Reader Thomas owns a fairly small, compact laptop, yet "the little bugger has gotten incredibly noisy in the last few weeks. It's the cooling fan, which seems to run all the time and at maximum speed." He wants to know what he can do to get his laptop back to its previously quiet self.
Like desktops, laptops can suck up a ton of dust. And because everything in a laptop is packed together so tightly, dust is even more dangerous. When the cooling fan has to run constantly, it's just a matter of time before the machine starts overheating, locking up, and possibly even kicking the bucket.
Fortunately, as I wrote many moons ago, this is quite easy to fix. All you need is a small screwdriver and a can of compressed air (or an air compressor).
Power down the laptop, flip it over, and remove the battery. (Unplug 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 the 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. You don't want to damage the fan or anything else, after all!
After you've blown out all the dust you can see (and hopefully a lot more that you couldn't), 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 probably overdue for a similar cleaning. (Same goes for your desktop.)
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.