Blog

[ TL;DR: Tips and tricks for better thermal management on laptops, to avoid overheating ]

Some laptops and notebook/netbook computers have a much better thermal management then others, some are silent and cool better, others make a lot of noise and yet, sometimes overheat. Most people think that in most of the cases in which a laptop overheats, it’s got to be either a fault in the mainboard’s electronic circuitry, or there’s an outdated fan, a clogged heatsink to blame.

While I don’t rule out any of these perceived causes to a laptop overheating, especially IBM T43 (2668 models) and some Acer and some Asus models, I’ve learned over the years some pretty simple tricks, some DOs and DON’Ts that if applied, can make a huge difference in a laptop’s thermal management, and can make or break a system. So, after seeing that on most threads on several forums discussing laptop’s thermal management, the simple tricks that I describe here are not even mentioned, instead of writing bits and pieces in the respective threads, on those forums, I thought it’s better to write a post about it. So, if my laptop is overheating, here’s some tips and tricks for better thermal management I’d check for.

First and foremost, IBM or Lenovo T4x , (especially T43, 2668 model) owners. It seems that this little laptop is on the top of the bad thermal management when it comes to overheating, freezing, crashing laptops. But you know what ? I just can’t agree with you. I am the satisfied user of an older T43, (2668 !) model, and I can say that I’ve never overheated it yet, and there’s never been a case in which this T43 has frozen. Please consider implementing some of the simple tricks described here, you might be surprised what a big difference a few simple tricks can do.

First, if your T43 (or any other model) laptop overheats ON THE RIGHT SIDE, and the right palm rest is too hot, there’s only one thing you have to do: SET THE POWER MANAGEMENT OF THE HARDDRIVE TO 1. What does that mean ? Well, in simplest terms, allow the harddrive to spin down (turn its rotation off) as soon as there are no read/write operations to perform.

On different operating systems, there are different software utilities and command line or GUI options to perform this, for instance, on Linux systems,
issuing the following command :
# hdparm -M1 /dev/sda
should do the trick, if your harddrive supports acoustic management, and, to turn power management to turn the rotation off:
#hdparm -B1 /dev/sda
In this example, /dev/sda is the harddrive on which you perform the operation, in your case, it could be /dev/hda, or /dev/sdc, or whatever. And the example presumes that you have root access to use the hdparm command. Also, you might try if your harddrive supports spin-down by software, so try :

# hdparm -S10 /dev/sda

or

# hdparm -S30 /dev/sda

Depending on your particular harddrive, the command might work or fail. If it works, set all the commands that you’ve succesfully issued through hdparm, to load automatically on each boot, for instance, you could insert them before the “exit 0” line in /etc/rc.local

On windows vista and 7 (presumably 8, too), go to the mobility center, or in power management, and click on “choose when to turn off the harddrive” or something similar (I don’t remember exactly, it’s been a while since I’ve been on a win7 pc ). For most laptops, on the manufacturer’s support site, there is a driver for SATA power management, and for some models, also for PCI power management (Yes, a system power management, and A SEPARATE power management for those two.) If your manufacturer’s support site has drivers for these two things, go ahead and install them if they are available for your operating system.

On linux systems, DON’T USE A LAPTOP WITHOUT LAPTOP-MODE-TOOLS correctly installed and configured. For Dell laptops, there is a suite named i8ktools, for IBM (especially T43), there is thinkfan and fancontrol, it’s imperative that these are installed.

On windows system, get a hold of Alfredo Milani Comparetti’s Speedfan, ( there is no HTTPS version of that site !) a handy little program that I’ve installed over the years on at least 200 laptops and notebooks, and that has made all the difference. Also, get a hold of a good DOWNVOLTING program, especially (again) IBM T43 and Acer/Asus overheaters !

Rightmark CPU clock utility (RMClock) is a program of tremendous value, that I’ve used on over 50 different IBM T43 laptops, and stopped the buzzing CPU noise, and stopped the overheating problem with it. Also, you might want to check out Notebook Hardware Control, another very intelligently designed little program of tremendous value, with some features (e.g. downvolting) similar to that of RMClock.

Both of these programs have been written a while ago, but needless to say, their value has not only remained the same, but in my opinion, increased over the years. It’s not known whether their creators will keep the programs online for any longer, so both of the programs are worth downloading and keeping !

Now, with regard to the airflow of the cooling system inside the laptops: DON’T use your laptop on non-flat surfaces, AND don’t use your laptop on tables that have a cover on it ! Seriously ! A small table cover only 1/10th of a mm thick, can cover the heatsink’s exit holes pretty badly, and it can destroy your laptop. I’ve seen in recent movies (especially) young actors being portrayed using laptops and tablets on the bed, but while they might both seem cool in the movie, there’s a world of difference between a laptop’s or notebook/netbook’s and a tablet’s cooling needs (Tablets don’t really have a cooling need, especially if their back cover is metallic).

So, keep the airflow free under and around your laptop. Keep your workspace clean, a pen or a pencil sharpener in the wrong place can obtrude the exit holes of your laptop’s heatsink (Dell, Acer, Asus models, with exit holes behind the LCD panel/back side).

Also, always remove all USB devices that you’re not using, even if it seems that the OS is capable of turning their ports off when they are not in use. Simply remove them. Also, since we’ve mentioned it, ALLOW the operating system’s power management features to function, i.e. allow the system to turn off the USB ports, and all other things that are not in use.

Now, for those of you out there, that are hardcore or not so hardcore gamers: please understand that a great majority of your graphic card’s capabilities ARE SIMPLY USELESS. (You’ve read that right) A great majority of most modern graphic processors (GPU) capabilities are no longer necessary for the crisp and lifelike display of images, videos, in-game motion, etc., but are only “there” to create a competition between the different GPU manufacturers. So if you have access to the GPU’s control center (Catalyst control center for ATI/AMD, Nvidia control panel for Nvidia, Igfx control panel for Intel Extreme Graphics), do a little tweaking, turn off some of those damn features, you won’t see a damn difference in the games or videos you’re playing, but you will most certainly feel and see the difference on the thermal management side of things.Image / montage of overheating IBM T43

Turning down an “anisotropic filtering” from 16x to 4x, can make a 2…3 degrees Celsius (according to google, 1 degree Celsius =33.8 degrees Fahrenheit, so you do the math if you’re not using Celsius) in heating. Also, turning to 16-bit display, if possible, cools down the GPU another degree, keeps your battery living longer, turning down or “application set” antialiasing in some games can again, keep the GPU cooler.

If your GPU’s control center has a power management, try using a less-then-maximum quality setting, you might be surprised that you can’t see the difference with your own eyes in the quality of the display, but the GPU and the thermal management system of your laptop, will most certainly “see” it.

So these are my tips for better thermal management. What are yours ?