Overheating laptops and related shutdown issues are extremely common in notebook computers, particularly those used at home. Some or all of the following are common indicators of laptop overheating.
Laptop is extremely hot to the touch, particularly near the fan exhaust area - Laptop fan is continually running at high speed - Laptop shuts down by itself when doing nothing - Laptop shuts down when playing games
This could be a mechanical malfunction with the fan, where it can no longer spin or spins too slowly, or an electrical fault on the motherboard, which manifests itself by not instructing the fan to spin quickly enough to cool the laptop.
However, airflow obstructions cause 9 out of 10 occurrences of laptop overheating.In these circumstances, the fan is spinning as quickly as it can, but if hot air is prevented from reaching the outside world, a heat build-up occurs, and the laptop takes the precautionary measure of shutting down rather than allowing lasting harm to occur.
Heat is directed away from the processors by strips of copper metal. The heat is directed into a series of parallel metal fins at the further end of this copper heatsink. This grill has a vast surface area for heat to spread throughout.
A fan then pulls air from the outside world and blows it across the heated grill before returning it to the outside world. The air picks up heat from the heated metal fins and transports it away from the laptop as it does so.
A material buildup in front of the metal heatsink grill is the most likely culprit in a laptop overheating owing to an airflow restriction scenario.
The fan will draw cool air from the outside world in through vents on the bottom or sides of the laptop, and there may be a little amount of fluff, hair, or dust drawn in with the cool air.
If the airborne material is large enough, it can get trapped on the front of the metal fins when it is blown across the hot metal grill.
If this continues, more and more material will accumulate on the front of the grill, causing a blockage.
All of the grey hairy material is a mix of dust, lint, hair, and fluff that has accumulated on the front of the heatsink grill.
This has the effect of obstructing some of the airflow across the heatsink grill. The air does not gather up heat from the entire set of fins since there is less physical space for it to pass through.
As a result, less heat is carried to the air as it travels to the outside world. Heat begins to accumulate inside the laptop as less heat is dissipated (overheating).
When temperature sensors detect this, the fan spins faster and quicker. The purpose of spinning the fan faster is to force more air through the available gaps and past the heated metal fins, allowing more heat to be collected.
This compensation of rotating the fan faster may work to some amount, but there will be a limit. If the heatsink grill is sufficiently obstructed, the fan will spin at maximum speed and the interior temperature of the laptop will no longer be able to be reduced or even stabilized.
Temperature sensors will detect this, and the laptop will shut down as a final precaution. The expectation is that if the CPU is no longer producing more and more heat, the existing internal heat will gradually dissipate on its own, allowing the laptop to escape significant harm.
To resolve this issue, you must disassemble the laptop and have access to the heatsink and fan (s).
I'm not going to go into how to disassemble a laptop step by step because there are tutorials online that describe this in detail, and some manufacturers, such as Dell, even give Service Manuals on their website's support pages.
In most cases, all you need to disassemble a laptop are one or two little screwdrivers.
Some laptops require special torx screwdriver heads to remove some internal screws, so look into this for your specific laptop make and model.
After about 15 minutes of normal use, it would shut off. The area around the fan was quite hot to the touch, and the overheating problem had gotten worse over time.
The Dell Service Manuals detailed the procedure for removing the heatsink/fan assembly.
Because the fan in this overheating laptop was mounted on a plate, I removed the screws keeping the fan in place. For easier identification, I've circled the little screws.
Indeed, a large pile of dust is not necessary to cause overheating and shutdowns.
In this scenario, a thin layer of material obstructed nearly 90% of the fins, but there are still a few small spaces where a little air may have passed through.
Each brand and model of laptop has its own limit for how much obstruction can exist before it becomes a problem. I've witnessed occasions where a large solid strip of dust and fluff peeled away in one large chunk.
After brushing away the majority of the dust, I used compressed air to blast the heatsink fins and fan.
This swept away any remaining dust, leaving a clean, shining heatsink grill and fan.
All that remained was to rebuild the laptop in reverse order, following the same techniques as before.
The laptop is now fully operational and no longer overheats or shuts down on its own. As an added bonus, the laptop now operates much more silently.
The fan noise is reduced since the fan can now remove extra heat from the laptop while operating at a slower speed. The laptop also feels significantly cooler to the touch.So the overheating laptop has been repaired and is operational once more.