Dear Lifehacker, My laptop feels like it's going to burst into flames at any second. I hear this might be normal, though. How can I tell if it's running too hot — and if it is, what can I do about it? Thanks, Scorched Laptop UserPhoto by MichaelHenry
It's true, computers — laptops in particular — tend to run very hot (though cooling technology has advanced a lot in recent years). It's hard to tell simply by touch if your laptop is in the overheating danger zone or just feels that way. Here's how to tell for sure.
Signs of Overheating
First, you didn't mention if you were having any problems with your computer. Usually you'll experience telltale signs of overheating like random shutdowns or your fans running like crazy ("all BRRRRRRRRRR the whole day," as Whitson would say).
Another way to tell if there's a potential temperature issue is if you feel too hot in your working environment. Computers, like people, do better in air conditioned rooms. Ideal temperatures are between 10C and 35C for your working environment.
Test the Internal Temperature
Laptops and desktop PCs also have optimal operating temperature limits; both Intel and AMD publish maximum temperatures for their CPUs (around 100C). Testing and monitoring the internal temperature is probably the surest way to check if your laptop is running too hot.
In a previous guide on preventing overheating, we mentioned several tools for checking your computer's temperature. Previously mentioned GKrellM is a cross-platform solution, but we're also fans of SpeedFan and Real Temp, which reside in your system tray. These apps will show you visually if you're going over the temperature threshold.
How to Cool Your Laptop Down
First, make sure your room isn't too hot. While workers may perform best at 25C, according to one study, as long as you don't feel like you're overheating, the room is probably at a decent temperature for your computer.
Whitson's tips on quieting your laptop fans will also help cool it down. Specifically, getting a laptop stand should help a lot (ones with USB-powered fans work well, but you can try a DIY version or two for a cheap solution first).
You might also try adjusting your power setting to a power saver or more balanced plan so your system doesn't use more power than required.
Be careful if your laptop is overheating and after taking your laptop in from the hot outdoors to a cooler indoor environment. In both cases, let your laptop cool down before using your computer or trying to fix the problem (via BIOS updates, contacting your manufacturer for known issues or replacements, etc).
P.S. Since this is a common problem, if you have other computer cooling or cleaning tips, your suggestions are welcome in the comments.