In a previous article I showed how to easily fix an overheating Dell laptop. From the comments I’ve received it seems to have helped a lot of people, so when my wife’s Acer laptop started acting in a strange way, rebooting for no reason, loud fan noises, severe burning of the legs – I sensed it might be an overheating problem again, and a new Layman’s Guide beckoned…

This time I wanted to make it more general, and applicable to almost any laptop that might be having overheating trouble.

If you have a laptop (or any computer for that matter) that is constantly restarting or rebooting for no apparent reason, the reason may well be overheating. If your computer is constantly rebooting and there are other tell-tale signs… such as the fan coming on more often than you remember, and sounding louder… very hot air coming out of the side vent… you almost certainly have an overheating problem.

The good news is that it can be fixed by yourself, typically in under 5 minutes. No incorrectly diagnosed (and very expensive) motherboard upgrades are needed. All you need is a screwdriver and a vacuum cleaner. You might even get away without the vacuum cleaner…

Much like vacuum cleaners, a laptop switches itself off if it gets too hot. This is to protect the valuable brain of the computer, its main processor or CPU, as well as our precious legs. Also similar to other things that overheat, the problem is often caused by excessive fluff build up in an important area.

On a laptop this crucial area is the fan that sucks air across the CPU to keep it cool. This point is important… inside a computer a fan is used to suck air across the CPU (which heats up).

After about a year or two of use, many laptops build up layers of fluff in the fan area that are thick enough to stop the flow of air. This means the CPU is not being cooled properly, it overheats, and the safety mechanism kicks in and shuts the computer down. You experience it as a reboot. (There is a mini temperature sensor built onto the main chip itself that constantly monitors its temperature)

To be absolutely sure you have the problem I describe, ask yourself this question… After your computer has been off for a long time (i.e. cooled down), and is switched back on again, does it last longer than usual before shutting down? You could, if you’re brave, cool it in a fridge to speed this up.

If the answers to this questions is yes, you absolutely have an overheating laptop, causing your reboot problem.

As an overview, what we are going to do is find the place where the fluff is building up inside the computer and remove it. This should fix the computer instantly with no further action required.

Turn your laptop over and look at its base. Somewhere there will be a panel that you can remove with a few screws, that gives you access to the main processor and fan. Most likely there will be several panels you can remove with a few screws – but don’t worry – I’ll help you find the right one.

Incidentally, not every laptop allows access to its main processor and fan (Apple laptops typically don’t). Some use other mechanisms besides screws e.g. catches, latches etc.

Before you start removing screws randomly, and assuming any descriptive icons present are undecipherable, there is something you can do to zero in on the right panel.

Turn on your computer, wait for the fan to come on, and work out where the hot air is blowing out. Normally the panel you seek is close to this. If you can’t hear a fan, you may have a broken fan – this would also cause the same over-heating problem described, but is trickier to fix – you’ll need a replacement fan unit basically – these can typically be ordered online.

If the fan is simply stuck, eg with fluff, the instructions below will help.

I’ll show you how the panel and fan looks on an Acer laptop (an Aspire 3003LM ZL5 to be precise) and this will show you what to look for on your own machine.

back of Acer laptop
On our Acer laptop, the panel we’re interested in is at the top left of the laptop when you are looking at the underside (labels reading correct-way-up). I found it by feeling around for the scalding hot air coming out of that corner.

3 screws hold the panel in place as shown…

With the screws removed and panel lifted off, you can see the fan which cools the CPU (via a bronze air tunnel). I’ve turned the machine around 180 degrees for this photo. Different laptops have different configurations, they might not have air tunnels for instance, but the basic principle of sucking or blowing air across the CPU remains. On this laptop, the fan is enclosed in its own mini-housing with 3 screws holding down the top cover. These 3 screw locations are circled.

Fan area Acer laptop
You really don’t need to worry about which bit is which however, simply look for fluff build-up around the fan and in any areas that could be ‘airflow areas’. A common area for fluff build-up is the inside of the vent which takes the hot air outside. You can see this on our laptop below.

Fluff before photo

Using common-sense, prise, suck or blow away any ‘fluff blankets’ that are restricting the air flow. Sometimes these fluff blankets are so compacted, and come away so uniformly, that you think they are supposed to be there as some kind of… insulation – they are not! (You can see one near the top of the photo above – encircled in red).

If you use a vacuum cleaner and suitable attachment, you can have a great deal of fun ‘sucking on one side of the fan and making it spin round’ very quickly. You’re unlikely to do any harm.

With fluff removed, your fan area should now look a lot cleaner, and clearer. Spot the difference below…

Fluff after photo

If you’ve successfully and with due pride… pulled away a compacted blanket of fluff, you can now feel pretty chipper… You can announce to family or dog ‘I think I’ve fixed it’… and carefully replace the bits and screws before turning on the computer to test it. You’re done basically, come back and check out the rest of my site please another time!

If you’ve hit a roadblock… for example fluff you can’t access because it is hidden behind something important looking, use your common sense and evaluate your own skills. Removing the CPU, fan or heatsink for example can be tricky and can lead to bits breaking, although these components are among the cheaper and easier things to replace. You must make the call.

If you have experiences to share, love to give, or other musings, please leave your comments below. This has been one of a growing series of Layman’s Guides, written as I come across problems I need to solve. They now include…

Fixing an overheating Dell Inspiron laptop

What is RSS? And why do I care?
Converting FLV video – A Layman’s Guide
A Review and Guide to CamTwist Video Software
Syncing a Blackberry Pearl with the Mac Address Book
How to get David Letterman tickets
Accessing MovieLink and CinemaNow from outside the USA
An overview of the current InternetTV landscape
Glossary of Online Video terms
A Layman’s Guide to the UDRP

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