Sometimes my laptop heats up too much and it will shut down my computer (it also burns my legs if it's on my lap). Nothing permanent has happened yet, but I'm afraid that it will sometime. I use it in different places around my house, usually at my desk or on my lap if I'm in a recliner. I try to stay in places where it is cool around me, but this only helps a little bit. I also have a cooling fan stand at one of the tables I sit at, but this obviously down work when I have the laptop on my lap.

Is there an easy way to keep my computer cool when it is on a table or on my lap?

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Vacuum the vents

The fans are designed to keep the components of your laptop cool. When the inside gets inevitably dusty, the fans have to work harder to be less effective. In the worst of cases, it'll look like this:

Blocked airflow - clogged laptop vents

In most laptops, using a vacuum from the outside will be strong enough to get most, if not all, of the dust. If you're comfortable doing so, I would still recommend taking it apart though.

Place it on a book (or clipboard) on top of your lap

The fans are designed to blow hot air either to the back or to the sides, and suck air in also from either the sides or back. Placing the laptop directly on a fabric surface plugs the vents. Placing the laptop on a book, clipboard, or other hard surface between you and your lap will allow the vents to do their job.

  • 2
    +1 check the vents - I've "fixed" a lot of co-workers laptops just by cleaning them out. The image in the edit I've attached was from one system that was running at +70C idle. In this case, the complaint was that the fans simply ran at 100% all the time. I'm sure that under load this system would have easily died of thermal overload. – J... Feb 23 '15 at 12:31
  • @ThomasW. That would be a whole other answer. – Mooseman Feb 24 '15 at 13:22

First, we must know why laptops overheat. All of the equipment inside a laptop, processors, RAM disks, hard drives, etc., work really hard, so the computer gets hot. Most computers have a cooling system on the bottom, but when the computer is on your lap or a table (mostly your lap) the vents of the cooling system get blocked, so the laptop overheats.

Therefore, a very simple solution is to use an old egg carton. If you put the egg carton under the laptop, it won't overheat because the holes in between each egg holder allows air to circulate under the laptop allowing it to cool. Only do this at home, unless you want to look weird at a coffee shop or something.

photo from Instrucatables

egg carton laptop cooler

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    An egg carton is a good idea, but how many laptops are seen sitting on egg cartons? Not to be negative. I thought of the general implication. – subjectivist Feb 22 '15 at 23:03
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    @dmcdivitt I would only use this at my house because I'd look pretty weird if I did it elsewhere. – michaelpri Feb 23 '15 at 1:20
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    While this would totally help with the problem of overheating, it appears to be very ergonomically bad. – CRABOLO Feb 23 '15 at 5:42
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    +1: I have quite a similar set-up for my laptop, as I noticed that the vents don't run when they're blocked by being on the table. Here's a picture of it: i.stack.imgur.com/slIK2.jpg The fan below it isn't really working (bought it for five bucks), but I nailed into the plastic plate to make the laptop remain mobile while having clear ventilation. The best part is that it works. – Unihedron Feb 23 '15 at 6:21
  • What works is best! – subjectivist Feb 23 '15 at 7:09

This is an approach not discussed so far - taking into account all the physical considerations, like placing the laptop in a hard surface, clean the vents, and don't placing it near fabric, the only thing I can think of is taking care of it through the actual laptop's software/hardware settings:

  • Make sure that the vents are working at full speed - for this, you may want to check the BIOS settings for an option to set the speed of the vents to a fixed value. The most common way to access the BIOS settings is to power on your laptop, wait for the first logo to appear (generally, the logo of the laptop's manufacturer), and press F2 or ESC in the keyboard.

  • Depending on your Operating System, you may want to check the "Power Options" - if you set this to an option like "Power Saving" or "Balanced", you are (non-technical at all explanation) forcing the CPU to work slower, hence consuming less electrical power, therefore not heating up so much as it would in a "Best Performance" option.

If you have a container with the same size of the bottom of your laptop (or bigger), you can fill it with ice and cool water (water to have better contact with the top of container) and put your laptop on it. It wouldn't be permanent, but even when the ice will melt, the cold water will serve the cooling function (don't think that the water will get warm really fast).

You can also use multiple small containers, but it will reduce efficiency, unless those containers are interconnected.

Also: you can lean those containers to the wall, it will absorb the heat which these containers get from the computer (especially if it is cold outside).

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    Good idea. Liquid is a better conductor of heat than air. I've tried using fans to cool laptops and it wastes more electricity than it's worth. I don't happen to have a thin container though. In fact, I can't think of any. – Unihedron Feb 23 '15 at 6:22
  • @Uni Made an edit, can you take a look at my bad wording and maybe you can reword it a bit :) – nicael Feb 23 '15 at 6:34
  • Actually, as I think about it more, this technique is really effective for both short and long term measures, as cool water drags the ice above to its melting point and therefore melts into cold water, which is an exothermic reaction and therefore reduces temperature near the container quickly. As water has a high specific heat capacity (good for what's it's worth as well, tap water is not exceptionally expensive), it can absorb a lot of the heat from the laptop effectively. I should try this on one of these times. :p This is pretty much the poor man's liquid cooling. – Unihedron Feb 23 '15 at 6:39
  • @Uni So I can replace "will reduce efficiency" with "can reduce efficiency" – nicael Feb 23 '15 at 6:40
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    I'm sorry but this is a terrible idea. First, a box of ice water is very cold and will be very uncomfortable on your lap. Second, for the same reason, it will become covered in water condensation, so you'll be sitting your laptop on a wet box. – David Richerby Feb 23 '15 at 9:13

I have seen this same problem with Toshiba laptops. Vacuuming did not do much to resolve. So off to computer technician who disassembled the laptop to clean the fan area. Noting that my computer draws air from underneath and exhausts to one side, I built a "box"....a sheet of 4-5 mm building board matched to the size of the case. Around the perimeter of this board I glued a series of blocks 8 mm high and 15-20 mm wide in the form of a dashed line " - - - - -". On top of the "dashed line", a solid piece of block continuous around the perimeters. Now cut a few slots in the continuous block for the "studs" or "legs" that support the case. The gaps between the dashed blocks are covered externally with a piece of fine muslin or cheese cloth glued into place. The face of the block meeting the underside of computer case is sealed with a strip of foam rubber ( 4 mm x 15 mm) such as found in hardware stores as window "draft stopper". The critical issue will be whether your box filter allows enough air flow, so maximise the gaps between blocks

This seemed to work for me stopping the accumulation of dust internally.

Use a rack like the ones in bakeries used to keep bread on a shelf. It helps the laptop fan breathe and produce wind.

First question: has it always been like this? If not, did it start abruptly, or develop gradually? (Gradually means it's probably dust buildup.)

One thing that hasn't been addressed is to see what your laptop is actually doing when it overheats. Install a CPU monitor and check the load. If you're just doing stuff like text editing & web browsing, you should see only a few percent CPU utilization. If you're e.g. gaming and running the CPU near 100% for long periods, it will naturally run hotter. A monitor should also be able to show you actual fan speed &c: if it's heating up and the fan's not turning, there's your problem.

You can use a program like PowerTop (on Linux) to discover programs & hardware that aren't really being used, but still suck power (and so create heat).

In addition to the recommendations to vacuum out the vents, you may also want to make a note that the vents on a laptop for intake might actually be on the bottom - while the vent holes on the bottom of the laptop might be being obscured by the table/book/clipboard/your legs, that will also increase the temperature in your laptop.

I own a Multimedia grade laptop that gets hot when the vents are obscured, and actually, it gets hot just running the OS I use (I don't use Windows, and it's not an Apple product) - I run sensor applets to report me the sensors temps, but I always catch it before shutoff.

A portable cooling pad could help, with two fans, and the ability to use that as the surface even on your legs and such (~$20-$45 US). The closest to what I use is this model by Targus sold on NewEgg, but there are a lot of similar models that also work. (Ones that have their own internal power by battery to control the fans, ones that connect to USB, etc.)

After you've had the laptop awhile you should take it apart and clean the dust away by blowing or vacuuming. If uncomfortable taking apart yourself, take it to have it cleaned, which doesn't cost much. Sometimes blowing air back through exhaust ports will help, but the unit should be cleaned. While apart, inspect any heatsinks insuring they are securely fastened. Inspect fans and fan rotation to insure they work properly. With these things done there should be no heat problem, since the unit will be returned to factory condition.

I wrote this for when the laptop cuts off due to heating.

Setting on a hard surface should be sufficient when in use. Avoid placing on cloth or fabric which insulates and restricts air flow.

  • "you should take it apart and clean the dust away by blowing or vacuuming.": I'm not so sure about this one, I would advise anyone reading this answer to consider hiring someone professional to do this. I've attempted to dis- and re-assemble three laptops to clean them by myself, managed to put none back together that still worked. – Unihedron Feb 23 '15 at 6:25
  • I said "If uncomfortable taking apart yourself, take it to have it cleaned, which doesn't cost much." How is that not good enough? – subjectivist Feb 23 '15 at 7:07
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    Never use a vacuum cleaner on a disassembled computer. Vacuum cleaner nozzles pick up a lot of static charge from dust and dirt whizzing past and bouncing off them. Putting that near circuitry can do massive damage. – David Richerby Feb 23 '15 at 9:15

protected by Robert Cartaino Feb 25 '15 at 20:24

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