Toshiba is the latest laptop vendor to fall victim to overheating technology. The recall of approximately 41,000 laptops resulting from more than 100 reports of melting laptop cases and minor injuries follows similar issues and recalls from other laptop manufacturers, and illustrates the problem with cramming so much processing power into such a small space.
According to a US Consumer Product Safety Commission bulletin, Toshiba is recalling Satellite T135, Satellite T135D and Satellite ProT130 notebook computers because "The notebook computers can overheat at the notebook's plug-in to the AC adapter, posing a burn hazard to consumers."
If this feels déjà vu its because it is a relatively common occurrence these days for laptops. In July, Sony issued a recall of more than half a million Vaio laptops. Mike Lucas, senior vice president of Vaio for Sony, said in a statement "In rare instances, these notebook computers may overheat due to a potential malfunction of the internal temperature management system, resulting in deformation of the product's keyboard or external casing, and a potential burn hazard to consumers."
The Sony recall was immediately following an HP recall of laptop batteries in May. HP recalled over 100,000 laptop batteries in all as a result of mounting reports that the batteries were overheating, rupturing, and posing a risk of injury to users.
While quality control during the engineering and manufacturing process at Toshiba, Sony and HP is apparently lacking, the issue goes beyond the individual manufacturers and exemplifies problems associated with the demands placed on notebook computers.
Heat is a fact of life with computers. A significant chunk of the cost of implementing and maintaining a data centre is wrapped up in keeping the room at a tolerable temperature. Try turning off all of the computer equipment in your office or home and see how quickly the temperature drops.
Processors run hot. Batteries produce a significant amount of heat. The engineering of the internal components of the laptop are critical to provide adequate airflow for the fan to do its job and expel the heat from the case, but that is increasingly difficult as manufacturers work to make smaller, thinner notebooks cramming even more heat-generating components into a smaller space.
Thankfully, Intel and AMD have developed new processor technologies that incorporate more functions onto a single chip. Combining the core processing and graphics processing onto one chip instead of two greatly reduces the power consumption and heat output for newer laptops.