Apple flambe!
August 20, 2010 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: What is the best cooling station for a Macbook (13", not Pro)?

The lappy in question heats up after a couple-to-a-few hours of usage even on normal flat surfaces (tables, counters, etc.). The internal fan must be too close to the internal microphone, because when using Skype (etc.) the noise of the fan overloads the call with a loud white noise. Its a couple years old, but that's the only problem with it - just gets too darn hot underneath.

Recommendations are welcome - Google results are generally pointing towards Targus stations that lift up the back end of the laptop, but this seems a rather passive approach. Are there better options with internal fans / other systems for keeping this thing from cooking? Thanks!
posted by allkindsoftime to Computers & Internet (3 answers total)
Best answer: My wife uses a Targus PA248u to cool her 13" MacBook. It's not passive. The fans are usb-powered and completely silent. It lifts the back of the MacBook up by about 1/4". She originally got it to cool a Windows laptop that was a real furnace. Seems to work fine for her.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:45 AM on August 20, 2010

Best answer: allkindsoftime, I have a Zalman cooler and it does a great job at cooling my (non-MacBook, but prone to overheating) notebook computer. It's definitely pricier than a lot of other notebook coolers, but after trying a couple of the more inexpensive ones, I think it's worth the investment.

The model I have (the NC1000) is really well-built and solid (its surface is made out of aluminum and not plastic), and has been in use nearly every day for about three years now (in fact it's cooling my computer as I type this). It's USB-powered, has two fans, and there's a wheel that allows you to adjust the speed of the fans (it's not a simple toggle switch between "high" and "low" for example). About 95% of the time I just leave it on the lowest setting, which is pretty quiet. I'm not sure how high your friend would need to set the fan speed to reduce the MacBook's internal fan (and if the cooler's fans themselves would then interfere with the on-board microphone) -- admittedly I haven't encountered this issue because I use a headset mic.

One downside about this cooler, though, is that it's not what I'd call a super-portable unit. It's portable, as in I've moved it from room to room, but not often -- it's not as light or thin as some of the plastic cooling units, for example, and needs a flat and relatively sturdy surface. I would recommend a Zalman cooler (or even two) without reservation if your friend uses the MacBook at the same desk or table a lot (e.g. a desk at home and/or at the office). On the other hand, the heft of the cooler won't be very convenient to carry around in a laptop bag/backpack/briefcase.

A few other models are also available now (there was just one when I bought mine)... Here's a page at Zalman's site that shows all of their notebook coolers (with links to lots of additional photos, plus the dimensions/weight for each model). It looks all models have aluminum surfaces. It also looks like the NC3000 and NC1500 Plus models are for notebooks up to 17" so they may be on the large side for your friend's 13" MacBook (unless s/he ever plans to get a different computer later on). So maybe focus on the NC1000, NC1500 and NC2000?

FWIW, before I got the Zalman cooler (again this was a few years ago), I did a bunch of research on notebook computer coolers and narrowed it down to three different models based on reviews and posts at various forums. I was on a strict budget at the time and really didn't want to spring for the Zalman if I didn't have to, so the first one I got was about 15 USD. However that cooler was defective out of the box and I ended up returning it (wasn't impressed enough with the build to ask for an exchange -- unfortunately I can't remember the name of it offhand -- it wasn't made by Antec, Belkin or Logitech). Thorzdad mentioned the Targus 248u cooler -- I think his wife has an earlier, better version. I actually got the 248u next, but the one I have isn't rectangular -- it has curved sides as shown on this Amazon page. The one I have has no fan speed adjustment, and sounds like a jet plane compared to the lower fan settings of the Zalman cooler, so I would definitely avoid that particular version for your friend. However I kept it and still use it occasionally because, in spite of the negatives, its plastic build is still much lighter and easier to carry around than the Zalman. Hopefully the newer plastic-based models have improved since then.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 12:53 AM on August 23, 2010

Response by poster: Got a late but helpful Memail from user frankdrebin, with the following:

Your friend might want to try cleaning out the fan. I'd bet there's a ton of dirt clogging up the vent which is why it's a) blowing so hard and b) overheating anyway. Every time I've cleaned out a computer like this, it's been night and day in terms of heat and fan volume.

I don't know which model of macbook it is, but taking out the fan isn't too hard, if you have the right kind of tiny screwdrivers.

Check out this guide, even though it makes it look a lot harder than it is. Short version is take out the battery, take out a bunch of screws, lift off the keyboard, clean out the fan, then replace.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:42 PM on September 14, 2010

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