What to Do When Your Laptop Overheats

Modern laptops are real miracles of engineering, packing huge amounts of processing power into a tiny amount of space.  While the technology to increase power and decrease size continues to improve, fitting that many complex components into a small laptop does occasionally cause some problems, the most common of which is overheating.  The small size of a laptop means not only that there is less space for heat to dissipate, but also that heat-producing components are closer together than in a desktop, and the fan has to be smaller so as not to add extra bulk to the laptop.  If the base of your laptop feels hot to the touch, or the sound of your laptop fan is much louder than usual, that’s a pretty clear sign that your laptop is suffering from overheating issues, and it’s important to recognize what causes them and what you can do to ensure that excess heat does not damage your laptop’s delicate internal components. So, what do you do when the laptop overheats?

If the laptop is hot but the fan is not loud

If the laptop itself feels hot to the touch but you are not hearing much noise from the fan, this could be a sign that the fan is not adjusting its performance to match the laptop’s heat production, or even that the fan is not working at all.  Fixing the problem is as simple as asking a computer repair expert to examine and replace the faulty fan so that hot air can be efficiently vented, keeping the components a reasonable temperature and minimizing the risk of heat damage to your laptop.

If the fan is loud but the laptop is not hot

If the fan is making an extremely loud noise but the laptop does not feel much warmer than usual, this may be a case of either a faulty fan, or of dust or dirt getting caught in the fan and obstructing its movement.  An expert will be able to figure out which by opening up the laptop and examining the fan.  Sometimes a thorough cleaning will fix the problem; if not a computer technician can fix or replace damaged components to make sure the fan is working properly.

If the laptop is hot and the fan is loud

Sometimes the fan is clearly working as hard as it can, but your laptop is still so hot at the base you can’t put it on your lap without scalding your thighs.  If this is the case it means that your laptop is producing heat faster than the fan can get rid of it, even if the fan is working perfectly.  Especially if you use your laptop outdoors or in dusty environments, this may actually be a very simple case of dust clogging the air vent and blocking the hot air from actually leaving the inside of the laptop.  When your laptop is working normally, you can find the air vent by running your hand over the edges of the laptop and feeling where hot air is blowing out.  In PCs, the vent is usually placed at the back of the laptop, just below where the screen meets the base; in Macs, especially the newer ones, the vent is typically just behind the keyboard, in front of the very bottom of the screen.  If the dirt is fairly superficial, you can clean it out yourself using an air blower or a Q-tip with a small amount of computer cleaning solution.  If the dirt has made its way to the inside of your laptop, take it to a professional for a detailed cleaning.

What causes a laptop to overheat?

Overheating is a very common problem for laptops, and often it is not the symptom of a serious problem – though it should always be fixed quickly to avoid internal damage.  One very common cause is an old or faulty battery: if the laptop is not getting enough power, the components have to work harder to function, which can cause them to produce more heat.  Even for old laptops it is usually easy to find and install replacement batteries, though for unibodyultrabooks and newer Mac laptops, it may be easier to ask a professional, since they are designed to be harder for an amateur to take apart.

If the battery is not the problem, then the overheating is caused by the way your computer is allocating its resources.  Certain programs that run automatically in the background – or running several complex programs at once – can put a huge strain on your CPU, causing it to work harder and overheat.  If you keep your laptop clean and well-maintained, but it still overheats, you should run a diagnostic tool to see which programs are using the most processing power.  Free and open-source programs are available for Windows, Mac and Linux; if you’re more tech-savvy, you can also use your operating system’s built in task manager to see which programs are doing what.  Often you’ll be surprised how much of the CPU power is being devoted to programs that you don’t need to be running.  Automatic updaters, diagnostic tools and so on frequently run in the background, quietly taking up power that means your computer has to work harder.  You can fix this by quitting unnecessary programs, by deleting autosaves and caches, and by looking at your programs’ default settings to see which are configured to run automatically on startup.  Disabling auto-run takes strain off your CPU by only allowing the programs you’re actually using to run.

Back up your data

While overheating does not usually mean that your laptop is in danger of complete failure (as long as you deal with it promptly), it can cause crashes, blue screens, and data loss, as well as causing the internal components of your laptop to weaken over time.  Especially if your laptop is prone to overheating, it is always important to keep backups of your data so that you don’t lose valuable information if too much heat causes component failure or a hard drive crash.