People tend to avoid laptops if they want to do some CPU hungry and/or GPU hungry work and for a good reason; the integrated cooling solutions do not provide sufficient airflow within the tiny space that is the laptop.
Using the laptop to run demanding applications like Autodesk can cause the board to get so hot that it can be detrimental to the lifespan of its components. Normally, people would avoid such laptops and purchase a desktop PC to do all such heavy lifting.
However, some of us need to work in our office, take our work on the go or just play some video games while sitting somewhere comfortable. With the laptops now having high-end specs and quite light, its hard to pass up on such a PC when you have the money.
Overtime laptop manufacturers have made their laptops with better airflow and have increased the efficiency of their products so whether the task is of rendering, gaming or any other heavy lifting, the performance achieved by the laptop is still good enough and will take quite a while to heat up.
The problem is at some point the machine when subjected to so much heat, starts to throttle and it could use some extra cool air (or an exhaust for the hot air).
We have had external cooling solutions for a while now in the form of cooling pads and they are thought to be quite practical in such situations. But how much of a difference do they actually make?
Understanding your laptop’s ventilation
As mentioned earlier, laptops are not ideal heavy CPU and GPU carriers as the amount of heat produced cannot be dealt with as they can in a PC with extra fans and radiators.
Your laptop in general has vents beneath it and on the sides of it. Although the side ventilation works to some extent for the dissipation of heat, the vents below are often blocked by the surface they are put on causing the temperature to build up over time.
The air that gets blocked tries to escape through the crevices which simply don’t suffice. Of course, this can be minimized by choosing a proper hard surface to put your laptop on or on an elevated surface so that the air manages to flow beneath the vents.
Similarly, this should lead you to understand that putting your laptop on a soft surface (bed, cushion, couch) is probably the worst case scenario for the surface of your laptop and will cause heat to build up faster.
Anything that blocks the vents of the laptop will reduce the efficiency of the heat flow. Any laptop cooling pad that is elevated enough and allows breathing room for the vents below, will provide optimal airflow and will create a difference or also increase your laptop’s lifespan.
Now, remember your laptop has quite narrow space for the air to flow through? Just like a PC, the laptop can accumulate dust through its vents and often faster than a PC if you are not careful enough.
The dust caught is worse for your laptop than it would be for a PC as the already limited crevices and vents get clogged in a shorter period. The fans will not reach their optimal speed and even if they do, the accumulated dust will decrease the airflow.
This is where the laptop cooling pads will make next to zero difference. But, cooling pads can certainly delay this stage by reducing the accumulation rate of dust from beneath.
Ideally, with the installation of a cooling pad, you will observe a decrease in the temperature by 2-5 degrees. However, it is not simple as that; a good cooling pad is capable of providing better ventilation beneath and cooling the laptop to an extent but whether it will actually work for a certain laptop in a certain scenario, is subject to certain factors.
Understanding your laptop’s purpose
Most laptops are usually designed for basic tasks such as writing doc files, making presentations, browsing and watching movies and with the demographic being a student, teacher, designer, businessperson, journalist, traveler etc.
Over the years similar laptops have extended their usage in video editing, rendering, 3D modeling and are being marketed to a larger audience.
Most people prefer getting an all-in-one package; they want their laptop to allow them to play games and accomplish other CPU intensive tasks among other things.
With that in mind, the low-end laptops have observed a decrease in the market and most of the machines available are more on the mid-tier to high-tier side. This has caused the average user to spend more money than required for his needs. However, the low-end laptops still exist and a bit of smart shopping can save you on several dollars.
1. Low-end laptops
Low-end laptops are designed to perform basic tasks and are light on the specs with emphasis on portability. These laptops have entry-level CPUs and integrated graphics meaning they are designed for running basic applications, watching movies, making video calls and basically anything that doesn’t require high-end processing.
These laptops basically suffice for most of the user base that actually needs a laptop, but are overlooked by much expensive units. They are compact and even though the ventilation is not that optimal, it is good enough as the chances of the machine heating up are highly unlikely. If such a laptop heats up to abnormal standards, it is probably cause of the dust that has accumulated overtime and it will require cleaning.
These laptops can still benefit from a laptop cooling pad as it will elevate and create more breathing room for the ducts below. This way you can use it on your cushions, bed or any other soft surfaces. Cooling pads are a good way to get rid of excessive heat that will be produced during long usage sessions.
These laptops appeal to the more average user as the price of these is less than the high-end ones and the specs enable you to have access to a larger array of apps and play some games as well. These laptops have mid-end CPUs (such as the Intel i5 and AMD Ryzen 5 processors) and entry-level or mid-end GPUs (such as the GTX 1050Ti, GTX 1060 and Rx580). This makes them a good buy for casual gaming and rendering.
This user base will play some e-sports titles (such as CSGO, DOTA, Overwatch or occasionally Rainbow Six) and some AAA titles.
The heat produced within these laptops is immense when performing hardware intensive tasks and thus their lifetime is reduced when subjected to long term use for these purposes. Does this make them a poor product? Of course, not! But this does imply that these laptops could use some extra care. As a general rule, it is better to avoid long gaming sessions on such laptops as eventually the demanding apps will cause the laptop to overheat. But if you tread on that path, you will need a hefty external cooler.
Installing a laptop cooler can be tricky in this situation as the basic ones will only offer a minuscule difference (if any). Purchasing a premium cooler, such as the Cooler Master Notepal XL or a Thermaltake Massive 20, will be beneficial and make an impressive difference of 6-10 degrees. However, it is highly unlikely that there will be a huge performance increase.
These machines are very expensive and usually come in the form of gaming laptops. They come with high-end CPUs (such as the Ryzen 7) and GPUs (such as the GTX 1080Ti or RTX 2080). These components run pretty hot and require premium cooling solutions. When installed in a tower PC, you will observe people using huge tower coolers (or a water cooler) for the CPU. There will be several air fans installed to have positive air pressure or neutral air pressure. It is inevitable that when these components are installed within a narrow space, they will heat up even faster and the probability to reach throttling temperatures will go up by time.
When the laptop reaches high temperatures it will be quite difficult for a basic laptop cooler to keep them low. Even for an expensive laptop cooler, the temperatures will go down by 5 degrees under load. But if you are spending more than $1000 on your gaming laptop, you might as well spend some extra bucks on a cooler.
How well will a laptop cooler work for you?
Despite the sense of urgency for laptop coolers, the performance does not substantially improve overall, with their presence. Sure there will be a difference in temperature (which amounts to the build of laptop, load, the build of laptop cooler), but at the end of the day it depends on your budget.
If you are using a low-end laptop and use it for casual work purposes or for tasks that are not so demanding, you are in the safe zone and laptop coolers will not do you much good except for helping a bit in long term sessions.
For mid-end to high-end, it depends on what kind of usage you are putting your laptop through. But it is better to go for a laptop cooler in this scenario, as it is highly likely that you will be performing hardware intensive tasks.
Laptop coolers will not be as beneficial if your laptop has accumulated dust overtime and has clogged vents. If you have been using your laptop for a while and haven’t cleaned it off, clean it first and then go for a laptop cooler.
The reason for that is a laptop cooler will decrease the rate of dust accumulation. Get thermal paste applied on the CPU if your laptop is really old.