Q: Every laptop I’ve ever owned has had the same problem—the bottom gets so hot after a few hours of work, my quadriceps get damn near scalded. Is there any way to avoid this nuisance, or should I just drape a heat-resistant blanket over my legs?
A. Laptop heat isn’t just a hazard to your quads; it’s also a potential hazard to your beloved machine. Too-hot laptops can shut down without warning, zapping your work in progress and causing a million-and-one Windows complications. The good news is that many recent notebooks have addressed the high-temperature issue, and plenty of helpful products can stave off a meltdown.
The rule of thumb is that laptops containing desktop chips are prone to overheat, while those with mobile processors are much better about keeping their cool. So if you’re eyeing a machine that runs a Pentium-M or a Centrino, don’t sweat it—those chips are designed to save power and keep the heat to tolerable levels.
But lots of last-generation laptops, of the sort you find discounted online, rely on standard desktop chips like the Pentium III. Shoehorned into a portable unit, they’re total energy hogs, and that’s bad news not only for your battery life, but for your heat-sensitive gams, too. Yes, computer makers add heat shields to these machines, but not only do those shields sometimes not work, they add extra heft, too.
How bad can it get? Well, aside from singeing your precious flesh, there’s a real disaster like the Toshiba Satellite 5005, which got so hot it inspired a class-action lawsuit against the company in 2002. The plaintiffs allege that Toshiba knew about a design flaw that causes the 5005 to overheat and summarily shut down, but did nothing about it. (The lawsuit is still pending.)
The easiest solution is to prop up your heat-prone laptop while you’re working, so there’s a space between the bottom and your legs (or the table). Though ergonomists warn against it, this can be as simple as using the little “feet” that tilt the machine toward your hands. Or you can invest in a lightweight laptop stand like the e-leg, which can be had for as little as $20 online.
If you plan on using your laptop like a real workhorse—say, by playing graphics-intensive games—the prop-up trick may not suffice. Another option is a laptop cooling unit, like Antec’s NoteBook Cooler. The $40 device is essentially a small fan that latches onto your computer’s bottom. It’s powered by a USB interface, so there’s no need for batteries. A recent test at datafuse.net found that the Antec cooler knocked about 15.5 degrees off the temperature of a laptop going full bore.
It’s Mr. Roboto’s fervent hope that, 10 years hence, overheated laptops will be as commonplace as Tasmanian tigers. Folks much smarter than your humble narrator seem well on their way to solving the problem; a team from Bell Labs, for example, recently unveiled a cooling technology called “nanograss,” which uses miniscule tubes to spritz chips with cooling fluids. As Leonard Nimoy might marvel, the cosmic ballet goes on.
Talk about obscure fixes: Mr. Roboto recently tried to add an iMac G3 to his home wireless network, but was flummoxed by the Mac’s repeated insistence that the WEP password he entered wasn’t correct. What the hey? Turns out that AirPort users, when leeching off a PC-based wireless router, may need to add the dollar-sign character in front of the encryption key. So, for example, your password isn’t going to be “12345abcde,” but rather “$12345abcde.” The AirPort manual makes no mention of this, of course. Thanks be to the Supreme Robot for macosxhints.com, where Mr. Roboto found a bulletin board topic on this very issue.
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