When it comes to portable computing there are some things you should definitely know on how to achieve maximum performance. The issue with high performance portable devices like gaming laptops is that manufacturers have to tightly fit components into a slim case. As market demands thinner, lighter and silent models but with the same of more performance level as their desktop counterparts, it’s easy to see that the challenge is real.
Most out of the box laptops therefore comes with some compromise and restrictions that will not enable it’s maximum potential. Let’s take a look some key factors and on what you can do to speed up significantly your laptop PC.
The heat paradox
Since the beginning of computer technology, CPU (central processor) and GPU (graphical processor) performance and clock rates have been steadily increasing every year essentially doubling the overall computing speed every 2 to 3 years. This increased performance have one unfortunate side effect, they generate massive amounts of heat. Managing the heat emitted by computers have always been a delicate issue, but the most common ways are passive (like heat radiators) or active (fans or liquid cooling). Liquid cooling though more effective, it requires maintenance, more expensive and does not scale well to a portable form factor. Thus Laptops rely on active fans to cool their internal components.
However fans are relatively big and take considerable amount of space let alone power in an already slim laptop design. But at the end of the day, manufacturers know that heat must be managed, otherwise the CPU might melt down. So how do we overcome this paradox?
The technique of CPU down throttling or thermal throttling is used by manufacturers that when case of increased CPU heat, it automatically slows down the CPU by cutting power drawn and maximum performance. This allows the CPU to cool down (while fans operate at maximum) until the safe Celsius threshold is reached. CPU down throttling is also used in cases to conserve power in energy saving modes.
While the method is clearly to prevent overheating of the CPU, it is not an ideal solution. Normally you always want your laptop performance to adjust to your needs and not to be cut back in a CPU demanding situations. Down thrilling negatively affects gaming performance, which is considered to be a high demand task for the CPU. Imagine playing some cutting edge games just fine, when your Laptop decides to cut back CPU and GPU performance, effectively causing you to loose FPS and stutter. Not a great gaming experience.
While you can disable this feature in some BIOS, i don’t really recommend as this is a safety feature and can damage or melt the CPU. The best thing to do is to manage the heat somehow, so it wont reach the critical levels and down throttle. Let’s see how to do that.
Re-pasting the Laptop CPU
In laptops, copper heat pipes deliver the excessive heat generated by the CPU and GPU to the side fans (usually 2). The CPU chip which has a metal surface is directly below one of the heat pipe connectors. However in order to efficiently transfer the heat from one surface to the other, you need some contact material between. That’s where the thermal paste goes.
The issue is however, due to lowering production cost and time, manufacturers use cheap and somewhat ineffective thermal paste that just does not deliver the heat well. This causes the CPU to operate on much higher levels that needed. What you need to do is re-paste the CPU and GPU surface with some quality paste. You will only need just a few things for the process.
The product i recommend is the Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Paste which is the most highly rated paste on the market. Other than that, you will only need a Phillips screwdriver with small heads as there will be a number of small screws inside the laptop. Additionally for cleaning the leftover manufacturer’s paste, you will need pure industry alcohol or similar and a cloth to work with.
Warning! The re-pasting process should not be too hard, but if you don’t feel comfortable opening up your laptop you should ask someone professional. It should not affect the warranty (unless you have a seal on your laptop).
Please keep in mind that every laptop model is different and there is no universal way to do this. Some laptops will be easier to re-paste than others. Go online and search for the re-pasting video and steps online for your model. Sites like Fixit.com may have a guide on the exact steps you need to take for your model of choice.
As mentioned before, every laptop is different but there are some general advises i can give you to follow.
- Follow the guides strictly and do not remove anything else or mess with the internal components of the laptop.
- Before opening up the laptop make sure to disconnect it and have it a rest to cool down completely into a room temperature state.
- Place everything in an orderly fashion as most laptop components have different screws. You don’t wanna end up losing or not knowing which screw goes where.
- Clean the previous manufacturers paste off the CPU/GPU with pure alcohol (e.g. industrial 91%) or something similar.
- Apply only a the right portion (a size of a pea) of thermal paste. Too few will be ineffective, too much will be messy.
- While you are there, clean the fans (if needed) with some pressured air can or cloth.
- Close up by following the guide steps in a reverse order.
After closing up the laptop you should boot it up and install some temperature monitoring software like CPU-Z, Intel Extreme Tuning Utility (more about that later) or your Laptop’s manufacturer software (MSI Afterburner, OMEN Command Center etc.).
You should see an immediate decrease in heat by 5 to 10 Celsius which means your Laptop will not down throttle anymore and you will have a smooth gaming experience. Reducing the heat will also enable longer CPU life overall and will affect other components health as well.
Spending only half an hour and a few dollars of investment of re-pasting you receive a better and more resilient machine where overheating will not be an issue anymore. I see it as a complete win-win situation.
Undervolting the CPU
At this point we see that the CPU generates most heat when under heavy stress, which is to be expected. But the CPU generates heat even when it’s under moderate usage and most importantly it draws a lot of power. This is due to the fact that when the CPU is assembled the manufacturer tested its voltage level on higher settings than it actually needs. Meaning, that your CPU draws much more power than it actually requires for its maximum operation.
The process of undervolting means that we direct less power to the CPU by trying to find the threshold of it’s maximum power draw while maintaining performance. This will effect your Laptops overall battery performance and the heat exhaustion is going to be considerably less. You can do this with a simple software provided by Intel, but will require around 4-5 hours of tinkering.
Warning! Changing the voltage level of your CPU is a serious activity and may cause your system to be unstable if overdone. Adding more voltage to the CPU (overvolting) is highly not recommended as it may cause the CPU to fail permanently. Safe, small step undervolting however have great benefits. If you are unsure and feel uncomfortable doing it, ask a professional.
First off you should undervolt on a clean system and back up your files just in case. Than open XTU and perform some Benchmark Tests to understand where your CPU power drawn and heat is standing right now. After that you need to run some CPU stress test ideally for 30 minutes to let your CPU reach its maximum potential, heat exhaust and voltage draw. Once completed you have a great reference of what your CPU is capable when under pressure.
Under “Advanced Tuning” menu go to “Core” to access the voltage slider. here take a look at the “Core Voltage Offset” which should be on 0.000 V and blue. Once you start offsetting, it will turn yellow. If you click the drop down you will see the intervals ascending and descending by 0.005 V intervals. You want to go negative as we are downvolting not overvolting! You want to decrease the voltage one step at a time by -0.005 V and it is a trial and error.
Select -0.005 then apply and restart. Run a 30 minute stress test to see if the results are still consistent. If yes, than gradually lower the number with another 0.005 and repeat. The best indicator for reaching your CPU threshold and if you have gone too low is a blue screen of death (BOD) meaning that your CPU does not have enough power for the elevated stress. In this case congratulation, you have found the threshold. Restart and revert to the voltage just before.
Warning! Only decrease the voltage by the -0.005 increment. If you decrease it by large, you are putting your system in risk and may not be able to boot up, only after cooling down. The goal is to find the right voltage that works for your system even under heavy stress.
Once you have found the voltage sweet spot and your Laptop does not crash for 30 minutes, run an additional longer test to make sure. This can take 2-4 hours or run it overnight and check if no crash occurred. This is required as it will give you the final seal of approval that the voltage is the right level for your CPU.
By doing this your laptop will consume less power overall thus will increase battery life. Lower voltage means less heat generation thus gradually increasing heat levels. This improves the life of the components, less down throttling and fan activity or noise.
Purging the unwanted software
If it’s not the heat that slows and down throttles your laptop, it’s probably the unwanted software that is factory installed on your new laptop. It is highly important to check Windows whenever you buy a new laptop and purge any software that you don’t need. Most laptop manufacturers ship their products with ample amount of bloatware (“free” software pre-installed by the manufacturer that has is hindering performance and questionable use, if any) from their third party partners. McAfee free security and Intel solutions are among the most notorious but there are a wide range of custom software you just simply will not need. The biggest problem that they usually run in the background eating away memory and CPU thus hindering your laptop’s performance.
My best recommendation is a clean installation of Windows 10 from disk or USB which you can personalize as you desire.This will get rid of all the software pre-installed.
Another methodology if you don’t fancy reinstalling windows is to go through manually the programs and delete them. You should go into Windows Settings -> Apps and cycle through the installed programs. For anything that seems something that should not be on your PC, go online and search for its use. The Shouldiremoveit.com site can give you a wide idea on what each software is good for and should you keep it. They also keep a list of the usefulness of programs and have a separate app that can help you.
After removing all the unwanted software, you will experience an increase in productivity and performance on your Laptop.
With these few tricks you can increase your Laptop’s performance, heat output and life greatly, but keep it in mind. These are not easy steps if you are a beginner in laptop maintenance. I recommend doing online research into the exact type of model you have and consult professionals who have done it a couple of times before. In any case, if you are cautious and keep the advises above, there should be no issue in achieving the maximum performance your Laptop can get.
Attila is a Certified IT Auditor an Information Security Manager with a wide experience across the fields in Data Protection, IT and Cyber Security. He spends his time studying emerging cyber security threats and trends as well as analyzing the affects to provide an expert view for readers.