Laptop Heatsink Problems (Design Flaws)

Laptop heatsink problems are major issues affecting these miniature computing devices. When laptop heatsinks have issues, it immediately means that the laptops  cannot function optimally. The heatsink is designed to dissipate heat away from the major components of the computer, blowing it away as hot air.

As the heat is dissipated, then the laptop’s temperature is regulated. Heat sinks usually work with small fans; actively passing air through them. The air cools the heatsink while the heatsink cools the computer.

When a heatsink functions well, the user hardly notices, but a defective heatsink will immediately bring the user to attention. Unfortunately, laptop heatsinks have not seen much innovation. Here are some of the problems.

Laptop Heatsink Design Problems

Too Much Thermal Paste

Thermal Paste is actually a smart idea; the purpose is to increase the area of contact between the processor and the heat sink so that more of the heat from the processor finds its way up to the heatsink, and out of the laptop’s exhaust vents.

Remember that the heat sink can be mounted on top of the processor without the thermal paste, but the paste helps increase the area of contact between the two. This means the thermal paste helps the heat sink function more efficiently.

However, too much paste does the exact opposite of what it is supposed to do; too much paste means that the heat cannot efficiently get to the heat sink for dissipation. That means the processor gets too hot, and the computer malfunctions.

Old or caked up thermal fluid can also have the same effect.

To fix the problem; scrape out the old thermal paste, and then apply a fresh one. This time, the thermal paste should be applied thinly.

Ineffective Cooling Fins

The cooling fins are designed to lose heat to the air. Usually, they are built along with the heat sinks, although sometimes they can also be welded onto the heat sinks. Heat sinks should be thin strips of metal, and should be located neat a vent where the heat exchange is expected to take place.

Usually, cooling fins are made of either aluminum or copper. Other metals can be used, but these are the most popular.

There are several things that could go wrong with laptop cooling fins. Sometimes they could be made of the wrong metal. This is difficult to imagine, but one could be surprised the lengths that companies would go to save costs.

Cooling fins can also be dented or bent, and as a result they could fail to function as per the original design. This could occur as a result of an error in the factory, or as a result of a drop by the user.

Cooling fins can sometimes be badly welded or joined to the heat sink; sometimes there could be very little contact between the two, which means that the heat may not be able to go from the heatsink to the cooling fins.

Laptop cooling fins regularly get clogged with debris; which is another problem that befalls them.

Resolving these issues may be as simple as blowing pressurized air through the air vents, or as holistic as changing the entire heat sinks. However, as soon as the necessary action has been taken, the user should immediately see the laptop function improve.

Broken Fan

Most laptop heat sinks have small fans attached to them. These fans are designed to actively pass air through the cooling fins, thus dissipating the heat from the processing units. Sometimes the fan may stop working altogether, or the functioning may be reduced.

When the fan’s functioning is reduced, the air velocity it produces is reduced. That means the laptop may lag or freeze, or even shut off completely. Shutting off complete, and permanently is the more likely result when the fan stops working entirely.

To rectify this, one will need to change the fan. Changing the fan may sometimes mean changing the whole heatsink because fans can be built with heat sinks together as single units.

Lack Of Elevation

According to the design of the typical laptop heatsink, the device is supposed to work with the principles of evaporation and condensation, and then also the principle of convection. The principle of convection does not require any elevation, but evaporation and condensation do.


A laptop heatsink is a pipe containing a working fluid (usually water or ethanol) which evaporates as the heatsink becomes hotter. As it evaporates, it should collect somewhere, and then flow back in a cold state, thereby ensuring that the heatsink, and the system it is supposed to cool, does not heat up excessively.

Interestingly, many laptops come with their heat sinks completely horizontal. This raises the question of what exactly the manufacturers were thinking at the time of design. In such cases the heatsinks cannot function optimally from day one. Even when the laptops seem to work just fine, the cooling systems are still below par.

Performance may be improved by raising one side of the heat pipe so that it can serve as a condenser where the vapor can collect, and then trickle down as cold fluid, thus cooling the system.

No Working Fluid

Technicians have often said they come across a lot of laptops that freeze, or perform poorly because they have no working fluid (cooling fluid) in the heat pipes. In that case, the heat sink would act as a simple cooling fin.

It should then dissipate the heat by passing it into the air, and so the laptop should work. But it may not work well enough- without a working fluid in the heat sink, the heatsink may not function efficiently.

The laptop could overheat, seize, and possibly burnout.

This could be rectified by purchasing a new heat sink. A new heat sink with a cooling fluid inside it will immediately improve the heat dissipation, and so the laptop should perform great. When installing the new heat sink it should bring up the question of thermal paste.

Inadequate Air Inlets And Outlets

Sometimes laptops can be built with poor ventilation. There may simply not be enough vents through which air can get into the systems, and then after the air has become hot, it should be expelled.

This may seem strange because of the amount of research and testing that supposedly goes into the manufacture of these machines.

Nevertheless, companies like to pull a few foolish surprises every now and then, leading to defective products.

It may be possible to rectify this problem; sometimes all it takes is a drill, and knowledge of how to use it. With more air holes the laptop’s cooling can become more efficient, and the over all performance can increase.

Is It Normal For A Laptop To Get Hot?

Laptops generally produce heat as they work. This is a normal process for electronic components which perform hundreds or thousands of calculations every minute.

However, a laptop should not give the user third degree burns. Overheating is not a normal part of a laptop’s function; it is indicative of a problem with the laptop, probably an issue with the cooling system as described above.

As the fault could be any of the problems indicated above, the possible solutions are not far off either.

How Do I Know If My Laptop Heatsink Is Bad?

When a laptop is not cooling sufficiently, it may scale back performance so as to reduce heat. This means it may no longer perform with the speed that it was performing when cool. The user may notice that it starts to lag – that is; after you click something, it could take a few seconds to respond.

Secondly, the laptop screen light may become dim, and the applications may cease to work. They could close, or they could remain open, but refuse to respond.

A concerned user could blow air through the vents – a procedure which could get a laptop functioning properly again. However, when this does not work, it usually means that there is a problem with the laptop heatsink itself. Once again, reading the information above should help one get a solution.

Further Reading:


Laptop heatsink problems can easily spell doom for a laptop. However, rather than just repairing broken heat sinks, this is the time to pay attention to the development of better laptop heatsink designs. The existing ones are just outdated and inefficient.

One interesting design involves one in which the user can replace the working fluid in the heat pipe just as easily as people top up their car radiators with water. There are many places on a laptop where that cooling fluid’s opening can be.

Manufacturers may want to make it look like a stupid idea, but it is possible.

Another thing to look at is to find a way of working without thermal paste. Some desktop computers use a clip to pin down the heat sink with the processor, thus ensuring maximum contact between the two.

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