We're often shocked at how hot some notebooks and netbooks get, particularly since many laptops are designed to sit on a user's lap. Even if a machine doesn't heat up past 100 degrees, temperatures above 95 degrees can be uncomfortable, too. There are plenty of active cooling solutions for home or office use, but for road warriors who don't want to be burdened with the extra weight and bulk, the EnRoute Cases ChillCase, a notebook bag with a built-in USB-powered fan, is lightweight, useful, and good-looking.
The ChillCase is designed so that you don't have to take your notebook out of the bag at all. Straps attach the bottom of the deck and the top of the display to the case, which makes it easy to fold up and go when you're traveling. The bottom area, which contains the cooling fan, is made of a lightweight but sturdy foam-like material that has a heat well, which helps vent air even with the fan turned off. You can completely unzip the case and just use the bottom on its own; it's firm enough to use as a lap desk and even includes small feet at each corner to lift it up on any surface.
The fan runs on USB power and uses very little energy—less than a mouse, according to the company—and is also super quiet. A blue LED on the connector tells you when the fan is on. When not in use, the cord wraps around the fan and neatly stows away.
Price, Sizes, Availability
ChillCases come in a variety of sizes that accommodate everything from netbooks all the way up to 16-inch laptops. The designers created two styles, a briefcase/sleeve with a zippered pocket for cords and accessories, and a messenger-style bag that can be worn vertically over the shoulder or horizontally like a briefcase.
Currently, HP sells the 16.1-inch ChillCase as the "HP 16.1 Slip Case with Integrated Fan" in the Small & Medium Business Store at HP.com for $49. A 14.1-inch model is available for $39, also from HP. Sizes ranging from 10-inch netbook up to 17-inch laptop will be available from other vendors and brands later this year. The messenger bag is available from www.enroutecases.com in 13- and 15-inch sizes.
It was sometimes hard to believe the ChillCase's fan was on because it makes so little noise. But when we put our hand underneath we could feel it drawing air up. The idea is not to vent heat downward (where it would just end up on your lap again). Instead, the fan directs cool air at the bottom of the notebook which then flows out the sides and back.
We tested 10-, 15-, and 17-inch ChillCases with notebooks and netbooks we've reviewed that ran particularly hot: a 16-inch Dell Latitude Z600, a 14-inch Toshiba Satellite E205, and a 10-inch Dell Inspiron Mini 10. To get our baseline temperature we played video from Hulu at full screen for 15 minutes, then measured five key areas: the space between the G and H keys, the touchpad and/or wrist rest, the hottest area on the top of the notebook, the hottest area on the bottom, and the vent. Next, we let the systems cool, ran the same test with them hooked up to the ChillCases, and measured the same areas plus the bottom of the case itself.
The results of the cooling tests were a mixed bag. The two systems that showed the most improvement were the Toshiba Satellite E205 and the Dell Mini 10, averaging 4.4- and 5.6-degree drops in temperature. The Satellite E205's keyboard, touchpad, and deck came down to acceptable levels, and the hottest area on the bottom cooled 8 degrees. We were particularly happy with the 8- to 16-degree drop on the bottom of the Mini 10, though overall temperatures remained somewhat high.
The Z600 also saw some improvement, especially near the vent, but not as much as the Satellite E205 or Mini 10. That is likely due to where the hottest areas were located: the top left on the deck and the back left on the bottom. These areas weren't directly over the cooling well on the ChillCase, so the benefit was minor.
Most important, no matter how hot the notebooks remained, the bottom of the ChillCase always measured below 86 degrees. We used the bags in multiple situations at home and on long commutes and never felt undue heat on our legs, even after an hour. Heat doesn't have the chance to sink down into the material, thus your lap remains cool.
The ChillCase works exactly as advertised, keeping a notebook's heat off of your lap while cooling the system itself for more comfortable usage. In most cases, a stationary cooling stand/pad like the Cooler Master U2 will get better results, but for a portable system that doubles as a laptop bag, the ChillCase is a killer combo.