How to Diagnose and Fix an Overheating Laptop

A common challenge when using old laptops is overheating, something many people aren’t sure how to fix. When a computer overheats, it can cause many problems, from seemingly random blue screen crashes to data loss. It might not even occur to you bug overheating can be the main reason for this. To fix this, you have to go step by step and see how you can deal with an overheating computer. This article focuses on laptops, but many of the same principles apply to desktop computers. Remember, before touching your hardware—especially anything involving disassembly—take the time to back up your PC first.

In this article, we’ll figure out what’s causing the heat and how to keep your notebook functioning at a lower temperature. To do this, you have to follow the 3 steps.

Step One: Find the Heat Source

This is quite obvious, and you have to find the source of excessive heat first.

Check Air Flow and Heat Transfer

Like with all computers, laptops need a way to expel the hot air created by their components. No airflow is the primary cause of overheating, so your first step should be figuring out where the air vents are located. Many laptops have vents on the bottom while others—significantly thicker models—have vents on the back panel. 

Computers have two kinds of vents; some are intake vents where cold air gets into the laptop, and some are outflow vents where fans brings out the hot air. When you have a heavy app running on the laptop, check to see if the outflow vents are blowing hot air and the intake vents are letting air in. if there isn’t much airflow, the most common cause is an accumulation of dust in the vents, fans, and cooling channels. Cleaning the dust isn’t difficult; just turn your laptop upside-down and look at what you’ve got.

Just blowing the dust from the vents using a can of compressed air might be enough. You could also unscrew the panels of your fan and lift out the fan so you can blow the dust out even better. Don’t forget to blow out the area where the fan sits, as well. While you’re at it, you may want to lift the sticker off the axle and put a drop of mineral oil to keep it going. 

If your fan has been damaged or is too gummed up with dust or other debris and doesn’t spin freely, you can also try to look up the part number from your laptop’s user manual or by searching your laptop model number online. This information will allow you to find replacements pretty easily on sites like eBay.

Check for Dying Batteries

Another common source of overheating is terrible batteries. Batteries aren’t meant to be stored at 100% or 0% capacity. If you always keep the laptop’s charger in—never actually using the battery, you’ll reduce a battery’s life span, since you’re essentially storing the battery when it’s full. A dead battery is a 100% guaranteed to generate a lot of heat.

Step Two: Lighten the Load

If you’ve followed the instructions in the last step and suspect your computer’s heat is related processing load rather than hardware, you can try some tricks to manage those processes better. Run the inbuilt Windows Task Manager to see what’s using your CPU so intensively. Disable the unnecessary startup apps; It helps to limit what apps start automatically with Windows and balance your processor’s load.

You can also consider installing 3rd party apps like Process Explorer to see the files that each process has open and its associated CPU usage over time. You can use this to get rid of some CPU intensive apps that you aren’t using. Another useful 3rd party app is CCleaner, which allows you to clean history and cache files and manage your startup applications quickly and easily. CCleaner free up some much-needed space that way and get a little more efficiency out of your computer.

Apps like Speccy are especially useful if you always want to keep an eye on the temperature of your laptop.

Step Three: Look for Behaviour Changes

The fact that laptops aren’t tethered to a chair and desk can work against us. Most laptop users develop many habits—like browsing in bed—that can cause overheating issues. The vast majority of laptops are designed with their air vents on the bottom, so setting the laptop down on soft bedding or carpet for prolonged use is a bad idea. Heat builds up very quickly when the vents are blocked.

If, like me, you have developed this habit, consider investing in a laptop cooling pad to keep the airflow unobstructed. Some cooling places use electricity and help direct cold air into the underside vents of your laptop. These cooling pads will make your computer less mobile, but they will help your computer run better.

Extra Step: Repurpose the Laptop

It’s also possible that previous overheating might have already done severe damage to your motherboard. At times like this, people dispose of their laptops to buy something else; horrible decision.  If the computer can no longer be used for your regular functions, consider repurposing it. You can integrate the CPU into another computer; the motherboards of modern laptops fit great inside of older and smaller computer cases and cardboard boxes. You can use this as in-drawer HTPCs, closet-servers, or under-the-desk mounted workstations.

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