gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Antec Notebook Cooler and Notebook Cooler 200

I’ve been eyeing up Notebook Cooling solutions for some time now, but have not got around to taking a proper look at any until now. My findings are mixed, whilst Notebook Coolers seem somewhat unnecessary for machines that should be perfectly capable of cooling themselves, they have their benefits and are incidentally quite useful for a range of other cooling applications.

But let’s start with notebook cooling.

The two coolers are a world apart. The Antec Notebook Cooler 200 is as much an angled laptop stand as a laptop cooling solution but, whilst it claims to be designed to sit comfortably on your lap it’s anything but. The Notebook Cooler 200 is huge and clearly designed for cooling 17″+ gaming laptops. It uses a single, 200mm fan to provide a good balance of air flow and noise level, the fan is lit by four blue LEDs for reasons unknown, and several raised, mirror finished sections hold the laptop above the fan and allow air to flow beneath.

The blue LEDs and mirror finish on the top of the Notebook Cooler 200 are somewhat of a mystery. Sure, they look sort-of attractive when no laptop is placed upon the cooler but are totally obscured from view when one is. Superfluous styling aside, it’s hard to say that the Antec Notebook Cooler 200 doesn’t look the part. It looks like a true gaming accessory and certainly kicks out the cool air. But why on earth doesn’t it cool my laptop?

When sitting in front of the Antec Notebook Cooler 200 with the fan set on either High or Low you can feel cold air blasting out of the front and sides. The 200mm fan is quite significantly quieter than a MacBook Pro fan running at 6000rpm, and I dare-say it could be considered “whisper quiet” when set on low, but is quite noticeable on high. Alas, despite the impressive throughput of cold air, I was unable to achieve any observable cooling effect on a 2.2Ghz MacBook Pro. This would certainly suggest that the MacBook Pro is not very receptive to external cooling, a problem which could affect other notebooks. The sheer force of air generated by the Antec Notebook Cooler 200 makes it clear that it must be effective in some scenarios however.

When testing with the MacBook Pro I ran several CPU-intensive applications that brought the system to the more or less stable 70 degrees centigrade that it likes to run at when heavily loaded. Applying the full force of the Antec Notebook Cooler 200s 200mm fan seemed to have absolutely no observable effect whatsoever, I used the read-out from smcFanControl and iStatPro to verify this. On the other hand, jacking the internal fan speed up to 6000rpm in smcFanControl immediately brings the system temperature skyrocketing down to around 50 degrees. This cooling effect can be easily felt on the casing at the bottom of the laptop for verification.

There really seems to be absolutely no correlation between the system temperature and whether the Antec Notebook Cooler 200 is running or not, smcFanControl produces immediate and obvious results. This only applies to the MacBook Pro, though. Because the Antec Notebook Cooler 200 produced a hefty amount of airflow, I decided to apply its cooling effects to some other devices that might be more receptive.

The Xbox 360 seemed like a good choice, unfortunately there wasn’t any reliable method of measuring the cooling effects of the Notebook Cooler 200 on the console. With the console stood upright on top of the cooler I was able to fit the power supply alongside it. The power supply itself felt cooler and the huge 200mm fan was clearly pushing a fair amount of air up into the console via the bottom vent. These results could be repeated on various A/V and hardware components including an AirPort router and external hard drive, making the Notebook Cooler 200 a good choice in these situations.

Overall, if you’re looking to cool your MacBook Pro look no further than smcFanControl. If you own a huge, heavy and hot gaming laptop with air intakes or outlets on the bottom then there’s absolutely no doubt that the airflow generated by the Antec Notebook Cooler 200 will aid in keeping it at a reasonable temperature. If you have the room in your A/V setup to squeeze the cooler underneath hot, always-on components then it’s great for this, too.

The second cooling solution, the plain old Antec Notebook Cooler, is much more compact, uses two much smaller fans and doesn’t boast any LED fluff. Whilst it has the same problems as its bigger brother when trying to cool a MacBook Pro it’s incidentally a much, much better fit for cooling your essential household devices from Sky boxes, to wireless routers, your Sling Box or a network hard drive.

With a baby in the house I must rely on a closed-fronted TV stand to house all of my games consoles, A/V and networking gear. It gets so stuffy and hot inside that I had to remove the entire back of the cabinet to provide a reasonable amount of passive air flow. The smaller Notebook Cooler works wonders in this sort of environment and is currently tucked beneath my Airport Extreme base station and Freecom network hard drive. It keeps both of these devices significantly cooler and simply plugs into the Airport Extreme USB port for power. Incidentally a lot of A/V and networking gear these days is loaded with at least one USB port including the Sky+ box, SlingBox, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii. This means that the Notebook Cooler can draw power from whatever device it happens to be cooling and incidentally will only be powered on with that device.

Why cool your A/V equipment? Well, why cool your notebook? it’s supposed to cool itself! Extra cooling gives extra peace of mind and means that we can rest assured that, even when stuffed inside a somewhat cozy cabinet or overworked, our equipment is not going to overheat and die. It also, theoretically, gives extra reliability and many people who have owned a first generation Xbox 360 are intimately familiar with the sort of problems that can arise from inadequate cooling before the console simply dies completely. My first generation Xbox 360 died, John’s first generation Xbox 360 died. What more anecdotal evidence could you possibly want?

Overall, both products deliver a significant amount of air-flow, but if blowing air on the underside of your laptop doesn’t help cool it then the Antec Notebook Coolers will simply be useless. Check your laptop for vents and fans on the underside before you buy. If it has vents on the rear then applying air to the, usually, plastic base of your laptop is probably not going to help much. But vents on the underside will benefit from one or two external fans carrying heat away and/or forcing cool air into the depths of your system.

Monday, November 3rd, 2008, Personal Computing.