Heat is a natural by-product of the CPU and other components in a laptop, but if you find your fans are noisier than usual and everything feels like it's burning up inside, there might be a problem. Here’s some ways to fix it and get back to work - or play.
How can I tell if my laptop is overheating?
It’s not unusual for fans to spin aggressively you're running demanding software tasks such as graphically intensive games or rendering video. But if you’re just using Word to write a document or using a web browser to buy stuff from Amazon, then there’s no reason for the machine to be running hot.
Aside from the fan noise and hot surfaces on the laptop, other signs that things are not right are sluggish performance, error messages and unexpectedly shutting down. If you smell burning at any point, we recommend powering down the device immediately, removing the battery if it has one that can be taken out, then booking an appointment with your local PC repair shop to see what could be causing the problem.
Check the airflow around your laptop
One common cause of overheating is fans being blocked because you've put your laptop on something soft - like a duvet - or they can't expel air because the vents are blocked with dust and dirt. To help prevent this, take a look at your laptop and see where the fans are situated. Thinner models often have them near the hinge for the display, but you’ll also find them on the flanks and sometimes underneath the chassis. If you’re unsure, just wait until you hear them begin to spin, then run your hand around the body and see where you can feel a slight breeze.
You’ll want to make sure that the airflow for the fans is clear, and that there’s space for the hot air to be expelled. So, don’t have the machine too close to items such as books, papers, or partitions that would block the air from moving.
If you use your laptop on your lap, then it could be that the softer material of your clothes, blankets or pillows that you rest it upon could be smothering the vents and stopping air from leaving the device. In these cases, it would be good to either move to a table or desk, but you can also use dedicated laptop rests such as the Huanuo laptop stand (£24.99/$32) that sit across your lap or ones with short legs like the act as mini-desks when you’re in bed, as with the Wa-Very Laptop Bed Tray (£21.99/$27.99).
Should it be that your laptop is old and just struggling to keep up with the jobs you’re asking it to do, adding a cooling stand like the TECKNET Quiet Laptop Cooler (£21.99/$27.99) could at least help it stay at a safer temperature.
Check that your fans are in good shape
It’s not only surfaces and items that can block fan vents, over time they can just get filled up with dust and other detritus from around the home or office. Check the vents on your laptop for any build-ups that could be causing the problem. You can carefully try holding the small nozzle attachment on your vacuum near the vents to see if this coaxes out the debris.
Those brave enough to open up the device, bearing in mind it can invalidate your warranty, can check the fans are spinning freely. If not, try using a can of compressed air to clear out the areas around then and see if that helps. For more ideas, read how to clean a laptop fan.
How to check if your CPU is running too hot
Sometimes the problem isn’t necessarily anything to do with hardware, as rogue software or bugs can get a PC caught in loops that drain away resources and overload the system. One way to see what the culprit might be is to use Task Manager to see what’s occupying the CPU.
To do this, press Ctrl-Shift-Esc together, or open the Start Menu and type task manager. Select the option at the top of the list (should just be Task Manager) then when the window opens click on the Processes tab and look in the CPU column to see what’s using the most resources. If you don't see these click 'More details' at the bottom of the Task Manager window.
If it’s something you’re not really using, then it could be a problem. To see how the CPU itself is behaving, select the Performance tab and click on the CPU option.
Rebooting the PC can often clear a problem like this, so it’s always worth a try. It’s also a good idea to run any available updates to Windows or installed software, as it could be that a bug is causing the issue and updating may remove the error. Should the behaviour persist, then you might want to check that the CPU isn’t overheating under the load, as this could cause damage if it continues for too long.
How to control your PC’s fans
If nothing seems to be out of place, but your fans are still going crackers, then it could be that one of the sensors is playing up and telling the fans to cool things down. There are various apps available, usually for free, that allow you to manage how the fans behave. Take a look out our guide on how to control fan speed for more details.
Book a repair
After you’ve gone through the steps above, if the problem persists, you should consider taking the PC to a qualified repairer. Try Googling PC repair and your postcode to see which ones are nearby. If you bought your PC in the past year then it should still be under warranty, so either contact the retailer or manufacturer to discuss getting it fixed. If the issue sadly turns out to be terminal, then take a look at our roundups of the best budget laptop, best laptop and best laptop deals to make sure your new model is a worthy replacement.