We’ve compiled a list of the most common questions about laptop problems, and our expert answers
Please add your own questions in the comments below and we'll do our best to answer them. Tips, tricks and alternative solutions are also welcome.
Why is my laptop so slow?
There are lots of reasons why laptops run slowly, and many things you can do (for free) to fix the problem.
Here are some common causes and how to fix them.
First, use Windows Task Manager to get a better picture of what’s going on. Right-click on an empty area of the taskbar that runs along the bottom of the screen and choose Task Manager from the menu which appears.
If you’re running Windows 8 or Windows 10, click the option to see more details. The Processes tab should tell you whether a program is using an excessive amount of CPU, memory or disk. You can click on those labels at the top of each column to order the apps and processes by the amount of resources they’re using.
It may be that your antivirus program is performing a scan and slowing down your laptop. Or it could be another program constantly writing to your hard disk (in Windows 7 you can add columns to the task manager such as I/O read and I/O writes – these show disk activity).
In the past, we’ve found that Skype and Google Chrome can be a real resource hog, whether it’s CPU time or using far too much RAM. Apps such as Skype start up with Windows so they’re running in the background even when you’re not using them.
To stop programs from running when you don’t need them, simply use the Start-up column in Windows 8 or 10’s Task Manager. In Windows 7 or earlier, just type msconfig in the Run box (press Win-R to bring up this box) and then use the Services and Startup tabs to uncheck any programs and services you don’t use or don’t want running. Check the ‘Hide all Microsoft services’ on the Services tab to ensure you don’t disable critical system processes and make your situation worse.
On older laptops which have had lots of programs installed, these lists can be surprisingly long. By stopping all these programs and services can free up a lot of memory and processor time and make your laptop a whole lot more responsive (and faster).
Another reason for poor performance is if you’re running on battery power or are using the wrong power profile when running on mains power. These profiles determine whether your processor can run at its top speed or not. In Windows Control Panel, look for Power Options.
Often, the High performance plan is hidden under ‘additonal power plans’ and you have to click the arrow to see and select it. You can also click the Change plan settings link to the right of a plan to edit it and tweak things to your liking.
For more tips on speeding up your laptop, see How to spring clean your laptop
Why is my laptop overheating?
Some parts of your laptop can get hot in normal use. This is typically by design. If your wrist rest is metal, it might be used to dissipate heat from the components inside. Or, if one side is particularly hot, it’s likely that’s where the fan vents are located: heat has to escape somewhere: virtually all laptops have internal cooling fans.
If any vents are blocked, this will cause a laptop to overheat quickly. This typically happens when you put your laptop on a soft surface such as a bed. Vents in the base or sides can be covered by a duvet, or soft cushion and stop the fan doing its job.
On the odd laptop, the space around the keys is used to vent hot air, so covering the keyboard with a magazine, say, will make it overheat.
Dust is a common problem, too. Fans can suck in dust which gets stuck to the blades or blocks the airways. Fixing this isn’t an easy task on most laptops, but careful use of a can of compressed air can work wonders if you have access to the fan via a removable panel on the underside of your laptop.
Even if everything is in working order, laptops can still overheat. If you’re running a lot of programs, or you like to have scores of tabs open in your web browser this can cause the processor to run flat out. In theory the cooling system should be able to deal with this (the fan noise – see below – can be unpleasant, though).
The ambient temperature plays a part, of course. Laptops have a tough time remaining cool enough on a hot summer’s day (just as tablets and smartphones do).
If you want to check how hot your processor and other components are, simply download and install a free utility such as SpeedFan or CPU-Z. Some – but not all – BIOSes have a menu where you can see temperatures, but if not, SpeedFan and CPU-Z can display the readings from temperature sensors on the motherboard, in the CPU and even the hard disk.
CPUs shouldn’t run hotter than around 70 degrees, while hard disks are usually around 35-40 degrees Celsius. Graphics cards will run at anything up to 90 degrees when playing 3D games, but it all depends on the efficiency of the fans and cooling systems as to whether they will overheat under normal conditions.
Here's how to check you CPU temperature, step-by-step
Why is my laptop so loud?
The answer to this question ties in with overheating. If your laptop’s processor is running flat out (use Task Manager as explained earlier to check) then the fan will have to spin faster to keep it cool. This mean more noise.
Some fans have poor-quality bearings which wear out and cause a lot of noise, while other fans are simply smaller, which means they have to spin faster and make more noise than larger fans do to have the same cooling effect.
Fans can also become noisier if they’re clogged up with dirt and dust, but the noise could come from other components such as the DVD drive or hard disk.
It’s best to fix the root cause of a noisy fan before using a utility such as SpeedFan to override the automatic settings and force it to run more slowly.