How does a laptop cooling pad work?
The majority of laptop cooling pads work by blowing air into the bottom of the laptop, where the air intakes are generally located. They also provide additional cooling by raising up the laptop from the desk, and giving a mesh surface beneath through which air and heat can circulate better than the top of your desk. Some designs will work a bit differently and may suck air through a vacuum, rather than blowing it.
Matching your laptop cooling pad to the right laptop
How successful the cooling will be on your laptop depends on the design of your laptop and where the cooling vents are placed. Although the vast majority of laptops will have air intakes on the bottom, some newer or more unique designs may have slightly different configurations, so make sure you know this before you buy. Another, more obvious consideration is that your cooling pad needs to be of the right size so that your laptop actually fits on it.
Does a laptop cooling pad make any difference?
How much difference a cooling pad makes will vary somewhat depending on the laptop in question, but some overall trends can be observed.
Assuming you have a powerful laptop reaching its thermal threshold, and operating under strain, you can typically expect to get around a 5 C drop in GPU temperature and a 4 C drop in CPU temp. Different layouts of the CPU and GPU within the machine, and the structure of the internal cooling system and fan ports etc. will obviously affect how much variance you see from these figures.
In terms of how this translates to performance, 1-3% GPU and 3-6% CPU clock speed uplifts are generally what you can expect. This should translate to a small but noticeable improvement in FPS in at least some games, though expect this to vary between titles.
Laptop stand vs laptop cooling pad vs vacuum coolers
Besides cooling pads, there are a couple of other options available to cool your laptop.
A laptop stand is the best alternative to consider. Purely elevating your laptop above the desk, allowing better air ventilation and heat transference, can make a substantial difference. Although a laptop stand won’t be as effective as a laptop cooling pad in most instances, you will still typically get at least half of the performance boost that you would with a cooling pad, plus the added bonus of no additional fan noise.
Laptop vacuum coolers are another option that differs in that they usually affix to the back of the laptop, where the air exhausts are typically located, and work by sucking out the hot air from the machine. On the whole, they do not tend to perform as well as laptop cooling pads, and can be a bit fiddly to apply. Until this changes, we’d generally advise avoiding them in favor of a cooling pad, unless your laptop is particularly suited to them.