I've written about this subject in years past, but it's so important I feel obligated to repeat myself for those who might have missed it.
Your laptop may be choking to death.
You see, like desktops, laptops can suck up lots of dust. And because everything in a laptop is packed together so tightly, dust is even more dangerous. When the cooling fans have to run constantly, it's just a matter of time before the machine start to overheat. When that happens, it may lock up. It may damage system components. And it might even kick the bucket.
Fortunately, as I've mentioned before, this is easy to fix. All you need is a small screwdriver and a can of compressed air (or an air compressor—though tread lightly with that, as noted below).
Turn off the laptop, flip it over, and remove the battery. I recommend unplugging the AC adapter, too. Look for an air vent on an outer edge of the laptop; there should be a nearby access panel on the bottom.
Unscrew that panel and remove it. You should see the fan right underneath. Your mileage may vary, but the three laptops I have here all have panel-accessible fans.
Now it's time to blow out the dust, something you might want to do outside. Hit the fan in short bursts from lots of different angles, making sure to blow most frequently in the direction of the air vent. If you're using an air compressor, as I did, keep the pressure relatively low, and don't get too close with the nozzle. Too strong a burst and you could damage the fan or something else.
After you've blown out all the dust, replace the access panel and battery, then power up the system. I'll wager that it runs much quieter (and cooler) than it did before.
If your laptop is more than a year or two old, it's long overdue for such a cleaning. (Same goes for your desktop.) Don't wait until it's too late. And add a reminder to your calendar so you remember to do this again every couple months.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.