If you’ve got a laptop that’s over five years old, chances are its fan is clogged with dust (and fur if you’ve got pets!).
This prevents the fan from expelling warm air out of your computer, resulting in higher internal temperatures.
Intel processors will typically begin to slow down once you hit 90° or so, which will reduce your FPS when gaming significantly. Once it gets to 95°+ your computer normally says “f this” and shuts down.
Evidently, cleaning dust from your fan is pretty important. Here’s how to do it!
First, boot your laptop and get a baseline temperature reading. You can use the free tool Core Temp for this.
Do something intensive that normally your computer can’t handle very well, like video rendering or gaming. Note down the maximum temperatures you hit – try to avoid having your computer do an emergency shutoff. Core Temp will report a different temperature for each of your processor’s cores – these temperatures should be roughly equal to one another.
Next, turn your computer off and unplug your headphones, USB dongles, power cables and anything else connected to your PC. Find a nice empty workspace (like a big desk) on which you can put your laptop.
You will need:
- Isopropyl alcohol.
- Cotton buds (Q-tips for the Americans out there).
- Kitchen roll.
- Thermal paste.
- A small screwdriver.
- Some little mugs/cups for holding screws.
- Compressed air or a ball pump (optional).
If you don’t have any of these items already, getting them might set you back £30 or so. It’s definitely worth the investment though. Not only do you get a significant performance improvement, you’ll be able to avoid having to replace your laptop prematurely.
Take off the backplate
The first thing you’ll have to do is take off the back cover off your laptop.
To do this, you might have to remove a few other things first, like the CD/DVD drive, battery, and the RAM door.
- Inspect the backplate carefully, looking for any covers that are attached to the actual computer rather than the backplate itself – there should be one or two. Unscrew any that you find and take them off.
- Locate the screw that holds in the CD/DVD drive if you have one. Normally it’s located 5-8cm in from the edge of the laptop that has the optical drive. Remove the screw and set it aside.
- Carefully try to slide the CD/DVD drive out of the computer. If it won’t come out, look for more screws that could be securing it and take them out. Once the optical drive is out, set it aside.
- Remove the HDD from the PC (if it’s screwed in through the backplate, as was the case in the video). Undo the screw securing it, lift the plastic tab, and pull it away from the connector. Then you can simply lift the HDD up.
- Unscrew and set aside any other remaining screws located on the backplate.
- Look for anything else connecting the backplate to the motherboard. This could include wires for things such as your Ethernet port. Unplug them carefully – a little bit of force may be required.
- Carefully pull the backplate off. You should work your way around the edges rather than pulling from one side at first. Listen for distinct clicking noises to ensure that the back is detaching from its plastic clips.
- As you do this, double check to make sure that there aren’t any hidden cables/leads connecting the back of the case to the motherboard before pulling it off completely.
- Set the backplate aside.
Cleaning the fan
Your fan will be connected to a copper heatsink. This piece of metal is designed to conduct heat from the processor/GPU to the fan, which then expels warm air out of the air vent.
To clean these components (the heatsink and fan), they must be removed from the PC.
- Locate the screws that are holding the heatsink down onto the CPU – normally there are four. Undo one, then undo its diagonal opposite to avoid putting too much pressure on a single side. Now find the other two screws holding the heatsink onto the GPU, and remove them. Then remove the remaining two on the CPU connector. Set them aside, unless they’re spring-loaded, in which case they will stay in place on the heatsink.
- Find the screws that are securing the actual fan in place. Remove them and set them aside.
- Search for a little cable coming from the fan that plugs into the motherboard. Unplug it carefully – it might need a little wiggling to come out.
- You should now be able to pick up the heatsink and fan. Be careful – they’re fairly delicate.
- Take a piece of kitchen roll and tap any dust from the fan intake onto it. Pull out any hair or other debris, and use a cotton bud to pick up any remaining dust. Use compressed air or a football pump to dislodge any dust/fur that you’re unable to reach.
Cleaning the heatsink
When we removed the heatsink from the laptop, we broke the existing thermal paste bond it had to the CPU and GPU. Therefore, we need to apply new thermal paste.
However, reapplying thermal paste to a layer of dried thermal paste is a recipe for temperature disaster.
To ensure that you get a proper heat transfer, you’ll need to clean both the heatsink and CPU contact points.
- Choose a side to start with – either the motherboard or the heatsink.
- Wipe off the majority of the thermal paste with a piece of kitchen roll.
- Pour a little isopropyl alcohol into a small cup or a saucer. Grab a cotton bud, dip it in the isopropyl alcohol, and wipe up the rest of the isopropyl alcohol. When the tip becomes dirty, switch to the other side. Also clean off any thermal paste that’s on the surrounding area, but be careful not to get any liquid on the actual motherboard circuitry.
- Once it looks completely clean, you can dry off excess rubbing alcohol with some kitchen roll. Don’t worry if it’s not completely dry – isopropyl alcohol dries naturally unless it’s used in huge quantities.
- Now repeat the process for the other contact points.
Putting the heatsink back on
Once the fan and heatsink are clean, it’s time to apply new thermal paste and put the laptop back together.
- Place your fan back into its little nook, and plug its cable back in. Secure it with the screws you took out previously. Note that if your fan is attached to the heatsink, you’ll need to do step 2 first, before putting both the fan and the heatsink back on at the same time.
- Take your thermal paste, and squeeze a small blob onto the CPU/GPU contact points. If it’s a really small plate, make the blob the size of a small pea. If it’s a fairly big plate, make it the size of a medium-sized pea. Don’t put too much thermal paste, and don’t spread it out – this will happen as you put the top plate back on.
- Line up the heatsink top and bottom contact points, and when you’re ready, put it on.
- Screw the heatsink in – the second screw you do should be diagonally across from the first one. You can do the other screws in any order.
- At this point, it’s worth using your pump or compressed air to remove any other dust you can see on your motherboard.
Putting the backplate back on
Now you’re ready to refit your backplate!
If you like, you can give the vents a quick blast with some compressed air to get rid of any remaining dust.
- If your backplate was attached to the motherboard with any cables, plug them back in. Keep the backplate close to the motherboard to avoid stretching the cable(s).
- Pick up your backplate and begin pressing it into the frame. Listen out for those clicks you heard when you took it off.
- Once it’s on, run your fingers around the edge to make sure it’s clipped in completely.
- Slide the CD/DVD drive back into its slot.
- Grab your screws and begin screwing them back in. Make sure that you aren’t missing any.
- Find the RAM/HDD door you took off before, and put it back on. Screw it in.
- Replace the battery (if necessary).
Congratulations – you’ve cleaned your laptop’s fan!
Take another Core Temp reading!
If you took out a lot of dust, you should notice temperatures fall from 90-100° when gaming to around 85-90°. This can make an incredible amount of difference to your frame rate.
Depending on how dusty your house or workplace is, you should probably do this every 6-12 months. You can also just wait and do it again when you notice your computer overheating.
Have any questions about this process? Leave us a comment below and we’ll respond within 24 hours.
About the author
Tyler built his first PC at the age of 12, and since then, he’s become obsessed with all things networking and internet-related. He’s a massive gamer, loves Rocket League, and also plays Sunday League football.