Beat the Heat: Gaming Laptop Cooling Solutions

Updated on May 16, 2023
aming Laptop Cooling Solutions

If you were a gamer back in the 1990s, you may well have dreamt of being able to play your favorite video games on the go. Sure, we had portable consoles – the Nintendo Game Boy was particularly successful, eventually going on to sell 118.69 million units – but it played extremely cut-down versions of the games that were available on the home consoles of the time. The arcades, of course, hosted even better games – home gaming technology just hadn’t caught up yet.

As for the PC, that was faring even worse – IBM’s original design included the most basic four-colour graphics possible, as well as specifying nothing more than a simple beeper for sound. It was the release of Doom in 1993 which really kick-started the PC as a gaming platform, and saw players desperately upgrading their machines with SVGA-level graphics, 80486 or Pentium-class processors, and of course – the seminal Sound Blaster card from Creative Labs. 

The PC as a Mobile Gaming Platform

In the years that followed, the PC would compete against 3D-based home consoles from Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft. Being a PC gamer wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t cheap; there was a constant need to upgrade hardware to keep up with what the console manufacturers were bundling into their loss-leader sold home machines. If you were willing to keep up with the rat race, however, the PC would soon become the domain of the very best video games you could buy – the so-called ‘PC Master Race’.

But the dream was not yet complete – players wanted these games to be available ‘on-the-go’, and a plucky new hardware manufacturer was plotting behind the scenes to finally make that possible. The first true gaming laptop, 2010’s Razer Blade, packed in a top-of-the-line desktop-class Core I7 chip alongside Nvidia’s GT555M graphics processing unit. It looked great – impossibly thin, especially for its time – but the machine ran extremely hot, causing its chips to throttle and frustrating the gamers who had parted with $2,500 to get their hands on one. 

The Core of the Problem: Heat

The PC has always dealt with heat via brute-force methods – ever-larger and faster fans were used for years to cool high-end processors, pulling piles of dust into the chassis of early gaming laptops. The thinner and sleeker the design, the tougher it generally was to access the components necessary to remove this sort of build-up, giving early gaming laptops a short and often quickly significantly degraded lifespan. And yet, people would continue to buy them in droves.

Why? There’s probably a complex web of reasons including simply being able to flex the latest and greatest hardware, but the bottom line was always that these machines were the only way to enjoy the world’s very best video games on the go. It was around this time that several other distinct types of games began to amass a huge level of popularity, too – Farmville was one of the first viral casual games to hit the mainstream and was only accessible via Facebook.  

Video Game Technology Inspires Other Industries

One area of gaming that we have yet to touch on is the online casino industry. The first online casino games were relatively basic, certainly in comparison to the best new slots available now, but they were still hugely popular with gamblers who soon fell in love with the ability to enjoy their favorite casino games without having to make the trek to a land-based casino. 

Creating the cabinet and hardware for a new slot machine can be extremely expensive; developing software to send over the internet is relatively cost-free by comparison. This presented an exciting opportunity for both the players, and also the developers of online slots. For the first time, new slot machines such as Thunderstruck II and Immortal Romance would harness the technology inside home PCs to provide video game-level graphics to online slots and casino games. 

Full Circle: Keeping it Cool 

These new slots required far more system resources to run smoothly, so a modern gaming laptop was the ideal way to enjoy them… bringing us right back to the cooling problem that we discussed earlier. Fortunately, the manufacturers learned from their mistakes quickly, and the lifespan of their products soon began to increase. 

There was an element of luck involved here too (a quirky co-incidence, given that we have only just finished talking about slot machines!) in that Taiwan’s TSMC was making huge strides in shrinking the transistors on their latest chip designs – smaller transistors create less heat, whilst also allowing you to pack more of them into the same area. The CPU of a 2010 gaming laptop might have packed in a few million transistors; today’s designs include billions of them. 

All of the big hitters in today’s gaming laptop market – Alienware, MSI, Asus, Lenovo, and Razer, just to name a few of the best – create their new designs with cooling at the very core. Complex heat pipe arrangements are a must-have, whilst ASUS has gone even further by experimenting with active cooling docks. Players can help themselves here too – laptop cooling pads can blow cool, clean air into the machine, and are considered a must-have accessory by some. 

Article by:
Kenny Trinh
While he’s not editing articles on the latest tech trends, he likes to discuss business and entrepreneur. His writing has been featured in national publications such as Forbes, RD, Yahoo Finance, HackerNoon among others.

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