Why is my Laptop overheating ?

You may be surprised to learn that there is more than one reason your laptop (or PC) can overheat. For the purpose of this article, we will discuss laptop overheating, but the majority of the reasons and fixes can be applied equally to desktop PCs.

Under normal circumstances your laptop should not overheat. Laptops are designed to cool the processor they’ve been supplied with using a combination of the built in heatsink and fan.

Poor Case Ventilation.

There is a possibility that your laptop components are overheating, within the case, due to a lack of airflow amongst the system board and associated chips, disks and other components which produce heat. There are two simple fixes for this.

1. Ensure your laptop is placed on a hard surface which does not block any  of the vents. This might seem obvious, but there are often more vents in a laptop than simply the fan vent. Every vent and hole assists with ventilation. When air is expelled, new air must be drawn from somewhere.

2. Ensure nothing is touching the underside sections of case which are getting hot. Make sure any item does not lean directly on the case where components are warm, means that airflow can reach all out sections of the laptop, helping if only slightly, with cooling.

3. All vents should be regularly cleaned with a gentle short bristled brush such as a paintbrush. With the laptop switched off, gently dislodge the dust in the vent before using a vacuum cleaner to such the chunks of dust out.

Poor Fan Efficiency.

Although fan speed is usually monitored by many laptop manufacturers bespoke software, this does not mean the fan is not caked with baked on dust, just like the vents.

Whilst it may seem a step to far to open up the laptop for risk of invalidating a manufacturers warranty, losing screws or parts or worrying about being unable to put the laptop back together; it should be understood that the probably 2 (case and CPU) fans both need cleaning every couple of years.

If you aren’t happy to attempt this yourself or you can’t locate the fans, it may be worth getting a PC expert to do this for you. It does not take very long and should be an inexpensive task. The fan can be cleaned along with the opening as well as lubricated and checked for damage.

Operating System or Application CPU load.

Saving the best and most complicated item until last. The fundamental reason for an increase in CPU temperature is that of an increased load on the CPU taking it above 50, 60 or even 90% load for extended periods of time. Often laptops can run at 100% CPU for the entire time they are switched on. This causes a huge increase in heat output from the CPU which inevitably needs cooling.

Removing the obvious reason for a 100% load which is that you are working hard, or watching a movie, or other interactive activity – there are several reasons for increased CPU load which we will cover here briefly.

Whilst the ideas here are valid, each laptop has its own reason for 100% CPU load which can be investigated with the right tools. We will cover those shortly.

Some potential reasons for 100% CPU load in a laptop are listed below, along with a very simplified instruction of the potential fix. To list each fix in minute detail here would not be valid for every operating system and therefore we provide an overview and starting point to fix the problem. A simple Google search can explain each in more detail for your particular laptop, operating system, installed applications and driver/hardware configuration.

  1.  Misconfiguration of drivers, hardware or operating system. Whilst it is hard to have a misconfigured operating system these days, there are plenty of combinations of hardware and associated drivers which mean you should always have the latest drivers installed. These may come with guidance for the operating system in terms of updated registry or permission configuration. Using the latest drivers and software for your devices means they are being operated at maximum efficiency. Its possible this could reduce load on the CPU. Don’t expect miracles, but your computer will be less likely to crash with the latest driver updates. You can check driver versions in Device Manager. You should also regularly check the Windows Event Log for errors relating to driver problems or major configuration issues or hardware faults. Most hardware vendors and their drivers will write to the Windows Event Log if there are any issues, even if they do not appear immediately noticeable within the Windows user screens.
  2. A heavily fragmented hard drive. As files are continuously read, updated, and deleted; the sizes of files constantly changing once rewritten leads to gaps in the placement of files on the drive, which are then reused for new file placement. This means drive fragmentation occurs as single files are scattered over multiple physical places on disk, meaning your PC will take much longer, with more effort to read data – for both the device and the operating system, causing more CPU load. You can usually check drive fragmentation simply by looking at drive properties and invoking the inbuilt defragmentation tool. Defragment your drives regularly. 
  3. Not enough memory, causing the system to use the swap file (located on hard disk) for memory.  A simple one. The more memory your PC has, the faster it should run, meaning both your CPU and disk have less work to do swapping data into improvised memory which is stored in a file on the disk. If you can afford a memory upgrade, this will improve your laptop speed and lead to a reduction in CPU and disk temperature.
  4. Too many background (taskbar visible) applications running, hogging CPU and often endlessly triggering each other (something gets updated, something else catalogues it and then search catalog services and virus scans are triggered). Lots of applications run in the background. Check the taskbar for icons and see which ones are really necessary. Most applications allow you to switch them off from running in the background.
  5. Antivirus software not configured with exclusions for heavily used non executable files. Even Microsoft Windows allows exclusions to be created for low risk, very active applications and file locations. Click the Start menu and type “Virus” to locate your Antivirus application. Explore your own or the built in protection to find out how to add exclusions. Do some of your own searching for each application to find out what you should and should not exclude. Obviously file areas with incoming files from external sources should not be excluded.
  6. An application which is constantly checking for and updating data. The main culprit for this is Windows Search, but there can be others. Using number 9 below will help you identify this. If you find Windows Search is hogging CPU, you can disable the search feature, by clicking start and typing “Services” before clicking to open your Windows services list. You can safely disable Windows search by opening it and setting this to disabled. This does NOT mean that search will not work, but that searches, when you need them will not be as quick, since you are disabling the cataloguing feature which runs as a service.
  7. Maintenance and other scheduled tasks, software updates, checks, system auditing. Lots of applications run jobs, backups, checks, re-checks, reporting and a host of other scheduled tasks in the background. Whilst number 4. above will help reduce this number, you can also open the Windows task scheduler to locate even more. After clicking the start menu, type “Task Scheduler” before opening the application and viewing the tasks which your applications have added for themselves. You may find that you are happy to disable many of these. They can always be re-enabled.
  8. Open websites or applications which are hogging CPU with constant (often ignored) intensive graphics or calculations. You may be surprised to learn that each website can add 100s of cookies, advert lookups, with graphics loads and adverts which have been selected directly for you, before playing videos or other animations. The fact is that YOU are paying for all these applications and their high CPU (and thus electricity) requirements. If you use number 9. below and find that a particular browser or tab is the culprit, take a moment to understand why.  We can highly recommend using a tracking cookie-deleter to stop websites following you around and updating their servers with your browsing history so they can direct their advertising at you. Since your banking & shopping websites require cookies, you can easily create exceptions for them, simply by pressing a button. Look out for our other article on the best (free) cookie blockers. Our current favourite is a browser add on called Cookie AutoDelete. Since some websites will block you if you do not say “Yes” to accepting their cookies, you can quite happily accept them, safe in the knowledge that they will be deleted once you leave the site. 
  9. Locate power hungry processes and fix, kill or uninstall them. In Windows, Right click the taskbar and click Task Manager. Click the Processes tab and then sort by CPU. This will place the CPU hungry applications at the top of the list. Make a note of the application name and even right click the application and click ‘Open File Location’ so you can be sure which application is using the CPU. Try and remediate the issue by reconfiguring, updating, fixing or switching off features of the application (or even, uninstalling it).