Compaq heatsink closeupThis is the third in a series of posts about how to identify and solve laptop overheating problems. The first two posts have covered how to understand and diagnose laptop overheating. This post explains what you need to do to fix the problem without having to pay a big repair bill.

Please read though to the end of the post (including the warnings and cautions) before you attempt any of the procedures described here.

First: understand why your laptop overheats

Your laptop could be suffering from overheating for a number of reasons. One of the most common is that you are using your laptop in a way that is preventing the cooling system from working properly. For instance, you may be using it on a cushion or some other soft surface that is stopping cool air flowing through the laptop’s cooling system.

If that is the case, then the simple solution is to start using the laptop on a flat surface (such as an eTray laptop tray) that will allow the air to flow freely.

Closeup of laptop heatsink clogged with dirtIf using the laptop on a flat surface does not provide a solution straight away then it is safe to say your laptop’s cooling system is faulty. It needs to be repaired before the laptop will run properly again.

It is possible that the fan that drives air through the cooling system has failed. But, it would be very unusual for this to happen. It is much more likely that your laptop’s cooling system is simply clogged up with dirt and dust. Removing the dirt and dust will allow the air to circulate freely again.

The big question is: how to do this? The answer to that depends first on how bad the problem is and second on how easy it is to get access to the critical parts of your laptop’s cooling system. Some laptop designs make this a very easy thing to do, and some require a major strip down to gain sufficient access to the fan and heatsink components.

Stage one fix – the laptop maintenance clean

Let’s start with the easy bits first. Over the years I have developed a method for cleaning a laptop’s cooling system without any dismantling. I call it the Laptop Maintenance Clean.

It’s a simple procedure that can be very effective if the build up of debris is not too bad, and if the laptop design allows good access to the heatsink cooling fins through the exhaust port.

Doing this is easy and it doesn’t need you to dismantle your machine, or to do anything that will invalidate your warranty. You will need two items of equipment:

  • A can of aerosol air duster.
  • A vacuum cleaner, preferably with a crevice tool.

 

Start by taking a look at your laptop and see if you can identify two things:

AcerExhaust2

1. The cooling system’s exhaust port. This is usually on the side of the machine and it is easy to find when the machine is running because it will blow hot air out over your hand. You may be able to see the metal fins of the heat exchanger through the grill.

 

 

Acer_air_intake

2. The cooling system’s air intake grill. This is often on the bottom of the machine.

If you are not sure which they are, have a look at my previous posts on this subject to get an idea of how the cooling system is arranged.

 

Make sure that the laptop is switched off and disconnected from any power source before you begin.

  1. Start the vacuum cleaner and hold the nozzle at the air intake grill
  2. Using the air duster, blast air through the exhaust ports into the machine.

The aim is to dislodge any dust and dirt that has accumulated on the other side of the heat sink fins so that the vacuum cleaner can suck it out of the intake grill. You need to make sure that the airflow is reversed in this way because some particles may be too large to pass through the heat sink fins and they need to come out the way that they came in.

Now switch on your laptop and run CoreTemp or SpeedFan and check to see if there is any improvement. If there is a noticeable difference then this may be all that you need to do.

If it works for your laptop, my advice would be to repeat the procedure every month or two to keep your laptop’s cooling system clear. And, of course, to get yourself a laptop tray to reduce the amount of dirt and fluff that goes into your machine when you use it.

Maintenance clean limitations

The laptop maintenance clean can be very effective at dislodging debris from the laptops cooling fins, but it doesn’t always work. The dirt and dust that accumulates behind the fins can be sticky and difficult to dislodge, and sometimes it collects into large clumps of a felt like material. Even if this material is dislodged, the blast from the air duster may not reach through to the fan blades, which may be deep inside the machine. Dirt build up on these can put the fan out of balance and that can make it noisy in operation, and sometimes the felt can jam the fan, preventing it from turning at all.

If the maintenance cleaning procedure made little difference to your overheating problem then you are going to need to use a brush to dislodge the dirt before you can blast it away with the air duster.

Going deeper – laptop deep clean

Going to the next stage means you are going to have to open the laptop’s casing and its important for you to consider the implications of this before you go any further.

Some laptops allow easy access to the fan and heat sink by removing a panel on the bottom of the machine. If that is the case with your machine then this will be a very straightforward procedure. However, if you have dismantle beyond this point, or there is any kind of seal that you would have to break before opening the panel, then this could invalidate any warranty that you have on the laptop.

Also, arriving at a laptop repair technician with a box of parts and asking them to put it back together for you is almost guaranteed to get you a big bill. If, after reading the following description, you are concerned that you might not see the process through to the end, or you are nervous about your ability to open your laptop without damaging it, then this might be the time to hand the job over to a qualified technician.

But, if you have some basic manual skills and the ability to work carefully and systematically then there is no reason why you shouldn’t do the job yourself. If you do, you will save yourself a large sum of money. And, you will probably be so pleased with yourself and life in general that you will glow with satisfaction for days to come.

Prepare yourself carefully

If you are still with me, the first thing to do  is for you to make a backup of all the important information on your laptop. Just in case.

Then do a little research to find out what information is available regarding your particular laptop model. Try googling the manufacturer and model name with the word “manual”. You may be able to find a service manual containing precise instructions for dismantling it.

Try searching YouTube using your laptop model name – sometimes people post step-by-step videos showing exactly how to strip them down. These can be very useful, particularly at showing where there may be tricky parts of the sequence. At the very least it will give you an idea of the extent of the task you are setting yourself.

Before you begin there are a few items that you are going to need to obtain. You will probably get most of them if you buy yourself computer repair toolkit, but some you may need to source separately. Remember, good tools help you to do good work:

– A precision screwdriver set. This should contain a variety of different sized crosshead and Pozidriv type screwdrivers. Depending on the manufacturer of your laptop, you may also need hex head and Torx-star bits.
– A small, stiff paint brush.
A can of aerosol air duster.
– An antistatic wristband. This is important. It is needed so you can earth yourself to avoid damaging the sensitive electronic components in your laptop.
– Some small containers where you can keep screws and small components as you remove them.
– A selection of pliers, tweezers and other gripping tools for small parts.
– A magnifying glass
– A small torch
– A telescopic magnetic pick-up tool small parts. This will invaluable if you drop a screw in to a tight space. It can also be used to temporarily magnetise the screwdrivers to hold a screw on the tip when you are replacing it.

In addition to these items, you will need a clear area on a desk or table with good lighting where you can work and, most important, the time to work in a careful and methodical manner.

Cleaning an easy to access laptop fan

The following shows a typical procedure with an easy access laptop, the Acer Aspire 1690.

  1. Make sure that the laptop is switched off and disconnected from any power source.
  2. Make sure you are wearing the antistatic wrist band and that it is connected to a known earthing point.
  3. Close the lid and place the laptop, lid down, on to your working surface.
  4. Identify the access panel containing the air intake grill, which is next to the exhaust port. Acer_air_intake
  5. Remove the three retaining screws and remove the panel, revealing the heat pipe and fan.Acerfanscrews
  6. Remove the four screws holding the fan outer cover and fold the cover back out of the way. laptop_dust5
  7. Loosen the dirt and fluff attached to the heat sink and fan with the brush, and then clean it with the air duster.
  8. Close the fan cover and replace the screws.
  9. Replace the access panel and secure it in place with the screws.

As you can see this is a very simple and straightforward procedure. It doesn’t require any particular skill or knowledge of electronics – just the confidence to go ahead and try. If you have completed it successfully, you have saved yourself well in excess of the cost of a new eTray in repair bills, and you have gained the ability to maintain your laptop into the future. Congratulations!

Going even deeper – difficult to access laptop fans

Compaq_stip_downUnfortunately, not all laptops have cooling systems that are as easy to access as this Acer. Some may require you to remove the keyboard to get to the fan. Some, like the Compaq CQ60 that I worked on recently, required a complete strip down involving the removal of the keyboard, screen and motherboard before it was possible to access the fan and heatsink fins.

This may seem a little more daunting, but it is still possible using only basic hand tools and a methodical step-by-step approach. And, of course, the potential savings on repair bills are much greater.

If your laptop requires major dismantling and you are going to attempt it, there are two problem areas that you will need to overcome:

  1. laptop_pcb_connectorDisconnecting the various electrical connections without damaging them so they can be reconnected during re-assembly. Some of the plug-in connectors are tiny, tight and easy to damage. Some of them have locking connectors and the locking mechanisms are sometimes difficult to spot if you are not familiar with them. This makes it difficult to know exactly how much force you need to use to disconnect them.
  2. Laptops are complex and after a couple of hours it can be difficult to recall the exact re-assembly sequence or to remember exactly which screws are required where.

The solution to these problems is to take your time, prepare well, and do as much research as you can before you start work.

  • Try to get a copy of the service manual for your machine and take the time to watch any walk-through videos that are available on YouTube.
  • During the dismantling process stop at each stage and take photographs from several different angles before moving on.
  • At each stage use a different container for screws and small parts. Keep them in sequence so you can see exactly what you need to use at that stage of the re-assembly process – if you have parts left over you have missed something.
  • If you get something wrong just go back and redo it – take your time and have a break if you need to.

Expect that there will be some teething problems when you try to start the machine after reassembly. If the laptop starts up and runs the first time that you press the power button then award yourself genius status as a laptop engineer.

Otherwise, you may have to go back a couple of stages to remake a connection or fit something you have forgotten. Go back a step at a time and double check. Remember that, if you had to disconnect the bios backup battery then you may have to reset adjustments in the bios again. The point is to expect and accept problems so that they won’t seem like such a blow when they occur. You will be tired at this point and it is easy to just give up over a relatively simple problem. Remember that if you keep on going you will get to the end.

If you manage this mammoth task you will have achieved a number of things. First, you will now have a fully working laptop that no longer overheats. You would have also saved yourself a very large repair bill. You would have learnt an awful lot about how laptops are constructed and how to fix them. And, perhaps most important of all, you will have a tremendous sense of achievement.

Please take care

Finally, can I please point out that you must do all of this at your own risk. I am providing this advice in good faith, but I can’t be held responsible for what happens when I am not present. Please read the instructions in the service manuals carefully and observe all of the warnings and cautions they contain.

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