Here comes a story of me getting a gaming laptop but the fan is not particularly silent enough for me to enjoy anything on my own. Hence I decided to conduct an experiment. Since it is considered a brand new laptop but the fan is ramping up and down like a roller coaster ride, does reapplying the thermal paste solve anything?
I recently got my hands on a gaming laptop. It has decent specs – an Intel Core i7-7700HQ with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 packed in a rather slim-ish and portable form factor for a gaming laptop. Pretty beefy specs – but the cooling solution isn’t that great. Temperatures can hit up to 85ºC easily starts thermal throttling while the fan runs like a jet engine.
There are actually a few ways to solve this issue.
- Getting a laptop cooler
- Swapping the optical disk drive for a cooler
- Undervolting CPU
- Reapplying thermal paste
Option one – laptop cooler
Ahhh, the good ol’ laptop cooler. Back in the days, laptop coolers are almost a necessity for laptops since they’re so inefficient. Those were the pre-FinFET days, and you can learn more about how FinFET helps to improve efficiency here. Once FinFET was introduced, the need for a laptop cooler started to disappear. We even have passively cooled laptops nowadays!
But does laptop coolers really work? Well, lifting the laptop off the table does solve the suffocating air intake part – but it doesn’t really make much of a difference. The effectiveness of the laptop cooler actually depends on your laptop’s cutouts for air intake. That’s a story for another day.
Laptop coolers nowadays are mostly used to improve ergonomics and as an accessory since most of them have integrated USB ports. And I don’t really want a laptop cooler since I already am propping up the laptop with the Cooler Master Jas Pro.
Though… if the laptop is laid flat on the tablet, we can use something like this little doohickey on the vents.
Option two – swapping the optical disk drive
Firstly, the gaming laptop comes with an optical disk drive. It’s not commonly found on any computers these days, but it’s there – and it can be replaced with… an air cooler. Yes – an air cooler!
These things exist – and it works like a blower style graphics like – much like NVIDIA’s reference graphics cards. I found one that’s bidirectional. It can either suck air in from the outside, or throw air out from the inside. They even have a demo video!
This, however, won’t solve my initial issue. Instead, it’ll create these issues:
- Potentially more noise since it has more fans
- More dust since there are intake fans
- Unable to control the fan speed since it’s powered by slimline SATA only
There aren’t much information regarding this, and I wouldn’t want to risk some cash for a potential trashy product. Seriously, they’re not cheap. The one I found online is about about USD $25. I’m not paying that amount of money!
If you have an Intel-powered laptop, then you’re in luck. Install Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility, also known as XTU for short. It’s entirely free. Install it and you have access to a few advanced options. You can choose to undervolt your laptop to save some battery, and to decrease heat emission too.
Take undervolting as the reverse overclocking, but without decreasing your performance. Every single processor is different from each other, and in this case, your Intel Core i7-7700HQ might need more voltage than mine to achieve total stability at the same clock speeds.
This is where you’ll need a lot of patience to fine-tune using XTU. Decrease the laptop’s core voltage offset little by little, while testing for stability each time you decrease the voltage.
Reapplying thermal paste
Honestly speaking, using cheap thermal paste for laptops should be a sin. Seriously, I understand that desktops can come with cheap thermal paste – and that’s fine. I can just wipe off the included thermal paste and slap on some new ones before installing the CPU cooler.
For a laptop? Well, tough luck. Assuming you don’t break the laptop just to access the cooling solution in the laptop, you’ll have to potentially void your warranty trying to take the cooler apart.
Personally, I’ve reapplied thermal paste to quite a few laptops. My old firstly my Lenovo G470, then my trusty Lenovo Y580 that we used as the test subject here, and even the MacBook Air 11-inch that we used for the Apacer AC730 review. They all yielded tremendous improvements in temperature after reapplying thermal paste!
Which ones did I pick?
It’s quite obvious, isn’t it? Being a cheapskate that I am, I opted for the cheapest options. I chose to undervolt and to reapply the thermal paste. I’m sure no one wants to fork money out to solve an issue that’s not caused by us consumers.
Hence my journey began.
It’s pretty simple but takes a long time. I used XTU and fine-tuned the core voltage offset. I got the particulargaming laptop with me to be stable with -0.170V offset. Impressive chip that I have here.
It passed Prime95 in Blend and small FFT test, LuxMark in CPU-only test, and I played lots of games on it without any issues at all.
Reapplying thermal paste on the gaming laptop
Then, I cracked open the gaming laptop. We’re very particular about the serviceability of a laptop in our laptop reviews (e.g. here and here), as we will definitely need to clean out the vents after some time. Remember, these tiny vents on a laptop are what the laptop uses to breath. If they’re blocked, the laptop can’t breathe. Since thegaming laptop I have here is considered brand new, it’s dustless.
When I unscrewed the heatpipes, it wasn’t looking good. The thermal paste was already hardening at the edges, hence the poor performance.
I used a few alcohol swabs to clean them off. I made sure I cleaned as much as I can.
Then, I reapplied a dab of Noctua’s NT-H1 thermal paste (the only ones I have lying around) on both the CPU and GPU die.
Then, I screwed the heatpipes back.
Of course, all these talking amount to nothing if there are no results to show. We did a few tests – before and after reapplying thermal paste, before and after undervolting, and everything in between. This shows the significance of each step we take.
The graph here shows the data we’ve gathered. All benchmarks are done using XTU, and the temperature readings are also from XTU.
Our tests are for this specific test is CPU only.
Originally before doing anything, the laptop will have the fan ramping up and down randomly, and will sound like a jet engine when I launched any games. Even 8-bit styled indie games will cause the fan to sound like a jet engine. Running XTU’s stress test will cause it to thermal throttle right away.
Then comes the undervolting part. Once again, the amount of voltage that can be decreased varies between chip to chip, so your mileage will most certainly vary. I was able to drop 0.170V from the original 1.101V. Before reapplying thermal paste, undervolting CPU by 0.170V yields a 14ºC drop – and eliminated thermal throttling too, but the fan was still loud.
Reapplying the thermal paste was the next step. It yielded a 23ºC drop instantly. Just WOW! Who knew what sort of thermal paste they’ve been including with their laptops? The fan did ramp up and was causing a noticeable amount of noise, but was still fairly silent. However, XTU was showing that it’s hitting power limit, and was throttling.
After reapplying thermal paste and undervolting the CPU, the temperature dropped from 85°C to 56°C only. A total of 29°C drop! There were no thermal throttling or power limit throttling, and better yet – the fan didn’t ramp up at all. The laptop was totally silent while passing benchmarks and the fan didn’t even speed up!
Now, what did this teach us? The simplest conclusion is that undervolting the CPU can actually help a lot. However, it varies between one CPU to another as all CPUs are created differently.
Secondly, laptops comes with terrible thermal paste. So far, with my experiences with laptops, no brand has ever escaped this fact. Even Apple is guilty. If they’ve opted for better thermal paste, these laptops could actually be a silent performer.
Laptops with a single tiny heatsink that connects both CPU and GPU together can actually perform quite well, as shown here with the gaming laptop – and the biggest limitation factor here is the thermal paste.
Honestly speaking, it should be a sin for any laptop to be sold with horrible thermal pastes.
If there’s one thing that I’d like to see, it’s that laptop manufacturers like ASUS, MSI, Lenovo, or anyone to partner with a brand like Noctua to create the best ever cooling solution for their laptops. That would most certainly be cool.
Have you ever reapplied thermal paste to your laptop before? Did it solve your laptop’s jet engine fan problem? Or did you unvervolt your laptop CPU instead?
Let us know down in the comments below!