Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Three Laptop Cooler Reviews

   The UK has finally seen some sun this summer, so much so the country is experiencing a very rare and unusually long heat wave. Anyone wanting to play on their PS3 or 360 can forget it in this weather, unless that is you want to see the systems overheat and melt before your very eyes. But the same can be said of PC’s as well, whether you use them for playing games, surfing the web or other more demanding work, the weather has made computers all over the country break into a sweat and slow, not to mention cause their users to perspire due to the heat emitted from them.

   Unfortunately for laptop/notebook owners, the heat is somewhat of a more dangerous and pressing issue for their systems as they don’t contain anything like the exuberant and luxury driven cooling systems found in a typical PC. The kind of heat the UK has experienced over the past month has perished most peoples will to hit the on button, yet the UK will continue to experience the high temperatures and uncomfortable humidity for some time, making notebook owners like myself having to limit the use of the computer in case of overheating. I personally haven’t had any issues, but I have been keeping a close eye on the systems temperature gauge, and made a conscious decision not to do anything too demanding on the system, especially during the day.

   So since the start of the summer I have been on a quest to find the best laptop cooler for my laptop, I didn’t expect to buy more than one, but I am now currently on my third, so I have decided to write a review of each one and explain along the way why I have gone through several in a short amount of time. But before I continue I will set out the temperature benchmarks of my computer to show you the reader, just how much of a difference these 3 coolers have made if any.

   During winter and spring, before I decided to get a cooler, I would regularly check the temperature of my CPU using my computers monitoring software, what I found was it ran at about 35 degrees while idle, and around 38 running demanding programs such as a video editor or a game. During this summers heat wave (again prior to getting a cooler) my CPU temperature was around 40 degrees while idle, but 45/46 running games or my video editor. 

The first Cooler I Bought 

Belkin Cooler Stand

   This was the cheapest of the three cooling stands that I bought, weighing in at around £14, and designed for 15” laptops, it also just happened to be the most powerful of the three coolers that I bought. With a convex design that allows it to support a laptop from each corner while keeping the space directly underneath empty, and with the fan centred in the middle of the cooler, it allows the cool air to flow underneath and exit either side of the laptop. The Belkin Cooler Stand rests at a slight angle, propped up by a pull-out stand at the back; this is obviously to allow the fan to take in the maximum amount of air rather than from side vents that you see in other cooler designs.

   This cooler made a noticeable difference to the running and idle temperature of my CPU, it managed to shave off at least 3-4 degrees which I was honestly impressed with. The downside is that this cooler was extremely noisy, with it being comparable to how noisy the original model Xbox 360 was, but then the fan was pretty powerful and did a great job at its main task, cooling my laptop, so there is an obvious trade-off here.

   As good as it was at cooling my system, I quickly returned the Belkin Cooler back to the store I bought it from for a refund as I had a few issues with it. Firstly, the cooler did not like running off my laptops USB port, as it kept powering up and down constantly, so I had to power it from the mains using a USB mains adaptor. I’m not really sure if this issue was due to the product being faulty or whether it was down to the powerful fan and it being a case of my laptop couldn’t or wouldn’t supply it with enough power. The second issue I had, although intermittent, was with the fan itself, it was making a horrible grating noise, presumably from the fan coming out of its centre alignment and scraping the sides of its enclosure.

   I was disappointed that this product was faulty and that I had to return it as it did a great job of cooling my laptop. A 3-4 degree reduction in CPU heat might not sound like a great deal, but for an external cooling device, and one where the fan wasn’t positioned over my systems hotspots, is more than any user could hope for. I would still recommend this cooler though, and if the fan noise is not a big deal breaker for you, then its cooling effectiveness coupled with its cheap price could be a sure fire winner for you. 

The Second Cooler I bought 

Belkin V2 Laptop Cooling Lounge

   This cooling solution was slightly more expensive than the previous Belkin cooling stand at around £20, but has turned out to be the most used and reliable of the bunch thus far. Its not technically a cooling stand as such that’s meant to sit on a desk, but is designed to be more of a lap table that also features a fan cooling system. It is designed pretty much the same as the Belkin Cooling Stand, it has the same shape and form factor, allowing your system to sit on a bed of air, and it is perfectly sized for 15” laptops. The V2 Laptop Cooling Lounge differs in that while the top of the device is plastic, the underneath is cushioned to make it comfortable to rest on your legs.

   I wasn’t aware it was cushioned when I bought it, or that it was meant as a lap desk rather than a proper cooling stand, but I had paid for it so I wasn’t deterred and was willing to give it a go. It quickly became apparent however that there was a significant flaw in the design of this Cooling Lounge, one I find hard to understand how the designers failed to spot. At the back of this device there is a vent system running along the length of the unit, and this is supposedly where the centrally placed fan is meant to draw its air from, or a certain portion of its air. The problem is, as it’s a lap desk, there is a good chance that the fan will be obstructed underneath the Cooling Lounge from resting on a persons lap, which means the fan is starved of air and cant draw a sufficient amount of air through the vent at the back to make the fan effective at cooling, which defeats the point in putting a fan in there in the first place. So as you can imagine, using this resting on a desk to cool my laptop would be pointless, but I found a way to get around this little problem by resting the back of the device on a book to prop it up at an angle, and thus allowing the fan to breath and become effective at cooling again.

   The fan in this cooler is only half as powerful as the one in the previous stand, but it did at least have a noticeable effect on the temperature, but I only noticed a drop of a few degrees. It’s not anything amazing, but during a heat wave such a small drop is more than welcomed, and I guess the fact that you can use this as a comfortable lap desk is an added bonus.

   I have been using the Belkin V2 Laptop Cooling Lounge an awful lot, and once I propped it up I was more than satisfied with the performance of it. But although I like this cooler and haven’t experienced any problems with it, I cant say that it is one that I would necessarily recommend as a cooling solution to be placed on a desk, but I would recommend it if your after a lap desk though. 

The Final Cooler I Bought 

Cooler Master NotePal U3

   Firstly there are two versions of this cooler you should be aware of: the U3 which I’m reviewing here and the previous iteration the U2, the only difference between the two are the amount of fans they come with, the U2 having two and the U3 having three (more on the U2 later.)

   The U2/U3 NotePal design is a pure stroke of genius, there’s no two ways about it, and it makes me wonder if there could ever be a better designed external laptop cooler. The NotePal design is simple, minimalistic and for the most part well thought out, and with the U3 being the most expensive of the three laptop coolers that I have bought at £30, it is (thankfully) sturdy and really well made as it feels weighty and expensive rather than a cheap piece of imported plastic.

   The idea behind this cooler is that it comes with three movable fans, so the user can place each fan under a hotspot or vent on their specific laptop, which in turn helps to cool the system better than other coolers on the market that generally have centrally located fans. Each fan is held within a plastic bracket, and it is the bracket that clips onto the underneath of the NotePal’s aluminium mesh stand. All the fans can be removed from the brackets which is handy, especially where this cooler is concerned, and all three are connected to a fan speed controller that also doubles as the USB power plug. The U3s box says it supports laptops from 17” up to 19” and it is certainly the largest of the three coolers that I have bought, but I found it was fine for supporting my 15” laptop as the rubber pad at the bottom of the stand, coupled with my computers rubber feet, easily stopped it from moving anywhere.

   So you would think that with such a winning design that this cooler would be without a doubt the best of the three and a sure fire winner, well you’d be wrong. This cooler certainly ticks all the right boxes, but than manages to mess everything up in a crucial element of its makeup that would make it all work great. That element is the fans, which frankly are just really crap, they might be whisper quiet, but what good is that when they are significantly underpowered. I’m not sure if they are lacking the power they need to run at their true full speed, or whether they are funning at full speed and are just a rubbish choice of fans to use with this cooler. Adding a speed adjuster to these fans was silly because at maximum speed the fans barely draw enough air through them to move a thread of hair, and when set to minimum speed they are utterly pointless, as you would be more likely to feel a gentle breeze in space than from all three fans combined on this setting. Just how these poor quality fans made it into this unit that has such a great design is beyond me, as from the testing I did with this cooler it made absolutely no difference to the temperature of my laptop with the fans positioned under two hotspots and a vent. In fact my computer ran hotter during the heat wave so I quickly switched back to the trusty Belkin Cooling Lounge, so as you can imagine, this cooler was a real disappointment for me and the least used of all three.

   As it stands I can’t really say I would recommend this cooler, purely on the basis that the key components that are imperative to make it work (the three fans) are useless, so no matter how good the design of this cooler is, its pointless and a waste of money right out of the box. There is a saving grace to this system though, but only if you are prepared to spend another £20-£30, this systems potential can at least be salvaged. Because the fans can detach from the plastic brackets that hold them onto the stand, you can buy your own faster more powerful and effective fans rather cheaply off EBay or Amazon and either try rewiring them up to the NotePals speed controller, or buy a separate speed controller altogether. The other option is to try buying the U2 version of this cooler as I have read in a few places that the fans in that particular model are much better than the ones in the U3, but I have no way of verifying this so buy at your own risk.


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