A hot notebook can wreak havoc on your lap and on the system itself, so it's in your best interest to prevent it from overheating. If you suffer from a hot laptop, the iHome IH-A706CW may prove enticing with its wallet-friendly price ($29.99), multitude of USB ports for attaching gear, and an optional AC adapter. The design could be a bit more sturdy, but we like that this accessory is light enough to travel.
Measuring 12.0 x 7.1 x 0.7 inches and weighing an even 1.0 pound, the IH-A706CW is smaller than both the 0.8-pound, 12.5 x 6.3 x 1.2-inch StarTech NBCoolerse ($24.99), and the 1.8-pound, 13.5 x 11.7 x 2.0-inch Zalman Cool Innovations ZM-NC1500 ($39.90). The face of the IH-A706CW is designed to accommodate notebooks of all sizes. It features twin circular grilles that let air from the quiet twin fans blow up to the notebook, and rubber bumpers that help keep the notebook from moving.
The bottom of the all-white cooler features a sliding door that houses a USB 2.0 cable. A pair of fold-out legs prop it into a prime typing position. As the IH-A706CW has a smaller base than the relatively large Zalman cooling pad, we had to make some adjustments to get a 15.6-inch Acer Aspire 5738PG to sit squarely on the cooler.
You can grip the front and back halves of the cooler and pull them away from one another to reveal the three USB ports built into the right side, which should prove valuable to anyone with several USB-powered gadgets and accessories. The ZM-NC1500, by comparison, has only one free USB port. However, the IH-A706CW rattled a bit when we revealed the USB ports, raising some questions about this accessory's durability.
The left side of the IH-A706CW possesses a mini-USB port (used to connect the cooler to the notebook), an AC adapter (used for extra juice when other USB-powered accessories consume more than 100 mA of power), a power switch, and a power indicator. Unlike the ZM-NC1500, the IH-A706CW lacks an adjustable fan speed, but it was quieter than the Zalman device.
To test the IH-A706CW's ability to prevent overheating, we measured an Acer Aspire 5738PG's warmth (immediately after being powered on) with a temperature gun in several hotspots: the center of the underside, the touchpad, the lid, and between the G and H keys. We saw measurements of 82.0, 78.0, 76.5, and 79.5 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. We then fired up a digital copy of Smokin' Aces and let it play for 15 minutes, with the notebook's brightness and volume set to 50 percent. Afterward, we pulled out the temperature gun and saw temperatures of 97.0, 87.0, 78.0, and 91.5 degrees--an overall increase of 9.4 degrees.
We let the notebook cool down for 45 minutes, and then played Smokin' Aces with the IH-A706CW turned on; we saw temperatures of 89.5, 87.0, 78.0, and 90.5 degrees. When averaged, the IH-A706CW kept the heat increase to 7.3 degrees, which came in behind the Zalman (6.3 degrees) and the StarTech (6.9 degrees) coolers. Still, it was more effective than a passive cooling pad, which held the temperature increase by 8.4 degrees.
After letting the notebook cool down to its base temperature, we then converted a 115MB MPEG-4 file to AVI while compressing a 4.97GB folder of mixed media; on its own, the notebook's temperatures were on a par with the ones seen while watching a movie (94.0, 86.0, 76.5, and 91.5 degrees, respectively). When we repeated the test with the IH-A706CW, we saw cooler temperatures (85.0, 83.5, 75.0, and 90.0 degrees)--an average increase of just 4.4 degrees. These temperatures were on a par with the Zalman device (also 4.4 degrees), and much better than the StarTech NBCoolerse (5.8 degrees) and a passive cooling pad (6.1 degrees).
Priced at $29.99, the iHome IH-A706CW costs about $10 less than the Zalman ZM-NC1500. This device also serves up more USB ports for gadget hounds while also running more quietly. On the other hand, the ZM-NC1500 was slightly more effective at cooling, and we prefer it for home and office use because of its sturdier design and adjustable fan speed. Nevertheless, if you want a cooler you can take with you, the IH-A706CW is the one to get.