the downside of high performance laptops

This post has been inspired by a friend who purchased a 15 inch Inspiron notebook. She is an Art Director using Photoshop/ Adobe Illustrator and her machine is fully loaded - Core i7 processor, 4GB RAM, 512 MB ATI Radeon graphics card. Recently, this 1 year old machine became unstable and started shutting down unexpectedly. We diagnosed overheating and called Dell. After troubleshooting, Dell has replaced the heatsink, motherboard and optical drive. Luckily, the machine is under a comprehensive 3 year warranty! I estimate that the parts replaced would be at a value of not less than Rs.30,000. I told my friend that the replacement is equivalent to a heart, lung and kidney transplant!

But this incident has made me aware of a serious problem that attends high powered laptops - rampant overheating. Unfortunately, this is a natural fall-out of the extra power. Overheating can reduce the machine performance and also cause shutdowns, eventually even damage the body parts. And my guess is, it does tend to lower the overall life and the battery life of these notebooks. My friend's battery is already fried in 1 year of use and it has never given her more than 2 hours of life.

If you look at user reviews of most high performance laptops with these specs, overheating is a general hazard across the board, aggravated by the small form factor, which does not allow a large heatsink or adequately sized fan.
For me, this brought up two points

1) Don't invest in specs that you don't need : Even for me the temptation is there to bump up the RAM and processor, but it pays to ask, how necessary is this? For most office users, an iCore 3 processor is more than enough. Do you really need the desktop equivalent specs on your laptop? And if you are budget sensitive, this is a perfect case to still look at the older Core 2 Duo processors which are now available for a song. You might be trading off a small bump in performance, for a longer and smoother running life of your laptop. I think it's worth considering.

2) If you really need a high performance notebook, be aware of the machine's temperature and take steps to make sure it runs cool. If you notice the fan constantly running, it's a good sign that the notebook is getting heated. And of course the temperature on the palm rest and at the bottom of the laptop is also an indicator.

Some of the simple steps that you can take yourself are
a. Always use your laptop on a hard and flat surface which will dissipate heat
b. Invest in a laptop cooling pad. What I have seen in Croma are mostly passive cooling pads which will just absorb the heat, or basic non-cooling pads that simply elevate the laptop at an angle so that the fan has space to expel hot air from the notebook.
c. If you are engaging in work that puts a load on the processor, remember to stop or shut down at intervals. I know that this is a nuisance, but it helps to give  the laptop recovery time. Newer machines come with switchable graphics, or NVidia's Optimus technology which automatically regulates graphics cards performance.
d. I've said this so many times, but with a high performance laptop, make sure that you are covered by an extended manufacturer warranty which will ensure you are not spending from your pocket to fix problems. Extended  warranty is good for all laptops, but be warned that high-performance laptops are more prone to overheating failure, so this becomes more essential for them.

If you are comfortable with opening your laptop you can also try the steps outlined in this post by Tina on MakeUseOf.com. Or you could get your engineer to perform this overhaul once a year.

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