Heat is the mortal enemy of all electronics. Unfortunately, high-power electronics like CPUs and RAM also produce significant heat. This heat must be exhausted from the system to ensure proper functionality and a long service life. Thanks to their compact designs, laptops must work especially hard to keep their heat-producing components cool. Sometimes, the built-in cooling isn’t up to the task, especially for high-load applications like gaming and rendering. If your laptop gets overwhelmed by heat, you can cool things down with an inexpensive laptop cooling pad.

How Laptop Cooling Pads Work

Laptop Cooling Pad Heat Sink

Laptop cooling pads come in two types: active and passive. An active laptop cooling pad includes powered fans that transport hot air from your laptop. This is by far the most popular design, and it’s what you’ll see by default.

A passive laptop cooling pad provides minimal cooling by “sinking” heat. Essentially, it’s a highly-efficient heat conductor, allowing the cooling pad to absorb heat from your laptop and dissipate it into the air. Passive pads just like a CPU heat sink, passively radiating heat into the air and away from sensitive components.

Active cooling pads tend to be the most cost-effective, but their fans can be loud, and they need USB power or an external power source to operate. Passive pads are silent, but only the most-expensive and best-designed options actual provide meaningful cooling without torching your desk or your wrists.

Why You Might Need a Laptop Cooling Pad

A good laptop is designed with airflow and heat dissipation at the forefront of the manufacturer’s concerns. But even carefully-developed and expensive laptops can have heating issues. If your laptop slows down after long use, gets uncomfortably warm, or suddenly “throttles” performance, you might have heat issues. These issues appear more frequently as laptop age, and inexpensive laptops show the signs more frequently than pricey models.

Noisy Laptop Fan Laptop Stand

However, even the newest, flashiest gaming laptops are not necessarily immune from heat issues. Jamming tons of hot silicon into a tiny plastic box will always produce heat dissipation challenges, and they’re not always solved correctly. Since you can’t easily open up a laptop to inspect the problem, the fastest solution is typically a cooling pad.

Overheating can cause strange problems that you might not immediately connect to heat. For example, certain early Sony VIAO laptops would lose Wi-Fi connectivity if they overheated. Apple’s MacBook Pros can slow dramatically when too hot in an effort to protect their hardware, and video playback might degrade dramatically on cheaper ultrabooks and netbooks when things get toasty. If a problem only appears after a certain amount of usage, you might try a cooling pad as a solution.

What Laptop Cooling Pad Should I Buy?

The most cost-effective cooling pads will always be active cooling pads. Look for a pad with multiple fans, preferably three or more. However, do consider noise before you settle on an active pad. Depending on the quality of the fans, the noise volume may interfere with watching videos or playing games.

Where noise is a concern or heat problems are minor, passive cooling offers a good solution. Look for pads made from materials with high thermal conductivity, like aluminum. Since most of the cooling comes from increased airflow, a passive pad must have plenty of space under the device. Avoid all solid pads, and prefer pads with larger elevations. Metal laptop stands can also function as passive cooling pads, though they’re rarely marketed that way.

Since a cooling pad goes underneath your laptop, make sure you get one that approximate matches your laptop’s footprint. Slanted pads are generally more comfortable than flat pads, but make sure there’s some sort of lip to keep your laptop from sliding off.

Conclusion: Other Options

If your laptop is suffering from heat-related problems, then laptop cooling pads are a cheap and effective way to solve your problems. While they’re not the ultimate solution, they can resurrect a failing device for less than the cost of a single PC game.

If you hate cooling pads, there are a couple of tips you can try instead. Always elevate your laptop. Separate it from the desk or your lap with some kind of spacer that allows for free airflow underneath the laptop. Never use your laptop on insulating material like bedding. If possible, reduce the load on the machine to more manageable levels. Don’t try to encode a video while you play Civilization, for example. If you have a dated laptop, you might consider an upgrade. Modern laptop CPUs are highly efficient, with hardware affordances for heat dissipation and reduced heat generation.

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