General Question

meagan's avatar

Do laptops stop working due to massive overheat?

Asked by meagan (4665points) July 12th, 2010

I’ve got a nice dell inspiron I bought about a year and a half ago. But I’m not sure whats wrong with it anymore.. It just freezes up. I’m not sure if its overheated (so many times that the computer is fried?) or if my battery is dead ( my computer won’t hold a battery charge. It only comes on when the charger is plugged in )—- or do I have some terrible virus?

Its obvious that I’m not good with computers. But I’m at a total loss. I do most of my work from home online, and I’ve been spoiled by my laptop – my desktop isn’t cutting it anymore. And I’d hate to buy a new laptop if theres something simple that I’m missing. :(

Any help will be extremely appreciated. I’ll stay online and lurk the thread in case I need to reply to some questions, etc.
I really think it might be a big virus. I have windows vista, and I’ve got that little gauge that tells CPU usage, and even when I just turn the thing on, its all the way to 100% Also, it won’t let me connect to any wifi

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33 Answers

Ivan's avatar

What operating system are you using?

Does the computer just lock up and become unresponsive? Or does it show a blue or black screen? Or does the entire computer shut off?

Does the computer feel hot when it runs? Does the fan run loudly for long periods of time?

Do you keep it running continuously, or do you shut it off at night?

BhacSsylan's avatar

Heat can kill a battery and a computer, but there can be other issues, so answer Ivan’s excellent diagnostic questions and we can go from there

meagan's avatar

@Ivan I’m on Vista. The fan is very loud, even when you just turn it on. I haven’t used this computer in at least six months because of these issues, but I’ve never left it on during the night, only while I was using it.
And yes, it does lock up. If I try to run two programs at once it just locks up. I’m running it now, to try to give you more specific answers.
Also, load time is VERY slow for all programs. If I try opening firefox, everything goes nuts.

Ivan's avatar


Can you open the task manager and see if anything is maxing out your CPU usage?

jaytkay's avatar

@meagan I have windows vista, and I’ve got that little gauge that tells CPU usage, and even when I just turn the thing on, its all the way to 100%

Open the Task Manager
(Ctrl-Alt-Del and then choose Start Task Manager)

Choose the Processes tab

Click on CPU to sort the processes by CPU usage

If the top item is 00, click on CPU again (to reverse the sort from small->big to big->small)

What processes are taking up CPU. I will change constantly but you will probably see a few consistently near the top.

(System Idle Process is always up there, you can ignore that, it does not slow down the system)

meagan's avatar

@Ivan It doesn’t load. I’ll click on “start task manager”, and I can see the icon in the bottom right hand corner, but it won’t appear on the screen. Even when I right click the icon, nothing happens

meagan's avatar

Should I mention that the computer won’t let me shut it down or restart it? I have to manually turn it off every time, just for me to get the start up screen with running windows normally, safe mode, etc.

Ivan's avatar

You may very well have a virus. Do you happen to have the recovery disks?

meagan's avatar

@Ivan That came with the computer? I probably do. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to do a system restore. x_x

BhacSsylan's avatar

Hmm, what are your specs? The locking up could simply be due to an underpowered computer. Have you always had vista? Have you recently installed/started using any background programs, such as a new antivirus?

However, the fact that the fan always runs and runs loud suggests it may be an overheating problem, as you think. But, again, this doesn’t seem to have happened all of the last two years, according to your question, so it could be simply dust buildup. If you go on they may have instructions for taking off a few panels on the bottom and cleaning out the fan. Have you checked for those? Lots of dust can cause serious overheating.

hmm, and you can’t load task manager. that’s an issue. probably because your CPU is maxed with something and the TM can’t get the processing time to start. Hmm. Anyone else think a safemode boot would be worth it before she reformats?

Ivan's avatar


Well, then you might have to back up all your files and reinstall the operating system with the recovery disks. Or, as an intermediary step, you could download a Linux Live CD and run it. This will determine whether or not it’s a hardware issue without making any changes to your computer. It will also let you access your files if you’re having trouble doing that from within Windows.

meagan's avatar

I think I came on fluther a while ago, maybe in November – and did this entire process, reformatted, etc.
And I’m just not sure its all worth it. I mean… really.
I even had to download my wifi from the dell website, because I didn’t get an internet option off of my discs that came with my computer :/

meagan's avatar

Also, what about my battery not charging?

Ivan's avatar


It’s difficult to say. Sometimes you’ll just get a bad computer. Other times, the computer is perfectly fine and a reformatting will spring it back into life. The battery might simply be dead, I can’t really say.

This really could be anything from an underpowered computer, to a nasty virus, to an overheating problem.

meagan's avatar

@Ivan Well, like I said earlier, I erased my computer and reinstalled everything in November, and now its basically still doing the same things.
It has to be an overheating problem or something like that.

lilikoi's avatar

- Could be a virus or malware or something. @jaytkay gave great instructions for determining what’s causing the high usage. Nov was a while ago and its possible that you need to wipe the HD again. You’ll want to do this as a last resort but before buying a new computer.

- Could be a cooling problem. Does it run really hot? Cleaning the fan as @BhacSsylan said may help.

- If you’re running Vista and you don’t have the specs to handle it, that could also be the problem.

- Battery is likely a completely different issue unless we’re talking about a new laptop…batteries don’t last forever. When they get old they lose their juice and eventually cannot hold a charge.

- But to answer your main question, yes laptops stop working due to overheating. The motherboard fries. In this case, your computer wouldn’t even start up. I think heating can also cause harddrive failure.

meagan's avatar

This computer came with the vista that I’m currently using.
This really isn’t an old computer. I bought it in Feb of 2009. Stopped using it in November of 2009.
And there really wasn’t time for me to get a serious virus, it stopped working within maybe a week of my last wipe out . All I have downloaded on this computer is standard AIM & Firefox.

mrentropy's avatar

If a Dell laptop overheats it tries to tell you and then shuts off. If it’s working properly. If the video chipset/card overheats then the screen will generally freeze and then the laptop will freeze.

If it’s no longer under warranty you could find someone who’s comfortable with computers, open it up, and make sure there isn’t a layer of dust in there. Dust on electronic components can also cause all kinds of freaky behavior

As far as the battery goes, they don’t last forever. Sometimes they don’t last very long at all. I’m not sure about the Inspiron’s, but with the Latitudes the battery will have some sort of charge indicator on it. Usually it’s a small button or pad that you press and a series of LED lights show up with an estimate of how much of a charge the battery has. If a single blinking light shows up then the battery is definitely dead. You can check to see if your battery has one of those.

meagan's avatar

Alright then. I’ve taken the back off, blown some dust off the fan, and we’ll see how this goes.
It isn’t under warranty anymore.

mrentropy's avatar

Is there just one fan in there?

meagan's avatar

As far as I can tell, yes. And its not a spinning fan like whats in my desktop, its a little metal box. (I’m sure that was something lame to say. haha)

mrentropy's avatar

@meagan That doesn’t sound right. There should be at least one spinning fan in there, unless they enclosed it. And that wouldn’t make much sense to me.

You took off the entire bottom, not just a panel?

meagan's avatar

I just took the panel off. Let me have another go, then… hah

mrentropy's avatar

Usually it’s easy to get the bottom off. It’s just a bunch of screws (except for the newer Latitudes, which only have one screw). The ones that need to come out used to be marked with a “B” and an arrow pointing to the screws.

meagan's avatar

I think it might have overheated.. this sound sticky in there… It won’t let me pull everything apart.

mrentropy's avatar

Pull it apart? You should only have to take the bottom off.

meagan's avatar

Exactly. Thats all I’m trying to do and it won’t release. I’m so frustrated with all of this, I could cry

mrentropy's avatar

You’re probably missing a screw somewhere. Depending on the style of case, it might be kind of deep. Any deep holes on the bottom there?

meagan's avatar

I’m really afraid that I’ll do more harm than good. Especially when I know nothing about any of this.

mrentropy's avatar

Might be safer to hang it up and see if you know anyone that’s got a bit of experience with it.

anartist's avatar

Computer overheats and battery is worn out. 2 diff issues. Get the computer cleaned out. get a cooling pad. [A large slab of frozen meat or a blue ice pack works in a pinch]. If you have neither cooling pad nor frozen something, at least put a little wedge of something under computer to let air circulate beneath.

I think that “little metal box” is called a ‘heat sink’ and has a tiny fan in it

jerv's avatar

One thing about Lithium-ion batteries is that heat will damage them and reduce their capacity quickly. At 60C, they can lose up to 80% of their capacity is 3 months. At a more normal operating temperature, they will lose 15% per year (on average).

If the fan is full of lint or just plain busted, it will overheat to the point of thermal shutdown. If you lay it on a soft surface and block the vents, the same thing will happen. You need airflow to avoid that.

I get 10% CPU usage for a few seconds after I start up, but it quickly drops once the boot process is complete and everything is loaded. That process and thus the 100% CPU usage lasted a lot longer with my older, slower computers. And even now, sometimes Avira or Spybot will do an automatic sweep in the background that will load my CPU until it’s done.

It sounds to me like you have multiple issues going on though, and I’d be surprised if you got that rig up and running without a little outside professional help that actually can see/touch the laptop and a new battery.

filmfann's avatar

Most laptops have an option to stop working when the battery becomes near spent.
Look at the Control Panel, and Power Options.

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