Desktop Mod

Volume 10, Issue 97; 23 Sep 2007; last modified 08 Oct 2010

Hacking laptop heat with a desktop heat sink.

One thing is incontrovertibly true about this new laptop: when it's working hard, it gets hot. Seriously hot! Burn your lap hot, definitely. Uncomfortable to type on hot, without question. Damage the finish on your desk hot, maybe.

I tried a couple of different laptop stands. The inexpensive one from the local office superstore was cheap, wobbly junk. The expensive one from the net was a little small and, while it was pretty sturdy, it didn't do much to dissipate the heat. (I think lifting the laptop off the aluminium stand with four little rubber feet sort of defeated the benefits of aluminium construction.)

Aluminium was definitely part of the answer, I could see that. It's an exceptional heat conductor. I'd been thinking about this for a few days when I found myself in the hardware store waiting for some keys to be cut. As I wandered about, I happened upon a rack of metal stock: rods, bars, angled corners, etc. There were a number of steel shapes and also a number of aluminium shapes. (What on earth is this stuff for?)

Inspiration struck and I grabbed two four-foot lengths of ⅛ inch by 2 inch aluminium stock.

I tested the effect by simply slapping the bars down on my desk and tucking them under my monitor stand. They worked great, so I made plans to make something a little nicer (and a little less dangerous, metal bars jutting two feet off your desk are just an accident waiting to happen).

My initial inspiration was a complicated idea involving 90° bends and welds (welding being a skill I do not possess). My final design was simply to attach the bars to a box that would serve as a monitor stand.

A 1 by 12 clear pine board and an afternoon with the circular saw and the router turned out my first prototype:

The stand is just a simple wooden box with a little utility shelf. The aluminium bars fit into routered slots in the bottom of the stand where they're screwed in place.

I spaced the bars so that they fit just inside the rubber feet on the bottom of the laptop. That gives direct contact with the metal for maximum heat conduction.

With the monitor in place, it's just like my old work station, but a whole lot cooler.

I think a crosspiece under the “back edge” of the laptop, near the LCD hinge, would make it even more effective; that seems to be where the heat really builds up.

But for now, I think this will do the trick. And could win me the award for dorkiest desk, I know. But I'm cool, temperature wise at least.

Comments

Very nice. Add a USB hub in the top half of the box, and a half-terabyte of USB storage at the bottom, and you have the perfect laptop workstation. I wonder how easy it would be to make/buy the H-shaped aluminium piece to add your extra cooling under the hinge...

—Posted by Geoff Arnold on 23 Sep 2007 @ 08:11 UTC #

Great ideas! Thanks, Geoff!

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 23 Sep 2007 @ 08:49 UTC #

I've been thinking of doing something like this, and I've worried that metal-to-metal contact between the laptop and the aluminum surface would scratch the case with stray grit, and possibly be slippery. Have you noticed anything?

—Posted by Kevin Reid on 24 Sep 2007 @ 12:02 UTC #

Kevin,

I was worried about the metal-on-metal contact too, so this morning I put a strip of packing tape (which happens to be just about exactly two inches wide) along the aluminium arms. I think that'll protect the laptop case.

As far as slipping, no I haven't noticed any problems. The little rubber feet just outside the bars would prevent side-to-side motion. I occasionally move the laptop forwards or backwards to change the position of my arms or my viewing angle on the LCD, but I've never felt it move accidentally.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 24 Sep 2007 @ 12:56 UTC #

For those who aren't quite as handy with a router, I can recommend the lapinator, from lapinator.com.

—Posted by Lauren Wood on 24 Sep 2007 @ 04:57 UTC #