Why is my laptop so hot, and what laptop can I buy that won't burn me?
June 21, 2008 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Do all laptops get this hot?

I currently own a 15" powerbook g4 that gets so hot I can't actually put it on my lap. I had the same problem with my previous computer, a 12" powerbook g4. Does this happen with all Apple laptops, or is it just powerbooks that end up like this? It's bad enough that I'm considering buying a new computer, but I don't want to get burned (no pun intended) again. What's the coolest computer I can get?
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
(I'm aware of this battery charging/calibration issue- it's still too hot. Also, I did have my battery recalled already).
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 3:22 PM on June 21, 2008

How high is the ambient temperature in the room? Newer laptops just got hot due to how small they are, that's why they have begun calling them "notebooks" rather than LAPtops. The MacBook Pro line, for instance, gets ridiculously warm when doing things that take a substantial amount of CPU power or if it's warm. So, first what you can do is just check out if there is any program on your computer that is requiring it to work extra hard (the processor is the main source of heat in the computer) by going into the Activity Monitor in OS X and sorting by CPU %.

What I'd recommend if this is a real issue for you is to get a laptop cooler. It draws power from USB and you set your laptop on top of it and it just helps disperse heat allowing it to run cooler and it won't burn you. Cooler Master makes some nice ones as does Antec. They shouldn't run much more than $40 for a nice one.
posted by cgomez at 3:29 PM on June 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Certainly all don't. My Macbook (non-Pro) almost never gets warm enough to be "hot" if I'm doing basic web-browsing and other lightweight tasks. Photoshopping, it sometimes gets a little hot, but that's pretty rare.

Note, however, that I nearly always wear jeans, and so a threshold based on bare skin may be very different.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:31 PM on June 21, 2008

Anecdotally, I have my Toshiba Satellite on my bare leg (wearing shorts) right now, and it's only very slightly warm.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:48 PM on June 21, 2008

The aluminum MacBook Pros (and the PowerBooks before them) all get very very hot, yes. The aluminum case is part of the heat dissipation. It's better than the insides cooking, I guess, but it's pretty inconvenient sometimes. (I swear Apple must think "Pro" means it's always on a desk. They're always too hot for bare laps.)

Laps and clothing and pillows and such also block airflow and hamper cooling. When I use mine in bed, for example, I rest it on top of a large hardback book. Then it stays cool... or at least less hot.

Also be sure you're NOT using "Better Performance" type settings in the Energy Saver prefs. Using the battery-saving options keeps it cooler.

The regular (black and white plastic) MacBooks don't get nearly as hot. In fact, I suspect no plastic laptop gets as hot as any metal one.
posted by rokusan at 4:10 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally, I have burn marks on one of my legs from my former Toshiba Satellite. Have a Dell Latitude now I cannot use it on my lap either. I generally try to keep it propped on something to avoid blocking the fan vent.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:00 PM on June 21, 2008

n'thing 'completely normal behaviour' for a mac. this and battery life are issues we'll probably laugh at five years from now. (I'm hoping that because batteries seem to do for laptops what they did for cell phones in 1993 and five years later the issue was pretty much resolved.)
posted by krautland at 6:03 PM on June 21, 2008

We have one of those coolers that cgomez mentions and it works pretty well. We also have some laptop feet that do the trick too.
posted by dog food sugar at 6:04 PM on June 21, 2008

Mac laptops tend to get ridiculously hot. Frankly, I think it's a design problem, and a major one. I actually managed to fry the motherboard on an ibook fairly recently. The best things to do are a) ALWAYS use it on a hard surface, not a bed or anything, so as to not block any vents, and b) get one of those coolers.
posted by paultopia at 6:23 PM on June 21, 2008

It's normal for notebook computers to get uncomfortably warm.

That's why they have to call them notebooks now, instead of laptops.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:18 PM on June 21, 2008

Notebook Review has an an article on how to cool your laptop. I'd be interested if anyone can answer the OP's question about laptops that are cool even without cleaning the fan, etc.
posted by lukemeister at 8:43 PM on June 21, 2008

i've got a dell, and it gets unacceptably hot.
makes it unusable on a lap!
posted by edtut at 9:58 PM on June 21, 2008

I can confirm two things: The Macbook Pros (at least first generation) get disturbingly hot. And the modern Toshiba Satellites don't. Of course, on the inside, the opposite could be the case.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:51 PM on June 21, 2008

If it didn't always get this hot, cleaning out the vents could help a lot. My two year old T60 got to the point where the fan would always be running ridiculously high and if I played a game or anything it would regularly overheat to the point of shutting down unless I seriously turned down the CPU. It would regularly get itself up to 80+ or so degrees Celsius even in a cool room.

I shut it down and blew the dust out of the vents (just using my mouth since I didn't have any compressed air on hand; not sure how wise that was) and now it runs great and the CPU usually doesn't go above 60 degrees or so.
posted by closetpacifist at 11:13 PM on June 21, 2008

I'd be interested if anyone can answer the OP's question about laptops that are cool even without cleaning the fan, etc.

I have a gateway ... uh.. M-something. It has a HUGE fan, with HUGE vents. (I bought it in frustration after my old ibook fried from overheating). It stays relatively cool if I'm careful about not blocking the vents.
posted by paultopia at 6:16 AM on June 22, 2008

If laptops follow the desktop model, then the coolest laptop is probably a 'gaming' model, maybe with some custom cooling (extra-high-velocity fans, for example), and almost certainly underclocked.
posted by box at 8:55 AM on June 22, 2008

Pretty much anything made in the last 4 years gets incredibly hot - heck, I am even surprised by how hot the original Asus Eee gets...

I use a Targus Coolpad. Basically just a little plastic wedge. Doesn't add much weight, can be used on lap or desk, and because more air can get to the underside fan, laptops generally seem to run cooler and quieter.
posted by jkaczor at 9:25 AM on June 22, 2008

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