Introduction: Computer (Laptop) Cooling Basics
The cooling of the CPU (Central Processing Unit), otherwise referred to as “The Chip” or to laymen “The Brain” of the laptop is a dilemma that most manufacturers have to face when designing a laptop enclosure (casing) and choosing the correct CPU for it. The cooling is normally performed by a fan and some kind of metal conductor like copper or aluminum called a heat sink. The CPU, and lately the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), are “connected” to the metal heat sink via a thermal grease or compound. This grease conducts heat but not electricity. The “trick” for manufacturers is to get rid of as much heat as possible using as small a fan and heat sink as the CPU will allow. Vents are also cut into the casing allowing the fan to suck cool air from the bottom, force it over the heat sink and blow it out the side or rear thus cooling the CPU and GPU. In more modern times copper is being used as the conducting metal, liquid is “pumped” through the system and radiators and exhaust ports are used just like in motor vehicles. All this to get rid of the heat and make the system run faster.
The problem is that over time dust and other particles clog the vents, fan and exhaust port or radiator of the system thus restricting air flow and cooling. This is fixed relatively easily by blowing out the vents and fan with air or using a brush or earbud (Q-tip) to clean away the dust. Remember: In the computer world – DUST DESTROYS! There is however another hidden problem that occurs when computers (laptops) heat up or overheat. They tend to dry out the thermal compound that conducts the heat thus causing the system to overheat more quickly. Luckily most CPUs, GPUs and chip manufacturers have built in protection for this. They step down the operating speed bit by bit until they eventually switch off the CPU and thus the system shuts down. So if you have a computer system that starts working slower and slower and then switches off for no apparent reason, overheating could be your problem.
To solve the overheating problem, especially in laptops, I am going to show you how to get to the cooling unit, dust it out, replace the thermal grease and put everything together again. In order to demonstrate this I will be using a friend’s LG F1 Pro Express Dual laptop that started exhibiting just such symptoms. It would become sluggish and then suddenly switch off for no reason. This caused him a lot of lost work and a corrupted Outlook PST email file. Here I will show you step by step the solution to this nasty problem.
You will need the following: Tools: 1. A holder to keep the screws from getting lost. (The cap of a deodorant can works well.) 2. Thermal grease or compound. You local computer shop or hardware store should have this otherwise "Google is your Friend" 3. Screwdrivers that fit the screws on the back of your specific laptop. 4. Earbud (Q-tip) cotton swabs 5. Wooden tongue depressor or any other soft object to scrape the old thermal grease off. 6. Brush Time: About 30 minutes Cost: A couple of Bucks Saving: Huge! (You would normally have replaced your laptop as it is unusable in it's current state.) Optional: Rubber gloves or finger cots Earth strap or grounding wire Some Isopropyl alcohol wipes
You can now put on your rubber gloves and attach your grounding/earthing strap if you want to. I did not. The easiest way to identify the cooling unit is to look for the fan. Once you have this, it should be easy to locate the screws holding it down. Carefully remove them and place them in the holder. Gently grip the cooling unit and remove it from the laptop. Try twisting it back and forth, left and right, slightly (not up and down) before lifting it out. It should "break" any hardened thermal grease that acts like glue. This one comes out at a slight angle. Remove it slowly and gently because the fan power cable is still attached to the motherboard and needs to be removed before the unit will come out completely. Note: In my case, the CPU came out with the unit. This is unusual and very rare as the CPU is normally latched firmly to the motherboard. In my case the thermal grease had dried out completely and acted like "putty" by "glueing" the CPU to the heat exchanger. The twisting action should "break" this glue bond but is not always possible. Open the CPU socket "latch", take the CPU by the edges. DO NOT TOUCH THE PINS! Align the CPU to the socket by matching the markings or pin configurations together. Press down firmly to seat the CPU and lock it in place with the latch.
Using your breath, compressed air, hair dryer or fan gently blow out the dust located in the fan, case, exhaust port and anywhere else you see it accumulated. Use earbuds to clean the fan blades. Hold the fan down when blowing it with air so that it does not operate in the reverse direction and also not work against the blowing air. Use the brush to dust everything off one last time before blowing it out with air again. Using a soft object like a wooden tongue depressor, plastic knife or old credit card scrape the old thermal grease / compound from the CPU, GPU and Heat Exchanger. Be gentle and take your time as there is no rush and trying different angles, the dried thermal grease should just flake off. Here you could also use the Isopropyl alcohol wipes or an earbud dipped in Isopropyl alcohol to remove the dried thermal grease. It comes off easier then. If you are going to work and touch components on the motherboard, I suggest you wear an earth / grounding strap and rubber gloves.
Place a very small blob of thermal grease (mine might be a little too much) on the CPU and GPU only. Do not place any on the heat exchanger as well. You only need to place thermal grease on one or the other. Use the wooden depressor, plastic knife or old credit card to spread it evenly and very thinly over the surface of the area of the CPU / GPU or heat exchanger that will come in contact with each other. More is not better in this case. Too much thermal grease will not cause better heat conduction but might even cause some heat build up.