Extremely hot laptop
November 29, 2007 1:12 AM   Subscribe

I have a hot laptop. In fact, it's so hot that I can't even touch it. Is this normal? Or has the fan given up?

I have an 18 month old Sony Vaio VGN-SZ1XP. Either the fan is incredibly quiet or it's broken. Regardless, if the laptop has been on all day, the temperatures on the underside, around the battery, are so high that it's painful to touch. I usually leave it plugged in with the battery installed, but make a point of not leaving it unattended on beds, carpets, etc. Is this normal? Is there a way of seeing if the fan is functioning normally, or does it need replacing? And can I do that myself?
posted by jonathanbell to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Laptops are used in non-ideal locations (couches, comforters, shaggy rugs) because they're laptops. This leads to them sucking in fibers, dust, and other textile detritus with their air intake. In almost every case of a stopped laptop fan I've found big gross hairballs made of dust-bunny like material. Shine a flashlight into the intake or exhaust ports for your fan. If you cannot tell which is which because there's not airflow, your fan is dead/blocked. Continuing to run your laptop like this will eventually start a fire. In cases where you can locate the blockage you can usually pick it out with tweezers or fish it out with a jewelers screwdriver. If not, disassembling your machine is not impossible - just find a clean work surface, document what you did in every step and organize the screws you remove.
posted by datacenter refugee at 1:29 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Turn it off. If it gets too hot those high powered lithium batteries can do more than just catch fire, they can explode. If you don't feel comfortable opening it yourself, take it in.
posted by IronLizard at 1:43 AM on November 29, 2007

Did you also check the lot number on the battery to make sure it wasn't one affected by the recall? It sounds about the right timeframe.
posted by IronLizard at 1:45 AM on November 29, 2007

Exactly the right timeframe, in fact (from the wikipedia link)

Contaminants inside the cells can defeat these safety devices. For example, the mid-2006 recall of approximately 10 million Sony batteries used in Dell, Sony, Apple, Lenovo/IBM, Panasonic, Toshiba, Hitachi, Fujitsu and Sharp laptops was stated to be as a consequence of internal contamination with metal particles. Under some circumstances, these can pierce the separator,causing the cell to short, rapidly converting all of the energy in the cell to heat[17]resulting in an exothermic oxidizing reaction increasing the temperature to a few hundred degrees Celsius in a fraction of a second.

Pardon the multiple comments, I just think this may be more serious than you realize
posted by IronLizard at 1:48 AM on November 29, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the quick answers so far and for your concerns. The battery is actually a VGP-BPS2C, which is outside the big recall issued a year or so ago (it looks like it was the VGP-BPS2B and VGP-BPS3A batteries that were affected). And now that the battery is out, I can feel that the epicentre of the heat is actually what looks like the fan itself, so a blockage is highly likely. I'll perform a bit of surgery....
posted by jonathanbell at 1:56 AM on November 29, 2007

Speedfan will give you all the details you need on how your fan is doing.
posted by Baud at 3:03 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another possibility is that perhaps your fan is on (but very quiet) and your computer is thrashing the processor constantly.

I had this problem with a MacBook that "suddenly" started running hot all the time, too hot to keep on my lap. After some investigation, I discovered a background app (Yahoo Desktop) was using 100% of processor time when the laptop was idle, causing the processor to heat up.

A long shot, but maybe it's worth looking under Task Manager for some rogue process.
posted by outlier at 3:29 AM on November 29, 2007

I installed system-tray apps to monitor the current CPU % and the current CPU temperature because mine was running hot. (They are Dell-specific but there is probably something out there that would work for you). When the CPU was at 100% it would go over 150 degrees, and it was usually 125 even when idle. I bought a laptop cooler but it didn't seem to make much of a difference.

The laptop recently had an unrelated problem and I had a repairman come out to fix it. When it was apart he pointed out the CPU heatsink fins were clogged with dust, hair, etc. He cleaned them out, as well as the fan (it worked but the air flow was constricted by the dirt). Since then the whole laptop runs 20 degrees cooler, idling below 110 and maxing out at about 130. Definitely worth cleaning it!
posted by aguy at 4:30 AM on November 29, 2007

I had problems with my laptop which I eventually diagnosed as overheating; performance would slow to a crawl after a few minutes of any moderately intense computation (reliably; it happened all the time). I guess the processor has some emergency heat mode where it runs really slow.

I assume I need to take the case off and clear the gunk but a temporary fix has been to stick some blocks on the corners and raise the thing an inch off the desk so there's more room for air to circulate underneath. Since I did that I've had no performance problems.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:14 PM on November 29, 2007

This might help.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:23 PM on November 29, 2007

Being a Vaio you can safely bet it's the battery. Sony will replace it for you...
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 3:46 PM on November 29, 2007

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