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I've a got longstanding problem with laptops overheating (MacBook Air/Pro) and it's not only related to one machine. The laptops are overheating especially during hot days (summer).

I've found that keeping them in the fridge for half an hour makes a dramatic difference in their performance. However I am afraid of the side effects and that the laptop may stop working, because of water coming into the internal parts of the laptop.

How safe is it to keep a laptop in the fridge?

Does keeping it in a laptop sleeve case or in a plastic bag protect the laptop enough? Do the temperature and time also matter (like half an hour is the optimal time)? Or is it a bad idea at all and can it damage the laptop very quickly (assuming it's in Sleep mode, so it's basically turned off)?

  • 2
    Will cold weather break my laptop? – Mazura Jun 25 '16 at 21:27
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    I used to hold my laptop up to the air conditioner when it overheated. It worked surprisingly well. – Maxpm Jun 26 '16 at 9:59
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    You might want to check if your machine is one of the ones with a video card issue that causes overheating: apple.com/support/macbookpro-videoissues . If it is, you can have it repaired/replaced by Apple for free -- that's what I did. – Dennis Jun 26 '16 at 18:44
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    Doing this is bad for the battery at the very least. – SeldomNeedy Jun 27 '16 at 17:44
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    Followup question: "How do I get the garlic smell off my MacBook after keeping it in the fridge?" – svidgen Jun 28 '16 at 3:01

17 Answers 17

222

The concern isn't really when it's in the fridge but when you take it out. The cold laptop/parts will pull the water out of the air AFTER it's taken out of the fridge, even if it was in a plastic bag. Think of a glass of water, it doesn't 'sweat' when it's in the fridge but you take it out on a hot day and it does.

The other concern is, depending on the temperature difference you are creating, there will be some extra wear on the components from expanding/contracting of parts.

The only thing I can think of to recommend is getting one of the laptop 'docks' with a couple fans in it to help move the air around the laptop.

  • My macbook drives two external displays, so the discreet graphic card is always on. Dock with fans doesn't cut it anymore. What does work is putting it onto one of those cold accumulators from the picnic fridge bag. This solves the overheating problem entirely. And I don't have to interrupt my work by putting the computer away for half an hour. :) – Sergio Tulentsev Jun 27 '16 at 8:38
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    I'd echo one point raised in Superbest's answer: Thermal cycling (temperature swings) is BAD for electrical equipment - it causes boards & components to expand & contract and can crack solder joints and cause premature component failure. It's also not great for batteries. Running at a stable temperature (even a relatively high one) is far better than lots of hot/cold cycles. – John U Jun 27 '16 at 8:58
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    I can speak from experience that OP's idea is awful and dangerous. I once tried the claim that you could cool a failing hard disk this way to recover data from it. Of course it ended up covered in condensation and the PCB on it caught fire while powering it up and trying to access it. – R.. Jun 27 '16 at 19:40
107

As you suspect, it is not a very good idea. The cooler air inside the fridge can quickly condense the vapor normally found in the air, producing little droplets of water on the coolest parts (such as the motherboard).

Even if you find it effective, it may result in damage to your computer. I simply suggest you not do it.

Read USGS website for more insight in the condensation process (it is mainly about cloud formation, so please focus on the "Condensation in the air" section).

50

As others already said, you're killing your laptop with the condensation. The water will usually not lead to a short circuit immediately, but instead lead to rust buildup first before the final shutdown after a couple times in the freezer.

Better solutions:

  • You say the laptop is still under warranty: Use the warranty.
  • Bottled air to clean the fans without opening the laptop /voiding the warranty.
  • Laptop cooling pad. The ones with larger fans make less noise. enter image description here
  • 1
    My MBP only (barely) cools OK when I put it on a stand (from the dollar store, no fan) that keeps it an inch or so above the surface. I'm sure a fan would help more. Moving a lot of air would probably make no difference, but moving some will. The biggest cooling area of the MBP is the bottom, so getting it some air is a huge help. Also, keep it open so the small strip between keyboard and screen gets air. (That's the other major cooling area.) You could even position a USB fan to blow on it. And, or course, check your software: I had a much worse problem before changing anti-virus. – Jeffiekins Jun 23 '16 at 18:23
  • I also read a couple weeks ago on this board that submerging in distilled water is aces for a quick and efficient cool down. – coburne Jun 27 '16 at 17:35
  • @coburne: post a link please. Distilled water may sure be distilled but may become consideably less distilled if it contacts with something dissolvable and it is almost guaranteed that the laptop parts have something on them. The effect of water on mechanics is another problem which I cannot comprehend about though. – Euri Pinhollow Jun 28 '16 at 18:35
  • "Bottled air to clean the fans without opening the laptop /voiding the warranty." Nooooooo~ On a laptop, the blast of air will push the dust bunnies back into the fan blades causing them to stop spinning. The temperature will quickly spike. <said in voice of recent experience> Take the panel(s) off. Take the fan out (if you can) and then give it a blast of canned air away from the rest of the machine. If it's under warranty take it in and ask them to find out why it is running so hot. – mycowan Jul 13 '16 at 14:20
47

I have a similar overheating problem with my MacBook. The fan was always spinning away.

My solution was to freeze an ice pack (I think that's what they're called). Wrap it in a tea towel (to absorb moisture) and sit my MacBook on that.

Frozen Ice Pack

After a few minutes or so, the fan stopped and my MacBook was happily cooled.

  • 2
    Great suggesting. I've tried, even I had special ice packs which may also bend (not solid as on your pic) with some special liquid inside and it actually worked for few hours, the only problem was that they were difficult to place under the laptop when in frozen state and not always I had enough space in my freezer, secondly at work usually there is no freezer (only fridge for milk), and fridge is not enough to freeze it, so you may end up with lot of water on your desk. – kenorb Jun 22 '16 at 8:59
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    Doesn't this have the same issue as the fridge "solution"? Cold metal parts will start taking on moisture from the air. – Kusalananda Jun 22 '16 at 11:39
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    Probably not. The metal parts won't be cold they'll be hot because the computer is running. – Transistor Jun 22 '16 at 20:46
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    @kenord, Kusalananda - be like Ford Perfect and always have a towel. It'll absorb the water. If one ice pack means the lap top is not balanced well, try using two packs side by side. As for the ice packs slowly melting, buy a half dozen, freeze them at night in your home freezer and take them to work in a cooler. transistor, actually it does work. Not right away. Where I live summers are hot 35C+ and I don't run the A/C, but using ice packs will have the fan on my 8 year old Mac stopped in about 20 minutes. I'd like a cooling fan, but I'm terribly underpaid. – mycowan Jun 23 '16 at 0:10
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    @SergioTulentsev it's not worrying about whether the water will soak through the surface or not. If the inside surface gets too cool and meets the warm humid air, it will create condensation. In my opinion, the towel acts more like a barrier for the cold air. Just think of it like you're holding ice in your hand. You'll be able to hold onto the ice longer if you had a towel in your hand because it would help insulate your hands from directly being exposed to the cold. – DrZoo Jun 27 '16 at 16:32
13

The condensation that could form when you remove the laptop from the fridge would make me worry enough to not to do it at all.

I have seen people that have drilled holes in the body for cooling and other crazy things like that in the past.

Maybe it's time to upgrade the machine?

EDIT from comments: Stop using Google Chrome for Mac. It seems to consume far too much rescource for my liking. There are plenty of other free browsers that do that job as well, arguably better than Chrome.

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    It's not so old, it happens with the latest machines also, so there is no any better upgrade from MBP (in terms of the family of laptops). I think they're just bad by design and they're more for the graphic designers, not for heavy developers. – kenorb Jun 21 '16 at 10:24
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    @kenorb Plenty of developers use MBPs. Something else is going on. – Todd Wilcox Jun 21 '16 at 17:12
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    @ToddWilcox I'm working with 20-30 devs in a team most of them using MBPs, and mainly I've got the problem when using VMs via vagrant (Linux in VM is taking CPU all the time, even when VM is doing nothing, so I need to suspend the machine every time). So I blame mainly Chrome (hundred of tabs - but these are must for me), VMs, local LAMP and heavy Drupal CMS, but these are my mandatory apps. Also this is not the first Mac machine which is doing that, it happens on my another Air (when just only browsing web), and on my previous 2 MBPs, before I killed my first M.Air and switched to Pros line. – kenorb Jun 21 '16 at 18:28
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    @Kromster Chrome is absolutely a huge memory hog. This is the core "feature" of Chrome - it "speeds up" the Internet by preloading and caching in memory the most likely pages you are going to browse to next. It works even better if you log onto your Google account with it, since then it can make better personalized predictions. This applies to both Windows and OS X (aka macOS). The question is, does memory usage lead to hotter running? I'd be surprised if it did by itself, but if it leads to more paging then it could be a factor. – Todd Wilcox Jun 23 '16 at 15:27
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    @kenorb "All the leading browsers are based on the Chromium engine anyway..." No they're not. They are really, really not. Have you heard of Firefox? Safari? I̶n̶t̶e̶r̶n̶e̶t̶ ̶E̶x̶p̶l̶o̶r̶e̶r Actually, that one's not good on a Mac. But you get my point. – wizzwizz4 Jun 26 '16 at 11:38
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As the previous posters wrote, condensation is a major danger for the laptop, so putting it in the fridge could possibly be the end of it.

The overheating issue most probably is due to the fact that dust, fluff, animal/human hair and other materials have clogged the laptop's metal grille between the fan and the air vent. Additionally, the thermal paste used between CPU/GPU and cooler, could have dried, resulting in reduced heat transfer.

In other words, disassemble the laptops, clean the cooling system (fan and grille) and use new thermal paste in case of the old one, where applicable.

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    If it's still under warranty, try getting Apple to do this first. Tell them it's overheating. – Alan Campbell Jun 22 '16 at 3:27
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    @AlanCampbell Apple won't do much. They only run their diagnostic tests in special network drive which is available at the store, when all pass - go home. They only take laptop for repair when the tests fail or they'll freeze the system. Before they changed my logic board, the system was crashing all the time on these tests, only then they reacted. Otherwise they'll ask me to remove any non-Apple kernel extensions and apps, or re-install the system, but I need virtualbox extension for my work. – kenorb Jun 22 '16 at 9:26
  • Then, well, buy Dell Latitude. I had bought one and when DVD-RW died they sent me new one and "Replace it yourself; it is easy to do". And so it was. – Crowley Jun 24 '16 at 10:18
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    If Apple won't fix it, the warranty is worthless. Disassemble and clean. – Alan Campbell Jun 24 '16 at 14:38
8

Don't do it unless you don't mind losing the laptop (and the data on it).

Typically, people live in spaces where the air has some humidity. Air will hold some amount of water vapor depending on the temperature (more if warmer). A typical indoor space might be carrying, for instance, half the humidity that it can accommodate at room temperature. When you open the fridge, some of this humid air gets in. When you close it, the temperature crashes from room temperature to near freezing, and now the water vapor that it is bearing exceeds its capacity at this low temperature.

What happens to the excess water vapor? It condenses into liquid (water droplets) on any suitable surface - such as the insides of a laptop. This is already bad since it can lead to corrosion and rust on internal components (note that every time the fridge is opened, new humid air gets in for a new dose of condensation). Even worse is that when you take the laptop out and try to power it on, you can get a short circuit which will cause electrical damage.

It could also trip hidden moisture sensors and void your warranty, and I believe the temperature swings aren't great for the battery either.

In theory you could take some unnecessarily laborious precautions to reduce humidity before refrigerating: For instance, you could seal the laptop in a plastic bag together with desiccant to dry out the air in the bag, and then refrigerate. However, if you then take this cold laptop out of the fridge, its cold metal surface will collect condensation from the air in the room. Cutting air circulation like this will also hamper the effectiveness of refrigeration.

The fundamental problem here is that "cooling" the laptop constitutes bringing to the temperature of the room you are in. Once you go below you get a risk of condensation: A 24 °C laptop might be fine in a 25 °C room with 50% humidity, but it could have problems in a 30 °C room with 100% humidity (although you wouldn't like such a room either). The fridge will crash the temperature to something like 4 °C, which is too low.

A safer alternative is to increase circulation: Have a big room/ceiling fan (make sure it doesn't have some kind of humidifier) blow air at or around the laptop. This will remove air that is heated by the cooling laptop and replace it with fresh, cooler air, which will remove heat better. Moving air is also cooler for somewhat complicated reasons. This is really the best you can do (assuming there isn't some dirt blocking the laptop's air vents or something obvious like that). Any complicated "active cooling" would involve so much extra work to take care of "side effects" like above, that you would end up being better off just buying a new laptop that doesn't overheat as much.

7

LinusTechTips has done a video about it: PC Build in a Fridge - Does it Work?

Fridge is not designed for computer cooling, CPU/GPU cooler with thermal paste is the way to go. Since it's a MacBook Air/Pro, I know it's not easy to open it and everything.

How safe is to keep a laptop in the fridge?

About the laptop itself it will be fine, components are normally protected enough against the environment.

What is not safe is to use this fridge for your food. The heating from the computer will up the temperature of the fridge, so it may not be safe to store raw meat next to the hot laptop.

  • Foods hotter than a MacBook are put into refrigerators all the time. As long as the fridge is working properly, it's no problem at all. – Carey Gregory Jun 22 '16 at 3:39
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    @CareyGregory Strange, my fridge manual explicitly forbids putting things hotter than room temp. – Agent_L Jun 22 '16 at 9:32
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    Computer in a fridge is a completely different issue. It's all about average fridge not having enough continuous cooling power to drain the generated heat. Server room is basically a room-sized fridge and they DO work perfectly. OP's problem is exposing cold machine to hot and humid air, pretty much same thing as bringing machine from outside in winter (eg delivery) and running it without allowing it to warm up. – Agent_L Jun 22 '16 at 9:36
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    @CareyGregory I'm sure yours says it too. – Agent_L Jun 22 '16 at 11:52
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    @user2428118 I never said anything about letting warm food to sit in warmth for hours. I said it's not safe for the fridge to put something hot in it. Besides, tap-water bath cools food down MUCH faster than fridge air at 4deg, so it's the safest solution from food safety point of view too. My fridge has glass shelves and plastic interior, I doubt any of those could withstand contact with a hot pot. – Agent_L Jun 23 '16 at 16:58
7

Putting your computer inside the fridge isn't necessarily a problem by itself, but it is no solution either. But first, I do have a few comments beyond what I already read in other answers.

  • Putting the warm laptop in a plastic bag or sleeve before placing it into the fridge is a bad idea. Warm air holds lots of moisture; as it cools, you will see condensation inside the bag, which will affect the computer.
  • As others noted, when you take out the computer, parts of it that are cold may see condensation from ambient air.
  • Putting the machine in the fridge does not remove the root cause of the overheating. It just puts more thermal stress on the computer by increasing the temperature difference between its hot parts inside and its outer surfaces or the air circulating through it.

But before resorting to using the fridge, I would first investigate why your computer overheats. Because it really shouldn't. You certainly shouldn't have a CPU running at 90 °C, throttling so badly that it misses keystrokes.

First, is the hardware really healthy? I don't have a MacBook Air, but looking at images of it online, it seems that the CPU fan vents directly to the outside, so presumably you can tell that it is running. Just be sure, because if the laptop has more than one fan and the CPU fan itself is dead or dying, other fans may be doing overtime but that won't really help.

Beyond that, I'd look at the software. You say you are a "heavy user" and you describe an office environment. What does that mean? Because most office activities consume very little CPU power. Even development tools consume little power except when you are recompiling a project, for instance, but those activities typically don't take too long even for complex projects. If you are working on documents, spreadsheets, diagrams, etc., with low CPU activity, your nice i7 CPU (I looked it up, a 2013 MacBook Air Pro with a 2.3 GHz i7, that would mean an i7-4850HQ with a thermal design power of only 47 W) should stay cool as a cucumber (from what I am reading online, the CPU temperature should in in the mid to high 40s Celsius when idle; a little higher, but certainly no more than 50-60 °C under a light load).

If the CPU doesn't stay cool and its fan is working properly, that means that something is using a lot of cycles. Typically, that something would be, say, a demanding computer game; a complex numerical calculation; video rendering; or just some badly written software (Microsoft is notorious for some of its components like Windows Update or the search indexer, consuming tons of CPU cycles for extended periods of time; I don't know so much about Apple). Check, if you can, what is using those CPU cycles. Is it something you can live without? Uninstall it. Can it be throttled? Is it misconfigured?

The bottom line is that unless you are doing something that is really CPU intensive, your machine should stay cool on its own, not much warmer than the ambient temperature, with its fans spinning at a low RPM. Anything higher than that, you know that something on that computer is not behaving properly. And in the long run, no matter what method you use to cool that computer, extensive thermal stress is going to cause it harm.

  • Checking number of syscalls per process (sudo syscallbyproc.d) gives a standard expected list like: Chrome, VBox (if running), WindowServer, Terminal, hidd, X11.bin, sysmond, some helpers and other common services, so nothing suspicious. I've similar problem every few years after purchasing new Macbooks, so it could be just bad by hardware design (which nobody is aware of, and the problem obviously is not advertised publicly). It may also the case that my SSD storage reached is lifetime (around 2PB written after 3 years?) causing I/O bottleneck, but I'll investigate this separately. – kenorb Jun 22 '16 at 15:04
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    The number of syscalls does not necessarily reflect CPU usage. A program may be running CPU intensive loops in multiple threads without doing any syscalls. Also, while an aging SSD might be a problem on its own right, I cannot think of any mechanism that would make it lead to excessive CPU usage and overheating. SSD age does not mean an I/O bottleneck, just an increased chance of an irrecoverable error. – Viktor Toth Jun 22 '16 at 15:15
  • So I'll blame Chrome then by processing a lot of things in the background (JS&ads), other browser are doing the same thing by design. And VirtualBox, probably after Apple introduced some rootless features, or I'll try the suggestion from here, but it's topic for another question. – kenorb Jun 22 '16 at 15:26
  • For what it's worth, Chrome on my (Windows) desktop does sometimes, ahem, use the CPU a little too liberally. So it might be worthwhile to check to see if shutting down chrome leads to a noticeable change in thermal behavior. – Viktor Toth Jun 22 '16 at 15:36
5

It may also be how you are handling your laptop. Make sure when you use it that you are giving the fan enough room to work to its full potential. Do not block the fan or put your laptop on a soft surface (like a bed). This does not allow for proper ventilation. Also, since you mentioned summer, try to keep your laptop out of direct sunlight; this may cause overheating as well.

  • I'm in very large office space, I'm not blocking fans, I'm using hard wood-like surface. The sun isn't the case also, I'm exposed to artificial light. – kenorb Jun 21 '16 at 16:27
  • Also be sure to keep the laptop open when in use. I had a laptop that I used in a dock with external keyboard and monitor, it would overheat if I kept the lid closed. If I kept it open, I had no problems. I would imagine a fair amount of heat can escape through the speaker grilles, and probably around the keys too (even though there isn't a lot of space around them). – TMN Jun 22 '16 at 12:27
5

Don't put it in a fridge. Condensation will kill it eventually. If you really can't upgrade the machine, use an airconditioner. Put the laptop near the vent, and it will do what you need. The AC will cool the machines, and condensation will be much less of a problem. You need to monitor that, but I guess it won't be like in a fridge.

3

Put a small object such as a small smooth stone under one end.

This simple and basically free trick will allow more air to circulate underneath and if you feel how hot the base can get you know this will hope a little bit.

Personally however I've graduated to the fan shown by Peter. They cost about $10-15 and I've bought one for both home and work. they plug into USB ports. They are the size of a large mac so are stable for a laptop to be placed on.

You could also enhance the external fan pad cooling efficiency with flat freezer packs under it. A good option when you're using an external keyboard anyway and might have the lid closed (normal usage for many).

3

I've used successfully the fridge to cool down the laptop for couple of weeks and I didn't have much problems, however it may have some longstanding negative effects on the hardware which may decrease lifespan of your laptop, as well as overheating your laptop, so both things are bad, so it's up to you how you want your laptop to 'die' (from the cold or hot).

However there is a better workaround by using cold ice gel packs. They're not designed for cooling the laptops, but they may work better than keeping the laptop in the fridge.

Cold Pack with Compression Sleeve - Reusable Gel Ice Heat Pad enter image description here

The benefits over the fridge solution may include:

  • no need to keep the whole laptop in the risky too-cold environment,
  • you won't get water into internal parts, because it's a gel (and laptop is in safe place),
  • a gel instead of water also prevents expanding/contracting of the parts,
  • more portable and easy to carry,
  • if there is no freezer at workplace, freeze them overnight, and take them with you to work,
  • you can choose which parts to cool down (e.g. by keeping them under the laptop),
  • avoids controversy and shock at your workplace (who's laptop is in the fridge).

Just freeze them in the freezer in the original sleeves (if available) and dry them before using.

  • 4
    If any part of these are touching the laptop i.e. the laptop is resting on them(gel packs are still going to condense water out of the air and 'sweat'), you will still get water inside the laptop as they cool the case, especially in your hot environment. This could also cause more of a problem with the expanding and contracting of parts since the parts closest to the gel pack will be much colder(contracted) than those with some distance(expanded), and for a long period of time. – Cand3r Jun 23 '16 at 19:36
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    Fans are the only effective and safe way to keep a laptop cool. Anything else will cause condensation. – user1751825 Jun 30 '16 at 8:00
2

Look at the operating requirements on Apple's site: Apple.com

For the current generation MacBook Pro, the minimum operating temperature is listed as 50 degrees Fahrenheit (~10 ºC).

Operating temperature: 50 °F to 95 °F (10 ° to 35 °C)

Pretty much any consumer electronics will have such specifications published. Low temperatures can certainly introduce issues like condensation, but in many cases battery performance is also hindered outside the designed temperature range. Other components could have temperature-related issues as well.

  • He is asking about having the laptop in the fridge while switched off, not about operating it while it's in the fridge. – Ángel Jun 23 '16 at 20:48
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    OP specifically mentions Sleep mode, which is Not Off. Hibernate would be closer to Off, and I'm not sure Apple even allows S4 state natively. Regardless, I also don't mention using the laptop in the fridge. The implication is that the components are cooled below the operating range, and then used while still below the operating temperature. – blaughw Jun 23 '16 at 20:55
  • Most laptops have two batteries - a main one for supplying power when not plugged in, and a small one for keeping the laptop's clock from losing the correct time when the laptop is turned off. Also, motherboards usually have several electrolytic capacitors. Batteries and electrolytics have liquids inside - usually partly water. These liquids can often stand temperatures below the freezing point of pure water, but still lower temperatures will freeze them which may burst the batteries and electrolytics. Temperatures below the operating range not recommended even if turned off. – milesrf Jun 24 '16 at 4:19
1

When trying to trace intermittent problems, an article I read some time ago said to try blowing cold CO2 and hot air over the circuit board, because the problems would show up at some temperatures and not others. Typical problems found in this way would include hairline cracks and cold solder joints. My gut feeling is that you have an intermittent problem of this type and it will get worse if not repaired.

  • 1
    "Blowing CO2" can get freezing cold, blowing hot air (with a hairdryer for example) can get deceptively hot. Go from one to the other and I'll be interested to see if you cause those hairline cracks yourself. – hmijail Jun 27 '16 at 10:51
  • They were only applying the hot or cold gas for a second or two. – Bradley Ross Jun 27 '16 at 23:32
1

At first I am wondering, what do you do, that generates so much of "HEAT".

  1. Moisture could short circuit the thing anytime.

But if you still want to go ahead, you can try this:

Get a polythene or plastic bag big enough for the laptop and put it in the fridge open so the air in the bag gets at the same temperature as in the fridge and hopefully with less moisture then air outside. Then get the laptop, cool it off as much as possible outside fridge, maybe a fan or something. Anything which could also help any moisture evaporate from it. Then put it in polythene bag inside the fridge. That's all i can think of really to reduce the moisture, but i doubt it will completely stop it.

For making it more effective you can also keep 10-20 silica packets in polythene. Silica packets are one of the best moisture absorbents.

  • I don't think this will work at all. The best idea is just to keep the laptop away from the fridge. There is no way to prevent condensation in the internal parts, and it will eventually ruin the laptop. – user1751825 Jun 30 '16 at 7:53
0

My old windows gaming laptop was notorious for overheating. I struggled to use it in really hot weather, as the keyboard would get too hot to touch. I eventually got a little desk fan, and just had that blowing straight at the laptop whenever I wanted to use it in hot weather. The external case was aluminum, just like the Macbooks etc. so the moving air was extremely effective at keeping it cool.

As has been pointed out, the fridge is a very bad idea, due to condensation when you remove it.

Ideally you don't want to cool it with air colder than ambient room temperature. Fans are good because they just circulate the air, rather than actually cooling it. Any time you have a differences in air temperature, condensation will result.

protected by JakeGould Jun 22 '16 at 13:20

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