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Our Top Fixes of 2012: #4 – Clean Your Fan, Mate!

A whole lot of dust!
A whole lot of dust inside a 6-year-old Macbook!

Janet’s laptop has been a source of inspiration for The Restart Project. Months before planning the first event, we were already “restarting” her old white MacBook, by adding additional RAM, updating some applications and clearing space from the hard drive, in order to speed it up. All of this worked, but was not enough. She kept complaining that the laptop was really hot, and the fan out of control. Having installed smcFanControl, she knew that the temperature insider her laptop was often reaching 80 degrees Celsius, and the fan going beyond 6000 rpm – not good. During our second event, we took her laptop apart following a very detailed iFixit guide. We found a whole lot of dust in her machine, and when the took the fan out, it was so dirty that it was obvious it couldn’t do its work properly. In that occasion, we changed the fan and the laptop started working properly again, without heating up. Since then, we just recommend taking the fan out and cleaning it very well with an airdust can: in most occasions, this is sufficient! We also learned how complicated it is to access and clean the fan, while it should be a maintenance routine to be done once a year or so. Why can’t manufacturers build laptops easier to keep clean?

7 responses

  1. some manufacturers do make the laptop fan easy to clean – Dell and HP for example have some laptops with fans which are easy to clean and replace if necessary. Typically they’re the “business” models and they cost more in the first place but they are built better and are much easier to service.
    Keeping the fan clean is really good advice; many computers will run slowly if the fan is dirty – if the CPU temperature gets too high then it’s designed to run more slowly so that it cools down. A bit of spring cleaning can really make the computer faster.
    The thing to watch out for is the computer feeling hot or being much more noisy – that’s caused by the fan spinning faster.

    1. Roger Ormik

      Dell and HP may let you clean the fan, but they’re the worst in terms of material quality and built.

      1. Steve Rochford

        I don’t think you can say that about Dell and HP as a general statement. I’m sure that some of their models are poor but they tend to be the “consumer” models. I work in a university and we have thousands of HP laptops. We buy them with a 3 year warranty included in the price but it’s very rare that an engineer has to come out to fix problems which suggests that they are built to last.

  2. Hi Steve, Thanks for pointing out that some manufacturers are better than others in relation to allowing for maintenance. Unfortunate that we have to pay more for something that seems so basic!

  3. Gary Henderson

    The big old Tektronix 500-series oscilloscopes of the 1960s (with at least 5 dozen valves to need cooling!) did it the right way – a proper filter on the fan intake, with the fan providing over-pressure to the insides of the instrument so dust & rubbish was blown clear, not sucked in through every joint. Which is one reason why these fine old instruments kept on keeping on…. Fans that suck air out of a housing are a disaster – they cause air to be sucked in via the DVD-drive slot etc with predictable results.

    1. Steve Rochford

      I think “big” is the keyword here; it’s easy to do cooling properly when you’ve got space, much harder when you’ve got something the size of a MacBook Air or an Ultrabook.

      1. Gary Henderson

        Agreed, but there is little space penalty to a basic filter placed upstream of the fan. Any airflow losses would be small compared to the effect of fouled fan-blades and a woolly blanket slowly growing over the intended cooling targets. đŸ™‚ Ironically, in a glaring lapse of corporate memory, Tektronix went for a ‘suck’ fan on the ‘economy’ T912 storage ‘scope. And it was not very reliable…

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