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Laptops and tablets are remarkable pieces of tech gear that are becoming slimmer and more powerful with every passing year. Laptops are often the default computer of choice for many users. They are portable, comparatively lightweight, and pack massive processing power. However, their modest size and amount of technology squeezed into the casing mean that the airflow through these units is limited. The result can be overheating, where the components within the computer get too hot because there is insufficient airflow to keep them at an optimum temperature.
This overheating can cause the laptop’s performance to suffer, usually noticed when everything begins to slow down. Called ‘throttling,’ it can seriously affect the functioning of the computer. Sometimes, the overheating can cause the laptop to stop functioning. Annoying when playing a game, watching a movie, or just in the middle of an important assignment. Also, if a computer is on the user’s knees, the overheating can cause discomfort. If it is on a bed or sofa, there is a risk of fire. The vents that allow air circulation are being blocked in these cases, causing a build-up of heat inside the laptop casing.
When a laptop is on a hard surface, like a table, there is still a risk of fire. Despite manufacturers making great efforts to incorporate additional cooling features – turbofan mode, vapor chambers, and CPU and GPU dedicated heat pipes, for example – these are often more of a marketing ploy than practical efforts to reduce the risk of overheating. There have been cases of laptops incorporating some of these features sparking and burning.
Another problem that is the result of overheating in laptops is concerned with the user’s health. Often users have their laptops sitting on their thighs. An uncomfortable position which causes back strain, so the regular overheating of the laptop not just causes discomfort but can affect the skin on the user’s thighs. The heat causes the skin to discolor, a condition which is known as erythema, or ‘laptop thigh.’ In some cases, overheating laptops have caused burns to the user’s thighs. A particular problem is the user has skin that is sensitive to heat.
When a user has their laptop resting on their thighs, this can cause the vents that are on the underside of the casing to be blocked, which can cause the overheating to be accelerated.
Witnessing a laptop bursting into flames, or even when plastic elements begin to melt, can be really upsetting and quite traumatic. In some cases, users have been so traumatized that they refuse to use laptops again.
Frequent overheating can reduce the life of the laptop, as components become worn out, damaged, or less efficient. Sometimes permanent damage can result. With so much sophisticated tech contained within a relatively small space, overheating in one part can soon affect all the other components. The result is an unusable laptop, fit only for the garbage. Even if only one or two components need replacing, then the laptop is out of use for a few days, and the new parts will be an added expense. For a work laptop, the delay can be a real problem.
Some, if not all, of these problems, can be avoided by the use of a laptop cooling pad.
What is a laptop cooling pad?
A laptop cooling pad (also sometimes called a cooler pad or chill mat) is a device that can be placed beneath a laptop to aid the circulation of air. Usually, a cooling pad is about the same size and thickness as a laptop, and the laptop will rest comfortably on it. Initially, laptop cooling pads used rechargeable batteries, but today the majority will be powered via a USB cable from the laptop itself.
How many types of cooling pads are there?
(a) Active coolers
The most commonly used is the active cooler. These contain fans that can draw cold air into its vents or fans or that draw the excess heat away from the laptop and disperse it into the atmosphere. Active cooling pads often come with additional features, and these are discussed later in this article.
(b) Passive coolers
These pads do not have moving parts. They contain a compound based on an organic salt, and this serves to absorb the heat produced by the laptop. These are good for about 6 – 8 hours of use, but become ineffective after that time.
Another type of passive cooler is probably the simplest of all. It is just a pad that sits under the laptop, raising it from the surface and therefore allowing more airflow under and around the laptop. These are not suitable for laptops that have the air vents on the base, as there is a risk of them being blocked, preventing the free flow of air.
Some passive coolers on the market are simply a framework that the laptop is put on. A ledge along the bottom prevents the laptop from sliding off, and so it can be at the most comfortable angle for the user. These allow the free flow of air and are also adjustable.
(c) Multi-surface coolers
This type of cooling pad is designed to blow fresh air to keep the laptop itself cool and to blow cold air from its bottom surface to keep the user’s thighs cool. Generally speaking, as a standard active cooling pad will prevent the user’s legs from getting hot or burnt, this additional facility is not really needed. As a consequence, these types of cooling pads are not very common, although they do have some supporters.
(d) Multipurpose coolers
Mostly, a multipurpose cooling pad takes the form of a table, with one section being the actual cooling pad, where the laptop sits. Alongside is an area where a writing pad can be put, with a small section next to it for holding pens or pencils. Some of these multipurpose coolers have a part provided to put a cell phone for ease of access. Other features include card readers for media such as critical drives, memory cards, and 2.5″ laptop hard disk drives. Also, the cooler will have legs, for use on a bed or sofa. The great advantage is that when used on a bed, it holds the laptop well above the bedclothes, reducing the risk of the vents blocking. By keeping the laptop well off the bed, it can make using the laptop in bed considerably more comfortable for the user. The user can sit upright and still easily see the screen of the laptop.
The one downside of multipurpose cooling pads is that they are not very portable. Even with the legs folded under the top, the cooler is quite bulky and cannot be packed away with the laptop in a carrying bag.
How are laptop cooling pads made?
Laptop cooling pads are simple devices made from either aluminum or plastic. The fans inside are usually plastic, and there will be a motor, or motors, to run them. The power source comes from the laptop that sits on top of the pad, and a USB cable links them.
Increasingly, vents on cooling pads are now metal mesh panels. These are superior to the plastic versions and have become a selling point, especially with gamers seeking the right laptop cooling pad. One cooling pad, the Thermaltake Massive, has a metal grille rather than metal mesh or plastic vents.
Some cooling pads have additional components such as extra USB ports, slots for SD cards, control panels, and LED lights. The body of the cooling pad is plastic or aluminum, or a combination of both. Mostly they are made to be lightweight and slim, as they have to be portable. The quality of the build can vary, as can the quality of the plastic or aluminum used.
Is it possible to build a DIY cooling pad?
A tech wizard with very basic skills in electronics could quickly build a DIY version of a laptop cooling pad. Just enter “make your laptop cooling pad” in Google (or any other search engine), and the reward will be a long list of websites offering instructions on how to carry out the task. There are also videos on Youtube if the step-by-step visual approach is preferred.
Some DIY cooling pads need very few bought-in components, as they require plastic or cardboard boxes, leftover pieces of wire, and bits of wood and plastic. Others need parts to be purchased, but most of the websites offer lists of the items with website details as to where to buy them.
For an enthusiast that enjoys DIY tinkering, this would be a simple and satisfying project.
For those who do not have the necessary skills or interest, read on to see how to buy a ready-made cooling pad.
What is the target market for laptop cooling pads?
It is too simple an answer to say that the target market for laptop cooling pads is laptop users. The market seems to divide broadly into two – users of standard laptops for work or entertainment and gamers.
Gamers have more specific needs, as they use more power, and therefore slightly larger heavier, laptops, which tend to produce more heat. The cooling pads they prefer are larger and heavier duty, with more powerful and faster fans.
Users of standard laptops include occasional home users and those who use laptops for business. The latter group includes journalists, travel writers, photographers, surveyors, engineers, and estate agents, amongst others. For these, the main criteria for a cooling pad are portability. The pad has to be easy to pack, ideally into the same carrying bag as the laptop itself. A sturdy cooling pad is also desirable, as some of these workers need to use their laptops on a firm and steady surface. A sturdy cooling pad will provide this surface for them, even if they have to place it on an uneven surface then. The cooling pad also needs to be easily foldable, so it is quicker to pack away.
COMMON ISSUES BEFORE SELECTING A LAPTOP COOLING PAD
OK. So there is a problem with a laptop overheating. The first issue to consider is whether it is possible to resolve the problem without buying an external cooling pad. Is there something simple that can be done to resolve the issue? Maybe there is. Before going on to discuss cooling pads in more detail, let’s run through some things that can be done to help. It might mean a cooling pad won’t be needed.
Firstly, try the laptop on a hard surface, like a desk or table where there is nothing to block or interfere with the laptop’s vents.
If the problem continues, try raising your laptop a little, using wedges or feet.
Check to see if the laptop is working too hard. The more work a laptop is asked to do, the higher the risk of overheating. The workload can be reduced by going into Task Manager and closing any background applications that are not needed. Switch them on again when they are required. As well as reducing the risk of overheating, it should mean that the programs that are running will do so a bit more speedily.
Check the inside of the laptop for accumulated dust. Dust can contribute to overheating by covering components and thereby preventing the cooling air from the internal fans blowing across their surface. It is best to regularly clean away any dust, using an air blower or compressed air in a can. It is possible to get tiny vacuuming devices that will suck up the dust. These should be used with great care, however. It is best to clean away any dust at six-monthly intervals. Dust inside the casing of the laptop is detrimental to its efficient operation anyway, and having a regular cleaning regime will improve the laptop’s performance. Removing dust also will improve the running of the fan or fans within the laptop.
Use a thermal paste to coat the connections between components. It will dry out in time and need replacing, so it is worth checking the condition of the paste already in place. A delicate job that requires some expertise, so only tackle it if you are confident that you know what you are doing.
If none of these solutions work, then perhaps a cooling pad is the answer. There is a bewildering range of cooling pads, and before buying, it is necessary to narrow down that choice. So, firstly, what is the type of laptop is need of cooling? Is it a gaming laptop or a standard laptop? There are significant differences to consider. Secondly, where will the laptop be used for most of the time? Will it be in an office, at home, while traveling or in a coffee shop or café? Will you be alone or in the company when using it? How portable is the laptop? Does it have to accompany the user at all times, or is it mostly left in one place? If the laptop is carried around quite frequently, will it be possible to take the cooling pad too?
At this point, I would like to devote a few lines to gaming laptops. Gaming laptops tend to look different from standard laptops. They need to contain bigger and more efficient fans, as they have to contend with more demanding software, larger batteries, a GPU, and more and different vents. Often the materials that gaming laptops are made of are sturdier. Gaming laptops have extended hours of usage without a break and an even more cramped distribution of the components within the casing. All this adds up to slightly larger and heavier laptops. All these factors put together mean that they can heat up more quickly and to a higher temperature.
Therefore, in most cases, gaming laptop users should seriously consider purchasing a cooling pad. Specific cooling pads for gaming laptops are available, although the mainstream cooling pad manufacturers are producing their standard models in sizes appropriate for gaming laptops.
For the next section, I am assuming that you will be looking for an active cooling pad.
LAPTOP COOLING PAD SELECTION FACTORS
The number of fans
Active laptop cooling pads can have up to five or six fans. More fans do not necessarily mean better cooling, and some cooling pads with a single large fan perform better than those with multiple smaller fans.
Up-to-date coolers have been developed to minimize the noise produced by the fans as they rotate. Generally speaking, noise levels won’t be a significant consideration for you, but there are a few models that do have a problem with noise. If noise will be an important factor, then it is best to avoid them.
Fan power determines how fast the fan will turn. An ideal speed seems to be about 1500 rpm. This power usage is a factor to consider when choosing a cooling pad. In most cases, the cooling pad is drawing its power directly from the laptop’s battery. In some cases, the cooling pad could drain energy, reducing the time the laptop is usable between being plugged into an electricity supply point.
Keep in mind the fact that the more powerful the fan, the noisier it is likely to be. Manufacturers are, of course, aware of this and have taken steps to reduce the noise from powerful fans.
It is a given that size matters. The larger the laptop, the larger the cooling pad needed. Cooling pads are available in various sizes, so matching one to the size of your laptop should be straightforward.
If the laptop is portable, then the addition of a cooling pad makes its weight an essential part of the decision making.
There are some quite chunky cooling pads on the market, and if you are carrying it around a lot, then, as with weight, thickness becomes an important factor.
Some laptop users are happy with their computer sitting flat on whatever surface they have it on. Others prefer to have a slight slope to the keyboard. Some cooling pads are adjustable for the user’s preference.
Ergonomic design is preferable, with an anti-slip surface to elevate the laptop to prevent slippage. Sometimes the design will incorporate stops to avoid the laptop moving. The choice of the model when buying a laptop cooling pad is a purely personal choice, as is color. Cooling pads can be found in different colors, although sober colors are the most common. Some like their cooling pad to be the same color as their laptops. Others prefer a contrasting color.
Before deciding as to which type of cooling pad to choose, examine the bottom of the laptop. If the vents are on the bottom, then avoid choosing a passive cooling pad, as its use might block the vents. If the vents are on the sides of the casing, then a passive cooling pad can safely be used.
LAPTOP COOLING PAD FEATURES
Some cooling pads don’t have any USB ports, but the majority have at least one. A USB port is needed to connect the cooling pad to the laptop. Some have dual USB ports, while others have several. In general, the more USB ports that the cooling pad has, the better. It will give more options for attachments.
An additional feature on some cooling pads is the provision of a slot or slots for SD cards. Again, having them will give more options.
Some cooling pads do provide speakers that can enhance the laptop’s audio provision. Given that laptops often struggle to give an average, let alone good, audio volume and quality, this can be an advantage where the quality of the sound is essential.
It can be useful to have a control panel on the cooling pad to allow alteration of the fan speed and the LED lights to be dimmed or switched off.
Most cooling pads have LED lights that shine blue and allow the user to see inside the pad to check that the fans are functioning correctly. As with any feature of this type, some manufacturers have made the lights the star of the show, with very bright lights, more lights than strictly necessary, or in a few cases, multicolored lights.
A relatively new development in laptop cooling pad technology is the provision of adjustable temperature sensors. These are designed to monitor heat points on the laptop and then regulate the speed of the cooling pad’s fans to keep the temperature at an optimum level.
TOP 10 RECOMMENDED LAPTOP COOLING PADS
There are so many cooling pads on the market that choosing the right one for a particular laptop can potentially be a difficult decision.
I want to make that decision easier, so here are my top ten cooling pads that I think beat the rest.
1. Havit HV- F2056
The HV-F2056 boasts three powerful fans in a slim, minimalistic design. It rates as one of the most powerful laptop cooling pads available. It is portable as well as stylish and has impressive durability, which makes it an excellent choice for those who travel a lot. It fits easily into a laptop bag. Users like travel writers and photographers or business people, who have to use their laptops a lot when traveling do favor this model. It fits laptops up to 17″, although probably is not so good for heavy ones. There are two heights, so adjustability is somewhat limited, although there is an extra USB port.
Havit has a good reputation amongst enthusiasts for the quality of their PC accessories, and this cooling pad certainly comes up to that established standard.
This is a good cooling pad, with features that serve the average user well. It also has the advantage of being reasonably priced.
- This cooling pad is slim, lightweight and portable.
- It boasts fans that are quiet in operation.
- There is a 1-year manufacturer’s warranty
- There is no independent power switch for the LED lights.
- This pad is not suitable for heavy 17” laptops.
2. Tree New Bee Cooling Pad
The slim, stylish, and robust Tree New Bee Cooling Pad has four 110mm fans, which have adjustable speeds. Two of them can be turned off should you wish. The blue LED lighting dims as the speed of the fans is reduced. The design makes for a portable cooling pad that is ideal if you do a lot of traveling.
This device scores well, in my opinion, for low noise, active cooling, and adjustability as there are two legs at the back to allow the laptop to be angled. However, there is only one height setting, which might be a problem for some. I would, however, recommend this cooling pad for gaming. It has some heavy-duty features, including its construction in durable plastic and metal, plus an aerodynamic airflow which means better cooling performance. The design guarantees a good viewing and typing angle, which in turn reduces wrist strain.
The real plus with this cooling pad is its affordability, as it provides the right balance between performance on the one hand and price on the other.
- The Tree New Bee is compatible with laptop sizes up to 17 inches.
- There is a built-in dual USB hub.
- To make storage and transport easier, there is a built-in cable organizer
- It looks good and has four indicator lights.
- The stoppers that prevent sliding are not very substantial.
- A full-size 17” gaming laptop might be a big burden for this lightweight pad when it is raised on its legs. This means that it can only be used flat with this type of laptop.
- There are no side vents, which results in poor performance on soft surfaces.
- The unusual shape means the pad will not fit easily into a laptop case.
3. Cooler Master Notepal X3
Cooler Master are well known for their cooling systems for desktop gaming use. This pad is aimed at the gaming laptop owner. It is a bit heavier than the average cooling pad, so it will support the larger gaming laptops, up to 17”. There is a fan speed controller, which also allows control of the LED lighting, so it can be turned off. The front vent can help cool the user’s hands, so no sweaty palms at critical moments in a game!
Cooler Master are experts in the desktop cooling field, but maybe have some way to go before their laptop cooling pads get the same respect.
- It contains a large 200mm fan, and its speed can be controlled.
- Its extra weight means it will support larger gaming laptops.
- The pad has controllable LED lighting.
- The price of this pad is competitive, given its size and features.
- With just one fan does this cause the air to circulate as efficiently as it would with several fans.
- There is no extra USB port.
4. Thermaltake Massive 20 RGB Cooling Pad
This is an impressive cooling pad that will happily cope with a 17-inch laptop and can manage a 19-inch gaming laptop without complaint. It has a single 200mm fan with adjustable fan speed. The RGB in the title refers to the lighting around the edge of the pad, which can be used in several modes – pulsing, blinking or static – and not just in blue! The overall look of the cooling pad is enhanced by a brushed aluminum panel. It also boasts an adjustable temperature sensor that monitors heat points and then regulates the speed of the fan to maintain optimum temperature. A boon for gamers! There is also a fan speed control and a control panel lock. Dual USB ports and a fully adjustable stand complete the features.
The downside to this particular pad is that the price does not match the quality of the build itself. Unfortunately, the pad is on the higher end of the price range, whereas the quality of the build is on the lower end of the scale.
- The multi-function control panel is easy to use and looks good.
- The adjustable temperature sensors will monitor the heat points and alter the speed of the fans to achieve the most effective cooling. The fans can also be adjusted manually.
- There is a turbo function to boost fan speed from 1000 to 1300 rpm.
- This cooling pad has a three-year warranty, but it is limited to parts and labor.
- The brushed aluminum surface is attractive but slippery.
- The USB ports are positioned awkwardly and are hard to reach easily.
5. Cooler Master Notepal X-Slim Laptop Cooling Pad
Cooler Master is an industry leader with a reputation for reliable coolers for desktop computers, but this entry into the laptop cooling market is only average. It contains a heavy-duty fan, with a top speed of 1500rpm. This means that the cooling pad could rapidly drain the laptop’s energy, reducing the period the laptop is usable between being plugged in. The Notepal X-Slim, as the name suggests, is a slim laptop cooling pad, which is lightweight and beautifully quiet. It also has an elegant cable management system, which helps make it neat and tidy as well. The lighting is more muted than on some cooling pads.
It does, however, only have one 160mm fan, which sometimes means that the airflow is not distributed as effectively as with multi-fan versions. The fan speed cannot be adjusted. Also, there is only one USB port, which can limit the extras that can be added.
- Changing the angle of the pad is easy.
- The pad has inbuilt cable grooves.
- There is a one-year limited warranty for labor and parts
- This pad is quite loud compared to other models.
- The cooling power is not strong enough for gaming laptops.
- The speed of the fan cannot be changed.
6. Kootek Laptop Cooling Pad
This cooling pad can cope with laptops up to 17″ and has been designed with versatility in mind. It has five fans, which can be controlled separately by switching on power to either 1, 4, or all 5. Very quiet when in use, and has six height settings. The stand can be folded for traveling or storing. However, the pad does drain the laptop’s battery more quickly than some other models.
- The ergonomic stand has six adjustable height settings
- The stand can be easily folded for ease of transport and storage
- Very quiet operation
- The laptop is prevented from sliding off the pad by two stoppers.
- The cooling pad drains the laptop’s battery quite quickly
7. TeckNet N5 Laptop Cooling Pad
A lightweight cooling pad, that is very portable
This cooling pad is particularly comfortable when being used on a lap. The sloped design means less wrist strain and allows for more comfortable typing and viewing. It has two 110mm fans but can only accommodate laptops up to 16″.
- Optimal airflow at very quiet levels
- Metal mesh surface means efficient cooling
- Has a rear LED indicator showing the cooler is active
- Conveniently placed power switch
- Has an anti-skid surface
- Height not adjustable
- No on/off switch for the LED lights
- This pad can only cope with laptops up to 16”.
8. CM Storm SF-17 Gaming Laptop Cooling Stand
The Cooler Master stable also produces this large cooling pad that is aimed at the serious gamer. The CM Storm brand dates from 2008, when Cooler Master established it as a subsidiary. This cooling pad can cope with 19″ gaming laptops and looks really good. It has a single 180mm fan, which runs at up to 1200 rpm. There is a speed dial that allows the user to control precisely how fast the fan is turning. This was chosen against multiple fans to reduce the noise fans make whilst maintaining a decent cooling capability. There is a built-in carrying handle, a four-port USB hub, a dial to adjust the fan speed, and a red LED stripe that can be turned off. The height can be changed to any of four positions, and it has rubber bumpers that act as feet and support cable management.
- This pad can accommodate gaming laptops up to 19”.
- The fan speed can be controlled exactly.
- There is a four-port USB hub, which allows extras to be plugged in.
- It is adjustable with four positions.
- Cable tidiness is maintained by cable grooves.
- With all the features this cooling pad boasts, it is not surprising that it is expensive.
9. Vanble Portable Cooling Pad
The Vanble Portable Cooling Pad comes with either green or red coloring and is aimed at gamers. It has twin switches to allow the fans and the lights to be controlled independently, so the visuals can be toned down should the cooling pad be used in an office environment. It boasts five powerful fans, enabling a fan speed of 1400 rpm, which when linked with the metal mesh covering the whole pad, allows optimum airflow. It will accommodate laptops up to 17”.
It is also slim, portable and quiet in operation.
- This is a slim, portable cooling pad.
- The design is attractive, with a choice of colors.
- The fans and the LED lights can be controlled separately and independently.
- Dual USB ports.
- It has just two height settings, which can be a problem if it is to be used in different conditions.
- There is nothing to stop the laptop sliding down when the pad is set at an angle.
- It is reasonably priced.
10. Kootek Chill Mat 5
This cooling pad has five fans with adjustable settings, caters for laptops up to 17″, is blessed with noise-free operation, six adjustable height settings, and dual USB ports. Add to that its compact size and lightweight, and the result is a highly recommendable cooling pad. It is not perfect, though, as it is bulky, so not easily transportable, and the LED lights flicker under pressure.
- This pad has great adjustability, so it is perfect using on your lap.
- It is quiet, even though there are five fans.
- There are clips to keep the laptop in place when the stand is at a high angle.
- The LED lights flicker sometimes when under a heavy load.
- It is bulky, so it is best when used in a static setup.
Laptops can, and often do overheat. There are a few solutions that can be tried that will not cost money, but the best solution of all does seem to be investing in a laptop cooling pad.
Which cooling pad is best depends very much on the use to which the laptop itself is being put. For standard laptops, there is a wide range of possible suitable cooling pads, but before purchase, some research will be necessary and indeed essential. Factors that should be borne in mind include size, portability, weight, thickness, adjustability, and design. Gamers, with much more powerful gaming laptops, will also have to consider whether the cooling pad they wish to buy is powerful enough for the job of cooling their machine.
The advice must be read the reviews and, if possible, visit a computer store and chat with a member of staff, have a look at the actual cooling pads on offer. Then, as the price is always a significant factor when purchasing any piece of tech kit, shop around. Some people refuse to buy online on principle, so perhaps a good deal can be had locally. Otherwise, the online stores do seem to offer cooling pads at very reasonable prices.