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How to fix a noisy computer

Save energy and get a quiet life

When we're trying to concentrate, there's nothing more irritating than a noisy, overheating computer. Follow our tips to get a quiet life and save energy in the process.

I can't imagine how I'd cope without my laptop. It takes up much less workspace than a desktop PC would, and I can simply scoop it up and dash out the door should I need to work on the go. But when I'm trying to concentrate, there's nothing more irritating than the hum of its fan. It also amazes me just how hot it gets sitting on my lap.

Excessive noise and heat output are the warning signs of an inefficient laptop that's wasting power. And this doesn't earn it many Brownie points at a time when most of us are trying to reduce our energy consumption.

Fed up with the racket and the nagging guilt as I watched the battery level drain before my eyes, I decided to look into what I could do to bring my trusty machine back to full power and perky efficiency - and how to make it run more quietly, too.

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It turns out that both laptops and desktop PCs can be easily tweaked to run cooler, quicker and quieter. Not all the options covered in the following pages are simple to implement but, depending on your level of expertise and confidence, you can have a quieter work companion in no time.

Quieter, more efficient PCs use less energy too, so you'll be saving money as well as regaining your peace of mind.

Fix a noisy, overheating laptop

The most likely culprit for a noisy laptop is its cooling fan. But before you start panicking about the complexity of replacing the fan, there is a simple way to reduce the noise output. You'll need no more than a screwdriver and a can of compressed air.

Turn off your laptop, remove the battery and unplug the AC adaptor. Look for an air vent on the outer edge of the laptop; there should be an access panel on the bottom nearby. Unscrew the panel and remove it. You should see the fan immediately underneath. This design isn't universal, but most laptops use a similar chassis and internal configuration.

Now it's time to blow out the dust. You may prefer to do this outdoors rather than in a tidy study. Hit the fan with short bursts from various angles, blowing most frequently in the direction of the air vent.

If you're using an air compressor, keep the pressure relatively low and don't get too close with the nozzle. You don't want to damage any of the internal components.

Raising your laptop just a few centimetres away from your lap or desk can also considerably improve things. Not only will this improve the airflow around the vents on your laptop, which means the fan won't have to work as hard and won't be as noisy, it'll also stop whatever lies underneath the laptop from getting hot.

Most laptop cooler stands also let you move the display closer to eye level and put the keyboard at a more ergonomic angle.

Kensington's Easy Riser Cooling Notebook Stand (£10 inc VAT) is a good example. It's suitable for laptops with screens sized from 12 to 17in and it folds flat for easy transportation. The tiltable plastic device features a lip and rubber pads to grip your laptop into place. You can then adjust both the angle of the display and the base - thereby altering the height - to achieve a comfortable viewing position. Note that you will need to use a separate keyboard, however, since the stand doesn't afford a comfortable typing position.

If you don't want to lug around a spare keyboard, or you'd prefer to sit your machine on your lap rather than a desk, Antec's Notebook Cooler 200 (£44 inc VAT) is ideal. The device rests on your lap, with the laptop placed on top. It contains a 200mm USB-powered ‘Big Boy' fan that runs at either 400 or 600rpm, depending on the amount of cooling required. The Antec isn't a cheap buy, but it's recommended for high-spec laptops.

If yours is a middle-of-the-road laptop, you'll probably prefer to pay less and get a less high-tech solution. A good device here is the Targus HeatDefence for Laptops (£16 inc VAT). This quilted plastic mat is filled with heat-absorbing crystals that liquify as they absorb heat and crystallise as they cool. Be warned that once the crystals liquify under the part of your laptop base that gets hot, the bottom of the pad in that spot can get pretty warm itself. You can easily turn the mat to move a crystallised part under the hot spot.

The 10mm-thick Targus HeatDefence is suitable for laptops with screen sizes up to 15.4in and is available in red or black. It's easy to fold up and carry with you, so expect to be able to spread it out and get to work wherever you may be.

It's not always the fan that is to blame for a noisy laptop, however. The hard drive has a number of moving parts that can make a noise as they spin. Although you can't actually silence the hard drive, it's worth considering that solid-state disk (SSD) drives have no moving parts and are therefore quieter than traditional hard drives.

If you're feeling confident enough, replace your hard drive with an SSD. Alternatively, keep an eye out for a model that uses an SSD when the time comes to replace your laptop.

>> NEXT PAGE: Keep your desktop PC quiet

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