Not all laptops are designed equal

Over time it is common for fans in laptops to become clogged with dust, fluff and even hair. The symptoms are usually a hotter laptop and a noisier fan that runs more frequently. The solution is to open up the laptop’s body in order to get at the fan and remove the crud with tweezers and by blowing. However, dismantling many laptops to access the fan makes the Mission Impossible break-in look simple, and this seems to be getting worse as laptop prices continue to decrease. If you are not confident you can unblock the fan yourself, you’ll have to find a local computer repair shop and you may find it’s not cheap. For some models the dismantling procedure can be so complicated that people post videos on YouTube. Often it is necessary to remove numerous screws, ribbon cables, jumper leads, plastic strips and the keyboard. In some cases you have to disassemble the laptop almost entirely. Fortunately, in the case of RAM modules there is often a hatch in the laptop’s base to facilitate access, but even adding or replacing RAM modules can sometimes be a major task (I used to own an Acer laptop that required the laptop base and keyboard to be removed in order to access the RAM modules).

Not long ago I had the misfortune to have to dismantle an Acer Aspire 5536-643G25Mn and a Toshiba Satellite C660-1J2 to remove accumulated fluff from the fans. I had to study YouTube videos carefully and could not believe how difficult it was to get access to the fan in the Acer Aspire. Dismantling the Toshiba Satellite to access the fan was not quite as bad as the Acer Aspire but was still a major task and, despite being as careful as possible, I still managed to break a fragile plastic lug on one of the base panels.

Last week my main laptop, a Compal NBLB2, seemed to be running a little hotter than usual, so I decided it was time to check if its fan also needed cleaning. What a pleasure that was in comparison to the other manufacturers’ laptops. The NBLB2 has a large plate in the base that, by removing only three screws (see the first photograph below), allows easy access to the fan and RAM modules. In less than five minutes I was able to remove a wad of fluff from the fan, replace the plate and power up the laptop again. Hats off to Compal for thinking about maintenance when designing this laptop. I only wish other laptop manufacturers did the same.

So, next time you need to buy a new laptop, do some research on how easy it will be to access the fan in case it needs to be cleaned. Look at the laptop’s base and check on the Web for a service manual, a YouTube video of it being disassembled, and comments in laptop/notebook forums. At least then you’ll know whether you stand a chance of avoiding paying a repair shop just to remove crud that inevitably builds up over time in the fan.

Base of Compal NBLB2 showing screws removed from main base plate

Base of Compal NBLB2 showing the 3 screws removed from the main base plate.

Base of Compal NBLB2 with main plate removed

Base of Compal NBLB2 with main plate removed. Notice how easy it is to access the fan and RAM modules.