Avid readers of our reviews may have noticed that we’ve started testing temperatures on notebooks and netbooks. It’s a little shocking to see just how hot some of these systems get on the bottom, particularly for devices that are supposed to sit on one’s lap. This winter has been pretty harsh and I’m sure a few of you have been huddling around your laptops for warmth, but trust me, there will come a time when you won’t appreciate the heat.
Recently we reviewed a slew of cooling pads to mitigate heat issues when you’re working at home or in the office. Though they’re effective, we wouldn’t call most of them portable. Passive coolers like the Cool Lift can keep your laptop out of direct contact with your skin, at least, and provide air flow. But then you’re carrying yet another thing.
The ideal solution would be to have a cooling pad integrated into something you already carry like a bag or briefcase that somehow converted into a convenient lap desk. Thankfully, someone else had this brilliant idea, too. Meet the ChillCase, a notebook bag with a cooling fan inside.
ChillCases are 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 with the cooling fan is made of a lightweight but sturdy foam-like material that has an indentation that allows for proper air flow and venting that’s useful both when the fan is on and when it’s off.
The fan runs on USB power that uses very little energy -- less than a mouse, according to the designer -- and is also super quiet. The cord wraps around the fan and neatly stows away, so you won’t have to worry about managing or losing it. It has a blue LED on the connector to tell you it’s working, and, if you place a hand underneath, you can feel the fan drawing air up.
The idea is not to vent heat downward (it would just end up on your lap and you’d still be uncomfortable). Instead, the fan directs cool air at the bottom of the notebook which then flows out from the sides and back evenly.
You can completely unzip the case and just use the bottom on its own if you want the cooler but already have a favorite bag or if you're at home and want to put the bag away. It’s firm enough to use as a lap desk and even includes small feet at each corner to lift it up a bit on any surface.
The idea is great, but what about the execution? Can a bus-powered fan make that much of a difference? We decided to test the effectiveness of the ChillCase with some of the hottest notebooks and netbooks we currently have in the office. We wanted to see how well the cases were able to keep the excessive temperatures away from users and how much the notebooks themselves cooled down. We chose the following systems for the test: 16-inch Dell Latitude Z600, 14-inch Toshiba Satellite E205, and 10-inch Dell Inspiron Mini 10.
How We Tested
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&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 and ran the same test with them hooked up to the ChillCases. Finally, we ran the same test with the Cooler Master NotePal U2 -- an active cooler meant to sit on a desk top.
Some Like It Hot
As you can see from the chart below, without using any kind of cooler, all of these laptops got uncomfortably hot on the bottom. The high temperatures near the vents aren’t surprising, but in some cases the hot air isn’t effectively pointed away from the user.
|Notebook||Keyboard||Touchpad / Palm Rest||Top||Bottom||Vent|
|Dell Latitude Z600||92||85||113||113||106|
|Toshiba Satellite E205||94||98||95||108||107|
|Dell Inspiron Mini 10||95||100||107||114||109|
The two Dell systems we tested also had unreasonably hot temperatures on top. The Z600’s hottest area was at the top left of the deck and probably wouldn’t affect users much, but the Mini 10’s hottest area is right at the wrist rest, which would make long-term use uncomfortable.
The results of the cooling tests were a mixed bag, but overall positive. 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 overall. Temperatures on the Toshiba’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 - 16 degree drop on the bottom of the Mini 10, though overall temperatures were still somewhat high.
The Z600 also saw some improvement, especially near the vent, but not as much as the 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.
Temperature Difference With the ChillCase (Degrees Cooler)
|Notebook||Keyboard||Touchpad / Palm Rest||Top||Bottom||Vent|
|Dell Latitude Z600||2||0||1||0||4|
|Toshiba Satellite E205||3||5||8||6||0|
|Dell Inspiron Mini 10||1||-1||4||8||16|
In most cases, a standalone cooling stand/pad like the Cooler Master U2 will get better results, especially as that combines passive cooling and has two active fans. But for a portable system, the ChillCases performed well.
The best part is, no matter how hot the notebooks remained, the bottom of the ChillCase always measured under 86 degrees. I used the bags during my commute for a week and never felt undue heat on my legs, even after an hour. Heat doesn’t have the chance to sink down into the material as it would if I’d just used a bag or a coat between my laptop and my legs.
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, one a briefcase/sleeve affair with a zippered pocket for cords and accessories, one a messenger-style bag that can be worn vertically over the shoulder or horizontally like a briefcase.
HP has the 14.1-inch and 16.1-inch versions of the traditional briefcase/sleeve on their site for $39 and $49. The messenger-style ChillCase is also available now at EnRouteCases.com. The pricing isn't yet available but will be soon. And don't be surprised if you see these cases with some different branding in the coming months. We'll keep you updated.