Laptop fans should be removable

Computers slow down over time. One cause applies much more to Windows than other operating systems; as software is installed and removed, the registry and file system get cluttered up and disorganized, and while there are ways to minimize and reverse some of this effect, the only real solution is a complete hard drive wipe.

The second cause has to do with heat. As advanced and space-agey as they are, computers still rely on airflow to keep their hot ‘n’ spicy chips from melting themselves. That means vents. And fans. And dust.

All we are is dust in the grille

This is the dust caked between my laptop’s main fan and the metal grilles through which air is supposed to flow. I say “supposed to” because once there’s this much gunk drawn in from outside and deposited on the grilles, precious little air gets through. Cleaning the fan and grilles is an essential part of routine laptop maintenance – but you wouldn’t know it by the way laptops are built.

On the bottom of mine – an HP Pavilion dv5, though all manufacturers are guilty – there are three removable panels. One provides access to the hard drive and wireless card; behind another sits the main memory; and a third covers the motherboard’s clock battery and connector for a mobile wireless card. The primary battery is also easily removable.

Here’s what I had to do to get the fan out:

Disassembled laptop

You can’t see the roughly 40 screws I removed from the underside of the laptop, the keyboard, the motherboard, and the display hinge mounts. The fan and grille, part of one assembly that also includes heatsinks for the CPU, graphics chip and two other integrated circuits, is at the lower left. The only part of the laptop that didn’t need to be dismantled was the display, which came off in one big piece.

In my years of supporting PCs, I’ve encountered precisely one laptop fan that was easily removable without radical disassembly. It was a very early Pentium 4 model, before Pentium 4 processors were really designed to go in laptops, and its base was monstrously thick. It still ended up overheating at the end of its life. It was a Dell, but that’s not an indication of that company’s superiority, as I’ve seen many Dells with fans just as hard to access as this one.

If there can be a panel for the hard drive, which most people will never replace on a laptop, why not the main fan? Are manufacturers afraid people will run their computers without adequate cooling? Do they not realize their designs are causing dust buildup in a place that is impossible to clean, even with compressed air? Do they, perhaps, bank on users just figuring that it’s time for a new laptop?

Nah, that’s way too cynical.

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