A notebook will get dirty. It is inevitable that dust and dirt will build up inside and out. This dirt will begin to make a notebook computer operate at a higher temperature compared to when it was new. If
a notebook overheats then it is prone to errors and possibly shutting down during CPU-intensive
activities such as gaming, video and image editing and when running distributed computing
programs such as Folding@Home. If your notebook is experiencing BSODs or complete shut-downs then the culprit could be a dusty, dirty CPU and heatsink. This means it’s time to clean it and gain back stability. Just how to do it is what this guide is all about.
The notebook computer used in this demonstration is a 6-month old Toshiba A30. It’s too was overheating and turning itself off while running Folding@Home. The source of these errors was a dust-ridden heatsink. The notebook reached a temperature of 76 degrees Celsius under full load
before it turning off. (A digital thermometer was used to measure the temperature
at the base of the heatsink.) After cleaning the heatsink and removing the layer of
dust on the fan shroud it now operates at a temperature of 51 degrees Celsius under full load with a variance due to ambient temperature. That 20 degree Celsius drop is more than welcome.
ADVISORY: Icrontic assumes no responsibility if you damage or void the warranty of your notebook computer when attempting to clean your heatsink. Proceed at your own risk. If you are not up to the task then take the laptop to a qualified professional at your local service centre. Always consult the owner’s manual.
Tools and supplies
Figure 1: Recommended tools and supplies.
Here is a list of recommended tools and supplies. It may vary depending on the notebook computer in question.
- Philips screw driver
- Slotted screw driver
- Torx set
- Isopropanol alcohol
- Cotton swabs
- Thermal paste
- Tissue/toilet paper
- Canned air (not pictured)
Removing and cleaning the heatsink and fan
Before starting remove the battery and disconnect any cables to the notebook
Opening the notebook computer can be either an easy task or a hard one. It
all depends on the notebook computer. Some, like the demonstration Toshiba, have an access
panel for the CPU and heatsink area. Some may have access to the whole cooling assembly
and some may not have any access to the heatsink and CPU. Notebook computers
that don’t have a convenient access panel to the CPU, heatsink and fan(s) will
have to be completely disassembled to gain access. **Take the notebook to a qualified professional at a local servce centre if you are not
up to the task. Proceeding may void the warranty and possibly damage the notebook. Proceed at your own risk.**
Figure 2: Removal of the CPU and heatsink access panel.
A Torx bit (T-9) is needed to undo the screws in order to gain access to the CPU and heatsink inside the Toshiba A-30 notebook computer.
Figure 3: Removing the heatsink mounting screws.
With the access panel removed, undo the screws holding down the heatsink.
Figure 4: Unlocking the CPU socket.
Unforunately, in this notebook computer, removing the heatsink from the CPU
cannot be done. The thermal paste that Toshiba used permanently “glued” the heatsink
to the CPU core. The CPU socket had to be unlocked with a slotted screwdriver so
the CPU and heatsink could come out as one unit.
Figure 5: Dusty heatsink that’s “glued” on the CPU.
Use some tissue or toilet paper to wipe off the old thermal paste once the heatsink is removed. It is preferable to use Q-TIPS as they will not disintegrate as easily. Use the isopropanol alcohol to moisten the Q-TIP in order to remove any excess thermal paste. Remove the large clumps
of dust. Use canned air to remove smaller deposits of dust. If the CPU heatsink is removable from the processor then it may be washed with warm water. USE A HAIRDRYER TO 100% DRY OFF JUST THE HEATSINK BEFORE REINSERTING or leave it to dry overnight. DO NOT use a hairdryer on a processor. You WILL damage it. Better yet…use the isopropanol alcohol as the fluid evaporates completely within a minute. Remember…water and electronics do not mix.
Figure 6: Clean heatsink, ready for reinstallation.
Use an open paperclip and stick it through
the fan grill so the fan blades don’t move in preparing to clean the fan and fan area. Use the canned air to blow out any dust or clean as much as possible with an alcohol soaked cotton
If the processor is permanently affixed to the heatsink then the entire unit can be carefully put back in place. Carefully position the CPU and heatsink so
all the pins line up with the CPU socket pin holes. Very gently push the CPU
and heatsink down into the CPU socket. It should go in with very little
resistance. If it does not…adjust the CPU and
heatsink unit position and try again. Once it is in place then lock the CPU socket the same way it was unlocked.
If the CPU is not affixed to the heatsink then clean the heatsink surface and the CPU die with some isopropanol alcohol soaked cotton swabs to remove any residue of the old thermal paste. Apply a thin layer of thermal paste to the CPU die face. Use a credit card or business card to “trowel” out the thermal paste to an even and complete layer as if the entire surface area of the cpu that comes into contact with the heatsink had a glaze to it. Place the processor in the socket and it should insert easily. If not try again. Do not use excessive force. Reinstall the heatsink carefully and lock everything into place.
Put back the access panel or reassemble the notebook. Reinstall the battery and cables and now boot up the notebook computer.
The notebook computer should run considerably cooler after cleaning the heatsink and fan. Note that the fan doesn’t come on as often and it should not shut-down during CPU-intensive activities. If errors continue then this is most likely software or memory related and please seek help in Icrontic forums.
Dust and dirt is the enemy of a computer. Dust and dirt can block airways. The computer runs hotter and is prone to errors. Cleaning any computer can be a simple task if not rushed. If unsure ask or take the computer to a qualified professional.
See Icrontic’s guide to cleaning a desktop PC for help with cleaning desktop or tower PCs.
For those who are requried to disassemble the notebook computer and don’t want to bother with taking it apart again to clean the heatsink then it is recommended to use canned air and blow out the notebook monthly. This maintenance can cut down on the rate of buildup and keep the notebook running cooler…longer. This maintenance is a good practice even for those with an access panel.
Good luck and a happy and healthy PC to you.