Thursday, 18 July 2013

Make sure your computer's keeping its cool

Laptop keeping its cool?
To be clear I'm not suggesting your laptop should take a dip to cool off!

I've seen heat and fan noise issues affecting several of my clients now and thought it'd be helpful to share my thoughts and some recommendations on this topic of laptop/desktop cooling problems, the most common causes and what can be done about them.

Excess heat's much more prevalent with laptops because, by their very nature, they've got a lot of components packed tightly into a relatively small enclosure and consequently, heat dissipation is a bigger challenge. However under normal circumstances that heat dissipates effectively enough to maintain a 'healthy' internal ambient temperature. With desktop computers there's typically a lot more space within the outer casing for a larger volume of air to flow around and keep things cool. So heat build-up isn't normally such an issue. That said, desktops do still need to be attended to. So read on. 

There are a couple of factors which will directly impact the normal cooling process; I see and deal with both quite frequently. The first is a physical issue and is the build-up of a layer of household dust and fluff within the computer's cooling/ventilation system. In most computers there's an active cooling system which is driven by a small, thermostatically controlled fan. i.e. the fan only spins up when the internal temperature rises above a pre-determined threshold, prompting a need for more cooling. It's also possible that the fan has a variable speed which increases when further higher heat thresholds are reached/exceeded. You're most likely aware of this fan from both the noise it generates and the plume of warm exhaust air it pushes out across the desk when running at full speed.

The next factor typically arises if you're hosting a lot of software or apps on your computer. By having lots of apps running in the background you're giving the computer's CPU a heavy workload to manage before you even start to browse the web or type that email. Malware is another possible and most unwelcome contributor to your computer's background workload. This heavy workload, in turn, results in the CPU generating more heat which results in a need for more cooling, hence the cooling system is more frequently called upon to keep the temperature down.

So if your computer's internal fan is constantly on and its drone is apparent it's possible that one or more of the above factors is contributing to that situation. The question is: what can be done to address that?
Air vents on the underside of a laptop should,
ideally, be clean and free of dust and fluff as above.

For the dust/fluff build-up aspect, with the computer powered off, just take a look at the inlet/outlet vents around your computer's casing to see if there's any sign of an accumulation of dust hindering air flow. Any that's there can normally be cleared using a clean paint brush. For a desktop computer that's tucked away under a table or desk it's worth making the effort to pull it out to gain access to the back. That's normally where the main cooling fan is located and there's probably a vent or perforated section to the case where the fan draws in or blows out air. Just check that the vents are not blocked or obstructed by dust or anything else. Clean any accumulated dust off with a paint brush. For a more serious build-up of dust it may be appropriate to disassemble the computer to enable a more complete and thorough clean. But caution is needed if going there. If unsure seek help from a trained technician.

For the malware aspect, it makes perfect sense to have good internet security software that's actively scanning for and preventing infections at all times. For those who are happy to go with the subscription-free option I'd say Avast Free is probably the best one currently available. For the subscription based products Kaspersky Internet Security is generally highly regarded for its very good detection rate.

In Windows 8 the Control Panel entry (highlighted
in yellow) to access and remove apps looks like this.
For the software clutter aspect take a good look at what's installed and remove anything that's not needed or essential. Note. If you're unsure about what's a valid candidate for removal best err on the side of caution and leave it be. To see a list of what's installed go to the Control Panel and then,depending on which version of Windows on your computer go to Add/Remove Programs (Windows XP), Programs & Features (Windows Vista & Windows 7) or Programs (Windows 8). As a general guideline anything from Microsoft, your computer's vendor or your internet security app is best left alone. All others are potential candidates for removal. Again, if unsure about doing this seek help.

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