About Lee Devlin

I'm Lee Devlin from Greeley, Colorado.

Cleaning Your Laptop’s Heatsink to Solve Overheating Issues

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In the past few months I’ve run into a number of people who have experienced problems with their laptops running hot. I had an HP/Compaq nx6110 laptop sitting in a drawer that I recalled had been exhibiting the same issue. I wanted to loan it to my nephew to use during a visit and I thought I’d take the opportunity to put in a new battery and check to see the if I could find the root cause of the overheating issue.

I had checked a number of sites on the web that talked about overheating issues with laptops, but none of them talked about the potential for the fan/heatsink assembly to collect dust and block the airflow through the heatsink. If you think about it, most laptops operate like a vacuum cleaner in that they suck air up through a hole in the bottom of the case and blow it out the side. The air must flow through a radiator with fins that can collect lint, dust, pet hair and anything else that it might find in ample quantities when the laptop is placed on a carpet, blanket, or your lap. So the odds are pretty good that if you’ve had your laptop for any length of time, dust has accumulated inside and has negatively affected the heatsink’s ability to remove heat from the CPU.

In preparation for removing the fan from the laptop, I downloaded a PDF of HP nx6110 service manual from the HP website. You can do a Google search for your laptop’s model and the words, ‘service manual’ to see if the manufacturer makes the service manual available online. You may notice that removing the fan seems to require all kinds of parts to be taken off the laptop since they seem to cover everything else first, but in my case, it only involved removing the keyboard, which turned out to be quite easy.

The steps were:

1. Remove battery and the cover for the memory (1 Phillips screw).
2. Remove 2 T8 Torx screws exposed after the memory cover is removed. These screws hold in the keyboard.
3. Slide four latches on the keyboard downward to release the keyboard.
4. Remove the fan (2 Phillips screws).

Although I removed the fan and keyboard cables, I found out later that I really didn’t need to do this to get at the heatsink, you can simply lay them over as long as you’re careful not to move them and put strain on the cables.

I’ve attached some images of the fan and heatsink below. Click on any image for a higher resolution version of it.

HP nx6110 fan

Removal of the keyboard exposes the fan/heatsink

As you can see from the picture above, the fan is exposed once the keyboard is removed. It doesn’t appear to be too dirty, but the dust is hidden between the fan and the heatsink.

HP nx61110 heatsink

Heasink with dust

Now that the fan has been removed, you can see that there is a lot of dust that has accumulated on the heatsink. You can use a brush to remove the dust and then blow it out with compressed air.

HP nx6110 heatsink

Heatsink after cleaning

The dust that had accumulated on the heatsink caused the air to be blocked and so the air that does get through is very hot since a smaller portion of the heatsink is being used to remove the heat. It can also increase the velocity of the air because it’s forced through a smaller restriction. Eventually, however, if it’s not cleaned, the heatsink will no longer be able to do its job at all and the computer could shut down due to overheating.

Once the heatsink was cleaned, the air that exited the vent was much cooler, and the fan didn’t need to work as hard to keep the CPU cool (around 45 °C). In doing some research, I found that the BIOS was using various CPU temperature thresholds to determine when to turn the fan on and when to increase its speed. In my case, the BIOS was original and it was turning the fan on at 40 °C, and so I decided to see if any improvements were possible by updating the BIOS. Sure enough, a newer BIOS available from HP’s website had raised this limit to 45 °C which turned out to be much better, since that is the temperature where the CPU tends to stabilize when it’s at idle and so the fan stays off unless you’re doing something that causes the CPU to become busy.

I have a friend with an HP laptop dv6 model and it had an overheating problem that was so severe that it would reach 90 °C and shut itself down whenever she used it for more than 15 minutes. After searching through forums for many weeks she finally came across a thread that suggested updating the video driver and the BIOS to fix an overheating issue. That turned out to be the fix in her case. Now her computer runs very cool. So make sure you’re running all the latest updates from the manufacturer.

If you clean your heatsink and your overheating problems persist, you may want to check and see if there are any processes that are keeping the CPU busy all the time. Any time the CPU utilization goes up, the fan will come on at a higher speed. You can use Windows built-in Task Manager to do monitor CPU utilization by pressing CTL-ALT-DEL keys simultaneously. A better solution than Task Manager for examining CPU utilization is the Process Explorer which is free for downloading from Microsoft. I also downloaded a free utility to monitor the CPU temperature called Core Temp. I found that I had multiple virus scanners running (you only need one of these) and some other processes I didn’t need, so I removed the software responsible for running these processes.

I found that although Core Temp was helpful, it sometimes interfered with the BIOS in reading the temperature of the CPU. A better program for measuring CPU temperature on this model of laptop was Speedfan.

can of compressed air
If taking your computer apart sounds frightening to you, or if you have a laptop where absolutely everything must be removed to get to the heatsink, then another option is to use a can of compressed air that you can buy at any office store and blow air backward through the fan’s vent. Feel for which direction the fan blows and determine where it’s exhausting the warm air. Then shut down the computer and aim the straw into the exhaust vents and if you see dust coming out through the intake vents, then you’re making progress. When dust collects on the heatsink, it continues to attract more dust like a log jam in a river. Blowing the air backward through the vent can clear this log jam.

How to schedule a recurring backup of a Windows XP folder to a Network share drive

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I have worked on computer backup products for more than 20 years and I still find most of them to be complicated to set up and use. They sometimes include so many features and options that people just give up in despair while trying to configure them.

If you have a network share drive and want to make periodic backups to it, you can do it without purchasing any new software and without having to resort to using Microsoft’s built-in backup utility which stores backups in a proprietary file format. This approach requires a special restore program to examine them or to copy them back to your PC. The fact that Microsoft’s backup utility is so well hidden speaks volumes for their confidence in customers being able to successfully find and use it.

If all you want to do is schedule a simple automated backup of a folder, I will explain an easy 3-step process to set up a recurring backup on Windows XP. I haven’t investigated an equivalent procedure for Windows Vista or Win7, but I assume this technique would work there as well since those operating systems also have similar built-in capabilities.

Step 1: Map the network share to a drive letter.

The first step is to set up the network drive as a drive letter on your PC. To do that, just open up Windows Explorer, basically any folder, and under the Tools menu, select “Map Network Drive”. Your network drive will likely have a name such as “server” and a share that you wish to use such as “backup”. In the dialog box that pops up, you can just type in \\server\backup. XP will let you use the ‘Browse’ feature to find your network drive and share if you don’t happen to know them by name. Once located, you can assign it an available drive letter. Make sure to check the box for your PC to reconnect to it at logon.

Step 2: Create a simple xcopy command in a batch file.

Let’s say the first step gave your network drive the letter X:.

We will now create a simple batch file called backup.bat in Notepad with the following single line that looks like this example:

xcopy "c:\Documents and Settings\Lee\My Documents\SWfiles\*.*" x:\Backup\SWfiles /d /e /y

(that should all be on a single line, but it got wrapped here)

This is the DOS xcopy command which is built into XP. It works like this:

xcopy "source files" "destination folder" /options.

I’ve selected the source files as “c:\Documents and Settings\Lee\My Documents\SWfiles\*.*”. That will back up every file and folder under the folder called SWfiles. I had to put quotes around it because some of the folder names have spaces in them. If you have spaces in any of the folder names, you will need these quotes around the source and/or destination name.

The purpose of the options is as follows:

/d – This option only backs up the file if the source file is newer than the destination file that may already exist. This allows the backup to avoid unnecessary writing if the file hasn’t changed since the last backup.

/e – This option makes the xcopy command search in sub-folders so you back those up files too.

/y – This is to avoid having the job ask for your permission to overwrite existing files.

Let’s save this file as backup.bat in any convenient folder. I put mine in My Documents.

Test it by double clicking on it to confirm it backs up the folder to your network share.

Step 3: Set up a scheduled task to run the batch file.

To open Scheduled Tasks, click Start, click All Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, and then click Scheduled Tasks.

Double-click Add Scheduled Task to start the Scheduled Task Wizard, and then click Next in the first dialog box. Just follow the wizard to select the backup.bat file and don’t worry if you can’t find the proper options to select, the task is very easy to edit once it’s finished. Unless you select, ‘run only when logged on’, you will have to select a user/password to run this task so if you don’t already have a password set for yourself, you will need to set one up. I set up a My Documents backup to run once a day, but for my SWfiles folder, I wanted it to back it up once an hour. If at first you don’t get it right, you can edit the task by double-clicking on it. Then you can select ‘Advanced’ options to set it up to run it every hour. Set the duration to 24 hours so it will run every hour of the day.

Here’s an example of what the Scheduled Tasks screen looks like:

The Task Scheduler for Windows XP

The Task Scheduler for Windows XP, Click for larger image.

Please keep in mind that if you do this on a laptop, the backups will only happen when you’re connected to your network, so if you’re off traveling with your laptop, make sure you use another backup method (perhaps a Picture Keeper customized to backup all of your favorite file types).

Damaged Photo Restoration Service

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A few months ago, my friend Don showed me a picture he had of himself as a young boy along with his younger sister and older brother. Don will turn 80 this year and it appears he was about 5 in the photo, so it was about 75 years old. The photo had some damage from creases, missing areas, and a few dark spots and he wanted to get it restored but didn’t want to let go of the original since it was irreplaceable. He had an photo scanner sitting next to his computer, so I scanned in the original and emailed it to Jay Yozviak at Photography by Jay, who is the premier photographer in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I figured he’d know of a reliable service where the photo could be sent and restored to remove the defects it had accumulated over its 75 year life. You can see an image of the original photo here (you can click on images for higher resolutions versions of them):

Damaged photo needing restoration and touchup work

photo before restoration

I know that Jay is very capable with PhotoShop but didn’t realize that he also does photo restoration as part of his photography business. In a few days, Jay had restored the image and sent back the results. My friend was extremely pleased with how it turned out. As you can see below, the defects are gone.

damaged photo restored

photo after restoration

He also made up a framed version of the image in black-and-white:

old image converted back to black and whilte

Original image converted back to black and white

If you’d like to get a quote on getting your irreplaceable photos restored to their original condition, you can contact Jay at:

Photography by JAY
284 Dennison Street
Swoyersville, PA 18704
570-288-1706

If you’re curious how photo restoration is done, here’s a time-lapsed video of someone doing it on YouTube. The video is only a few minutes, but it shows about 6 hours of work:

Preserving Your Old Photos

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As you may have noticed by reading this blog and checking out my other web pages, I am the VP of Engineering at Simplified IT Products, LLC the company that makes the Picture Keeper. It’s the easiest way I know of to protect your digital pictures. The people at AM Northwest recently ran a segment with organizing expert Krista Colvin that talks about the Picture Keeper along with several other tips for managing your digital photo collection. If you are concerned with the security of your digital photo collection, the video linked above is well worth watching.

To summarize it, Krista recommends getting all of your photos stored in one place. The Picture Keeper is excellent for pulling all your photos from multiple computers and putting them in one location. Then make a backup of that collection. But even befor you do that that she recommends sorting your old printed photos into 3 categories, A-List, B-List, and C-List which would work like this:

A-List: I love this photo and really want to keep it.

B-List: This is a nice photo that I want to keep, or it may be an A-List photo for someone else. If so, give it to them.

C-List: The photo is flawed, for example has a finger blocking the shutter or is otherwise unimportant, you should throw those away.

She then talks about scanning all of your photos with a product called Flip-Pal, which I have reviewed here. The flip pal is an excellent way to digitize old photos, particularly if you don’t already have a scanner or if you need the convenience of a scanner that you can take to the photos, instead of bringing the photos to the scanner. And there’s also the option of taking the photos to a scanning service.

Getting all of your old photos scanned an stored on your computer and backed up gives you a lot more options on what you can do with them. The most popular reason for having a digital copy, other than preservation, is to share with others who might be interested in them. People love looking at old pictures and if you really want to brighten someone’s day, send them a copy of a photo that is bound to bring back some fond memories.