Miscellaneous Ramblings

7 Tools for Keeping Your Laptop (uh, Notebook) Cool

Charles Moore - 2006.07.24 -Tip Jar

The new MacBook Pros and MacBooks run hot - almosthot enough to fry eggs. Indeed, Apple no longer advertises itsportable computers as "laptops", presumably fearing productliability lawsuits should someone singe their thighs.

But it's not just the Macintel 'Books. After OS X 10.4"Tiger" was released in early 2005, I noted a significant increasein reader mail either mentioning or complaining about more frequentfan cycling on PowerBooks and iBooks as well, and my own machinesran noticeably hotter (although still relatively tepid comparedwith the Macintels) after I installed Tiger.

Prior to 10.4, the cooling fans in my 700 MHz G3 iBook and 550 MHz G4 upgradedPismo had remained pretty muchsilent, even during hot summer weather. (The processor upgradevendor, Daystar, retrofitted me with a replacement copper heatsink, replacing the Pismo's original composite one, which helpedkeep the heat down to about the same as it had been with theoriginal 500 MHz G3 processor.)

However, after I installed OS X 10.4, the Pismo's fan beganspinning up as much as three or four times a day - as opposed tovirtually never - and the weather really wasn't that warm herethrough the spring of '05.

Under OS X 10.3 "Panther", my little iBook's fan had never comeon, not even once, through the hottest stretches of two summers, sothis was something new. My guess is that it probably has somethingto do with Tiger's more intense video support demands, and perhapsstuff like Spotlight indexer running in the background.

I'm glad my iBook's hard drive is very quiet, because thereseems to be some thing or things keeping it busy much of the timein Tiger.

Daystar's Gary Dailey says he has noticed that Tiger is puttingmore stress on the CPUs of the older systems, and he assumes thisis due to the lack of a suitable GPU for offloading the Core Imageand Core Graphics calls in these machines. The Rage Mobility 128GPU with 8 MB of VRAM in the Pismo is really not up to dealinggracefully with Tiger. The iBook's Radeon 7500 GPU supports QuartzExtreme (which the Pismo doesn't) but is not programmable for fullsupport for Core Image and Core Graphics, so some of the load thatwould otherwise be handled by the video processor is likely gettingshunted to the IBM 750FX CPU in it as well.

The cooling fans are a lot noisier than even the most decrepithard drives of my recollection, and once they cut in, they stayrunning for a long time before finally falling silent again. ThePismo's fan does a passable impression of a 767 taking off, and Ireally don't want to have to listen it on a routine basis.

Given the way things are going with laptop heat generation, Iguess I should be thankful that I live in a relatively chilly partof the world.

Podium CoolPad

My new (to me) 17" 1.33 GHz G4 PowerBook's fan runs a lot,perhaps half the time or more in summer weather, and that's withthe 'Book sitting on a RoadTools PodiumCoolPad, but at least it's not as raucous as the Pismo andiBook fans. It cuts in at about 58.5° C and stays running untilthe processor temperature drops to 55° C.

Podium CoolPadI likethe Podium CoolPad because it's small, light, and easy to stuff ina backpack or computer case. It's still robust enough to supportthe 17" PowerBook, and it comes in white to match the iBook, so itlooks sharp.

It should be as efficient as any of the several laptop standchoices that aid cooling efficiency by raising the 'Book off thesupport surface to allow air to circulate underneath. Most laptops- er, notebooks - dissipate some of their heat through the bottomand the more air that's allowed to flow under the bottom, thebetter opportunity that heat will have to dissipate.

The Podium CoolPad measures 8-1/2 x 11 inches, weighs 1 pound.If your laptop has a contoured bottom (a first generation iBook,for example) you can remove the center supports and it will workjust fine using only the two outer supports.

The Podium CoolPad's price is $29.95.

Targus ChillMat

Targus ChillMatHowever, for the warm months, a more active approach may berequired. Another solution I have in my arsenal is a TargusChillMat, which is a laptop platform containing two largediameter, USB-powered fans that draw air through channels moldedinto the laptop support surface, exhausting it out the back of theunit.

"But won"t two fans be noisier than one?", some might ask. Nope.The reason is that the ChillMat's fans are relatively largediameter (about 3 1/2 inches), so they can turn slowly and quietlyand still move the required volume of air (the rated capacity is 28cubic feet per minute).

cooling ventTargus claims 25 DBL, whichcoincidentally is the same amount of noise Apple says the G5 iMacmakes with its three internal cooling fans. On the other hand, aninternal fan has to fit inside the cramped confines of today'slaptop form factors, so has a be a small-diameter unit that runsvery fast and very noisily in order to do its job.

The Targus ChillMat makes about the same amount of noise as atypical laptop hard drive of a few years ago. It's not totallysilent, but it is unobtrusive, a very subdued - almost soothing -sort of whispering sound, unlike the high pitched whine of theinternal fans. There is also an inline switch in the USB power cordso you can turn the ChillMat's fans off when they're not requiredwithout unplugging the unit.

ChillMatThe ChillMatcan also be inserted between the CoolPad (or most other laptopstands) and the "Book, so it does not need to alter yourworkstation dynamics very much, being only 11/16" thick.

The ChillMat housing is made from a hard, ABS-type plastic,colored silver, which harmonizes nicely with metal, white, or evenblack Apple laptops, and is surprisingly light in weight at just 15ounces (425 grams), and with dimensions of 11.75" x 9" x 11/16" itshould slip easily into most computer bags or backpacks.

It definitely cuts down on fan cycling with the 17" PowerBook.User testimonials are pretty much unanimous that the ChillMat worksvery effectively to cool hot laptops.

ChillMatChillMatTechnical Specs

  • Color: Silver
  • Exterior Dimensions: 11.75" x 9" x 0.8"
  • Includes USB power cord with on/off switch
  • System Requirements: USB port
  • Technical
    • Air Flow: 28 CFM (cubic feet per minute)
    • Speed: 1500 RPM
    • PC Power: USB: 5 V, 500 mA
    • Power: 1.05 W
  • Warranty: Limited One Year Warranty
  • Weight: 15 oz

The Targus Notebook ChillMat sells for $29.99

Targus Notebook ChillHub

The TargusNotebook ChillHub is an enhancement of the of the TargusNotebook ChillMat, with four convenient USB 2.0 ports, which willmore than compensate for the port used to power the unit's owncooling fans, in addition to the two-fan cooling system.

ChillHubWith two solutions in oneproduct, you can free up space on your desk. The ChillHub alsoincludes an AC adapter to power the USB 2.0 ports, as well as thetwo fans when you're in desktop substitute mode.

Aside from the USB hub feature, the ChillHub functions similarlyto the ChillMat.

ChillHub features:

  • Prevents overheating: Two-fan cooling system pulls heat awayfrom the laptop and prevents the CPU from overheating duringuse
  • Protects your workspace: High-heat generating notebooks candamage furniture surfaces; the ChillHub protects furniture fromheat damage
  • Expands your capabilities: True plug and play for up to 4 USB2.0 devices like mice, keyboard, memory drives, lights, PDAs,etc.

Technical specs.

  • Color - Silver
  • Exterior Dimensions - 11.75" x 9" x 0.8"
  • Warranty - One Year Warranty
  • Weight - 2 lb 5 oz

The Targus Notebook ChillHub sells for $49.99.

Laptop Desk and Laptop Desk Ultralite

The $30 LaptopDesk from LapWorks Inc. has been proved to cool laptops andreduce heat to the user's lap.

LapWorks PR rep. Bill Moodysays: "Apple's MacBook and MacBook Pro are many times faster thanprevious models. This is good news. Ergo, the processing speeds aregenerating excessive heat which is bad news. As a result, Apple iscautioning their laptop/notebook users by stating "Do not leave thebottom of the computer in contact with your lap or any surface ofyour body for extended periods. Prolonged contact with your bodycould cause discomfort and potentially a burn."

"The Laptop Desk has been scientifically proven to reduce heatin notebooks by 8 - 10% on the lap, and 15 - 20% when inclined on adesk via its ventilation channels and heat-conducting polycarbonateplastic. Here are thethermal study results from California Polytechnic University atPomona."

The Laptop Desk is the market's only dual-purpose - for lap ordesk use - lightweight folding portable desk which:

  • Again, cools a laptop by 8-10% (on laps) and 15-20% (on desks)via its built-in ventilation channels
  • Spans the entire lap, creating a 21" wide sturdy workspace thuspreventing "hot leg" and burned thighs
  • Folds into a wedge-shaped stand on a desk, elevating the screencloser to the eyes, and inclining the keyboard to 5 ergonomictyping angles to relieve neck, back and shoulder strain
  • Is lightweight, thin and fits right next to the laptop in anycomputer bag when folded

The Laptop Desk fully spans the lap creating a sturdy, 21" wideworkspace which allows laptop-using males to sit in their naturalposition with legs apart. Competitive products lack the width toaddress the posture issue.

Laptop DeskThe LaptopDesk version 2.0 supports all notebooks while the Laptop DeskUltraLite is thinner, lighter and designed specifically for roadwarriors using notebooks of 5 pounds or less (although I havepersonally found that it works fine with a big, eight-pound,WallStreet PowerBook aboard).

In June 2001, LapWorks launched the Laptop Desk v1.0, designedenable safe typing on laps without slips or burns, and to cool thecomputer in the process. With the Laptop Desk v2.0, announced inApril 2002, LapWorks launched a new product category with theindustry's first dual purpose lap desk that doubles as a desktopstand for ergonomic typing on desks. Calero launched his thirdproduct, the Laptop Desk UltraLite, in August 2004.

In 2003, Mr. Calero published an article on overcoming thehazards of laptop use. "How to Protect your Laptop and Lap fromHeat Build-up and Other Hazards" is available on LapWorks'website.

Laptop DeskThe LaptopDesk UltraLite's weighs just 14.6 ounces, but in fully-open laptray mode it creates a generous 22" expanse of workspace . In its"wedge" desktop stand configuration, the UltraLite offers 5adjustable angles with a maximum screen elevation of 3 1/4", andincreases cooling efficiency by a claimed 15 percent to 20 percent.When used as a desktop stand the Laptop Desk allows unimpededaccess to front-loading optical drives, which some laptop standsdon't.

When folded, the Laptop Desk UltraLite measures 11" x 11" x5/16" and will slip easily into most computer bags or backpacks,and stores conveniently just about anywhere.

Laptop DeskOur testLaptop Desk UltraLite feels very sturdy, notwithstanding its lightweight and thin profile, and the hinges appear to be robust enoughto withstand extended use and many folding cycles. As Mr. Caleronotes, polycarbonate plastic is incredibly strong.

Both Laptop Desk models sell for a modest $29.95.

There are several other laptop cooling solutions that I haven'tpersonally tried out (yet), but Ill include somemanufacturer-supplied information on a few of them for comparisonand follow-up in case you're interested.

Xpad Non-slip Laptop Cooler & Heatshield

Xpad is acompletely new portable non-slip laptop pad product that cools thecomputer while protecting the user from laptop heat. It features anelegant lightweight design, thin profile, comfortable padding, andsmart non-slip interfaces.

XpadXpad does not use anyfans to cool your Laptop, but enhances natural convection airflow.There are rubber feet on the bottom of laptops that will sit on topof the 'X' pattern rubber pads on the Xpad, providing clearancebetween the bottom of the laptop and the 'X' pattern rubberpads.

Xpad will accommodate laptops with screen sizes up to 17 inches,and will work as long as some part of the rubber feet on the bottomof your laptop touches the 'X' pattern on top of the Xpad. Therubber feet do not need to completely cover the 'X' pattern for theXpad to work. Also, if you have a laptop without ventilation holeson the bottom such as a PowerBook you don't need to have the rubberfeet come in contact with the 'X' pattern - the Xpad will worksince the laptop casing is designed as a heat sink.

The Xpad is claimed to keep your laptop cooler by up to 20degrees and shield your lap by up to 40 degrees - reducing laptopheat extends laptop life and keeping your legs happy.

Unique 3 layers of thermal insulation with trapped air pocketswithin its ABS composite structure makes Xpad an efficient laptopheatshield

The Xpad's ABS composite structure design allows it to have athin profile while providing an amazing structural stiffness.

iLap Laptop Stand

iLap isanother stand designed to keep your laptop cool, and let you workcomfortably with the machine on your lap as well as at a desk.Designed to match Apple PowerBooks and MacBook Pros, the iLaplaptop stand is made of aluminum with sand-blasted and silveranodized finish. iLap is also suitable for other laptops, andavailable in five sizes: 12", 13", 14", 15", 15" widescreen and 17"widescreen versions.

iLap keeps your laptop cool byusing lightweight aluminum as a cool sink., and its all aluminumthermal conductivity is 13 times more than stainless steel, andthus the more surface it has in contact with the computer, the moreheat that it draws away (in the same conceptual way that heat sinkworks on the CPU).

Aluminum is chosen for its light weight, elegant appearance, andhigher heat conductivity (compared to steel or plastic), althoughthe cost of aluminum is 4 times more than plastic and twice that ofsteel.

iLap raises your laptop to keep your lap cool, and is paddedwith velvetcushions for extra comfort. The front cushion isdetachable for switching between lap work and desk work, but theback cushion should remain for either use.

Unlike some tall laptopstands that are designed for desk use only and require an externalkeyboard, the iLap is specifically intended for lap use as well -with the convenience of typing directly on the laptop keyboard.


  • 12 inch, $49.90
  • 13/14 inch, $59.90
  • 15 inch, $59.90
  • 15 inch W (widescreen), $59.90
  • 17 inch W (widescreen), $69.90

MacMice iBreeze Laptop Cooling Stand

The iBreeze is a very attractive, dual fan cooled, USB powered,clear acrylic desk stand for your Apple Powerbook or iBook. Its USBplug provides a passthrough port, so you don't lose the use of thatUSB port when using the iBreeze — a nice touch,addressing the only significant gripe I have about theChillMat.

The iBreeze uses two 60mm/21/4" fans, each operating at less than one-half their maximum ratedspeed, making he iBreeze much quieter than your internal Powerbookor iBook fan, and drawing power directly from the USB port of theconnected "Book. A female USB passthrough port on the iBreeze givesyou back the USB port used to power the fans. Any (low-power) USBdevice can simply be plugged into the rear of the iBreeze.

Constructed from clear acrylic sheet, the iBreeze is completelytransparent (both its casing and its two fans), and it certainlylooks great in photos.. even without a Powerbook sitting ontop.

The iBreeze uses a clear coated, stainless metal braided USBcable to provide both maximum electrical shielding and sharpappearance. The clear polymer bumpers on the top face of theiBreeze are claimed to be gummy enough to securely hold even a17-inch Powerbook in place, and tall enough to allow substantialairflow space between the iBreeze and your computer. There is alsoa convenient On-Off switch,

iBreeze Specifications:

  • Width: 10.9" (fits 12, 15 & 17" "Books)
  • Depth: 9.5"
  • Height: 2.25" (at rear)
  • Voltage: 5.0V
  • Current; 130mA
  • Cooling: typically -5 to -15 Degrees F

Priced at C$45/US$29.99

Unfortunately, it appears that the iBreeze is no longer inproduction, but certain resellers still may have some in stock.

For more information, visit CoolUSB or TheMaclaunch Store.

In summary, if your 'Book's cooling fan has started cyclingfrequently, one or more of the solutions mentioned in this columnmay help. LEM

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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