So anyway, in disassembling my old Gateway laptop for the umpteenth time after a series of crashes (read more about that here: More Windows Horror Stories
) I decide to pop off the CPU heatsink and check the thermal interface (since the fan was on its last legs, I figured it would be a good idea to see what kind of passive cooling it was capable of).
For reference, the laptop in question is about 4 years old now, and came equipped with a 2.2GHz ACPI Pentium 4... basically a desktop processor in a laptop case, and a low power mode for battery operation added as an afterthought. It runs HOT. So hot, in fact, that when gaming, crunching numbers or rendering 3D images or things of that sort, the keyboard has heated up to the point where it hurt to hold the keys over the processor, and the plastic back panel with the power and function buttons on it had been softened by repeated heating to the point where you had to smack the power button with a fair amount of force to turn it on. I had to keep the laptop up on some blocks to give it better airflow underneath to keep it from overheating the processor and shutting down while doing any kind of work.
I pull the aluminum cooler block off the CPU, and lo-and-behold it had one of the worst thermal interfaces imaginable. I don't know what circus they borrowed the monkeys from who designed this thing, but I'd suggest paying for some better trainers....
Basically, the cooler block was rough and unpolished, pitted with deep depressions as if it was a rough piece of galvanized steel. Strike one.
On top of that, there was a thick sheet of tinfoil. Yes, tinfoil, TAPED to the aluminum cooling block, with a thin bead of glue evident around the edges. There was NO thermal grease between the tinfoil and the cooling block that would help compensate for the pitted texture of the block or allow for an even slightly efficient thermal interface. There were trace amounts of long-dried and burnt thermal compound coating the processor itself, but not where it would do much good. No WONDER it had a heat problem.
So, I pulled off the tinfoil, stripped the glue off the corners of the block, cleaned and polished the CPU with a rag and isopropyl, dabbed a bead of MX-1 Thermal Compound onto the processor and reassembled the block. The laptop now runs very chill and the fan doesn't even turn on unless under a huge load. The keyboard remains cool to the touch.
If you have one of these P4 Gateway laptops, I strongly recommend doing what I did and replacing the thermal interface between the block and processor with a good quality thermal compound. Arctic Silver 5 is good, Arctic Cooling MX-1 or MX-2 is better, and is safer for your computer if you get it on anything other than the top of the CPU chip, since it's non-electrically-conductive. If you can polish the aluminum block a bit before doing this, all the better, but even if you can't, a good thermal compound will fill the gaps and give you a much better interface. For those particularly metallurgically inclined, you could also improve it by adding some copper filler to fill the gaps between the aluminum block and the copper heat pipe (which isn't exactly ideal as it is). Doing this WILL void your warranty, however if you own one of these computers the warranty on it is probably already void anyway.
If you own another gateway laptop and are experiencing problems with excessive heat, the thermal interface is definitely something to look into - if you can open it up and examine it without voiding your warranty, or without gateway finding out that you did, you can do so _AT YOUR OWN RISK_. If you do _not_ own a Gateway, I do not recommend buying one; if you want to anyway, be sure it can stay cool under load.