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I am worried about a fire hazard.

My son has an Acer Extensa 4420-5237 model laptop. It tends to run fairly hot even with a newer version of Ubuntu -- Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Linux. Is there something I can install which will cause the fan to run a little longer or more frequently to cool this thing down?

EDIT: In the end, I found that the BIOS is old, can't be updated unless I install Windows first (which I won't do), and the BIOS is controlling the fan speed instead of the OS (and doing a lousy job of it). The thing is running the AMD K8 chipset. The sensors tell me the temps are running near to high, sometimes high occasionally, but never close to critical. All attempts at running pwmconfig and fancontrol fail because I have no throttle-able sensors due to the BIOS settings I can't change, or perhaps it's just the AMD K8 chipset. In the end, I have decided to dust the thing out with an air duster and then get a laptop cooling fan thing underneath it to keep it cool. Indeed, I found that simply holding the laptop up to a room fan causes the temp to go down to 129 degrees Fahrenheit and remain in the 130's for awhile, so it's a quick fix.

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2 Answers

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There aren't that many fans controllable through the OS. Your best bet is to go into the BIOS. Look around if there is an option for controlling the fan speed. If there is one and you can set it, you had luck. If there is an option in the BIOS, but you cannot set it, then your fan isn't controllable. In this case, you could try to exchange the fan for a controllable one, but I don't know if this is possible on a laptop.

If you cannot change the fan speed through OS or BIOS (or even if you can), you should still do the physical cleaning as the other posters suggested. Additionally, get a cheap laptop stand which holds the back of the laptop above the desk surface. Look for a model where air can pass between the laptop bottom and the stand. There are also laptop stands with built-in fans, but as far as I remember these are way too expensive and also need their own power.

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Unfortunately I installed Ubuntu and not Windows, and so I have no way to update the BIOS. I went into the BIOS and it has no options for me to control the fan or anything dealing with power management. But you are right -- all tests I've done so far show no ability to control fan through OS, and the BIOS is managing it, although poorly. –  Volomike Jul 12 '10 at 1:04
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Have you tried cleaning the computer first? (blowing it out with compressed air)

However, to answer your question:

How to control fan speed (lm-sensors)

Install and config lm-sensors first,

sudo apt-get install lm-sensors

Then run pwmconfig to test your fans.

sudo pwmconfig

If you can control fan speeds, great. Now creat a file called /etc/init.d/fancontrol, and paste in the following

#!/bin/sh
#
# Fancontrol start script.
#

set -e

# Defaults
DAEMON=/usr/sbin/fancontrol
PIDFILE=/var/run/fancontrol-pid
PATH=/sbin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin

test -f $DAEMON || exit 0

. /lib/lsb/init-functions


case "$1" in
       start)
               log_begin_msg "Starting fancontrol daemon..."
               start-stop-daemon --start -o -q -m -b -p $PIDFILE -x $DAEMON
               log_end_msg $?
               ;;
       stop)
               log_begin_msg "Stopping fancontrol daemon..."
               start-stop-daemon --stop -o -q -p $PIDFILE
               log_end_msg $?
               ;;
       force-reload|restart)
               sh $0 stop
               sh $0 start
               ;;
       *)
               log_success_msg "Usage: /etc/init.d/fancontrol {start|stop|restart|force-reload}"
               log_success_msg "  start - starts system-wide fancontrol service"
               log_success_msg "  stop  - stops system-wide fancontrol service"
               log_success_msg "  restart, force-reload - starts a new system-wide fancontrol service"
               exit 1
               ;;
esac

exit 0

Make it excutable

sudo chmod +x /etc/init.d/fancontrol

Test it

/etc/init.d/fancontrol start

and

/etc/init.d/fancontrol stop

If it works fine, autoload it when you reboot. Insert the following line into /etc/rc.local, before "exit 0"

/etc/init.d/fancontrol start

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I have a six year-old laptop that I take apart (nearly completely) and clean out about once a year – makes a noticeable difference, but does take several hours (mostly because I forget how to do it each time). –  Roger Pate Jul 11 '10 at 22:47
    
Most definitely, I agree completely. I do this for all my machines every 3-6 months when I rebuild the OS. –  cole Jul 11 '10 at 23:04
    
You know, I think you're right, Cole -- a carefully done air-dusting would help. The laptop is 3 years old. Also, on all the above -- none work because pwmconfig can't find throttle-able sensors because the BIOS is controlling it all. Laptop is running AMD K8 power chipset. –  Volomike Jul 12 '10 at 1:06
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