earlier article on periodic PC maintenance
thermal paste article
Core Temp download link
to do about laptop dust buildup
web site Guide page
Times article on keeping your laptop cool
article on lithium-based batteries and how to prolong them
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|Laptops use the same software as desktop
computers do, for the most part, and need periodic maintenance as
outlined in my earlier article on this subject (see link at
left.) But laptop hardware operates on batteries and in much more
confined spaces. Early in 2008, Consumer Reports reported data
that seem to suggest that one in five laptops will have a serious
problem requiring repair. One problem that occurs too frequently
is spontaneous shutting down-- without warning. One of the two
causes most often cited for this is overheating. Laptops have a
fan or a group of fans that draw in air and blow it past the hottest
component of any computer: its processor or “CPU.” Air around
humans can be full of dust, and so the dust winds up in the cramped
innards of the laptop, fouling and blocking the cooling effect of the
air. It's also possible that the thermal paste that joins the CPU
and its heat sink (a radiator-like metallic structure) has dried out
and needs replacing. The CPU monitors its own temperature sensor
as the temperature creeps up and approaches a level called junction
temperature max (a.k.a “Tj. Max”), and abruptly shuts the system down
to avoid damage from the heat.
While it should be noted that some laptops will try to start, and then
exit with a “get a new battery” message, it's not uncommon that they
sometimes also just spontaneously shut down because of battery
failure. Laptop systems include software that monitors the
current charge level so it can warn the user to save his work and
recharge the battery. But a battery can only be charged a finite
number of times before it fails and won't hold any charge. Even
when plugged in, the system can start up and then, after a while, just
shut down. Laptop systems don't typically include software to
monitor the life cycle of the battery.
There are two free, small, Windows utilities that help you keep an eye
on these aspects of your laptop: Core Temp for CPU heat and BatteryCare
for the battery. Download and install both programs from their
respective home pages, which are available from the links at the
left. Monitor the installs carefully and deny any piggybacked
Yahoo or Google apps (for example) that try to fall in with the two.
|Using Core Temp
The Core Temp main window has 2 sections and a menu bar. In the
top section you see processor information including number of cores,
processor manufacturer and model, and the frequency (speed) of the
processor given in megahertz
|(though gigahertz is the more
commonly-used unit.) At the bottom are the Tj. Max and current
temperature readings, given in degrees Celsius, but also available in
Fahrenheit, if you care to go into the Options menu and change this
setting. Watch and note these numbers as you use the computer
from time to time or any time the thing seems warmer than usual.
Overheating problems develop gradually, and dust will clump up
gradually around the processor heat sink if left to do so.
Consider taking your vacuum cleaner or a can of compressed air to the
vents at the bottom and side of the laptop to clear out any accumulated
dust. There's a link at the left to a web site where it's
explained just how to do this most effectively. John will not
open up a laptop to replace the thermal paste or poke out dust clumps,
but he knows a very good tech who will.
BatteryCare has a tool bar and two main windows. The first,
called Basic Information, shows the status of the current charge, a
count and graph of discharge cycles, and the current temperature of
both the CPU and the hard disk. The current charge info is or should be
a mirror of that provided by Windows.
|A definition of the charge and discharge
cycle is available if you hover your mouse over the little blue info
icon, and it is explained more fully in the Guide page of the BatteryCare
web site, which is what you get if you click the question mark icon
next to “More Info.” Every laptop owner is encouraged to print
out and keep this Guide page with your laptop, as it has lots of tips
and explanations about caring for and extending the life of your
battery. The current temperature information listed at the bottom
of the Basic Information window is there because heat decreases the
lifetime of the battery.
window gives various Detailed Information about the battery.
Hover your mouse over the blue info icons for the author's definition
of each item. Listed first is the model of the battery, which is
useful when it comes to shopping for a new one. The next three items
express its energy content as
total and current capacity
given in milliwatt hours, and you can expect the current capacity to
dwindle as the battery itself ages. The charge/discharge rate is
an expression of the battery's actual ability to deliver, and you can
expect this number to dwindle also over its life cycle. Tension
(voltage) expresses the force of the electrons flowing from the
battery, which you can expect to dwindle over the duration of the
current charge. Wear level expresses where the battery is in its
life cycle: 0% when it's new and near 100% when you should think about
getting a replacement to avoid the spontaneous shutdown problem, so
watch and note this number, too, from time to time. After 30
discharge cycles, the author of BatteryCare advises the user
to calibrate the battery. Again, refer to his guide for details.
Please email John with any questions you may have about laptops, Core
Temp or BatteryCare.
February 10, 2012