issue is that draining the battery (using the laptop) causes some heat, and charging it can cause much more. Combine that with the heat of the components (CPU, etc.) and a perfectly functional laptop has heat issues during in-use charging.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • If using your laptop portably (kitchen table, etc), when the battery runs low, plug it in and take a break while it charges.
  • If using your laptop constantly at a desk, take the battery out while you're using it
  • In general, only charge the laptop battery until it's full, then unplug from the charger (or remove the battery as above).

You can also put your laptop into power save mode (from the Power Options Control Panel applet) to prevent it from using more power. This mode restricts certain background tasks, reducing processor draw and energy consumption and thus minimizing heat generation. Similarly, 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

Consider buying a laptop cooler to promote circulation and heat exchange, and blow out any dust or debris that's accumulated inside the fan intakes.

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