Katherine Boehret

Recent Columns by Walt Mossberg

Cool Trays Take the Heat Off Your Lap

Laptops save space, can be ported anywhere, and aren’t nearly as expensive as they used to be. But many tend to run hot, making them uncomfortable and sometimes painful to use on your lap, even after a short time.

In an effort to make laptop computing as painless as possible, many companies have designed trays and pads on which you can easily rest your laptop while you work. This week, I’ve been testing a few laptop trays that are designed specifically to cool hot laptops and, in turn, cool laps.

I tried out trays from Logitech (LOGI), Microsoft (MSFT) and Belkin that cost $30 each and use fans to cool the underside of the laptop, as well as a larger $50 Belkin tray that has a fan and some extra features. I tried a $20 tray from Kensington that doesn’t include a fan, but elevates the laptop to allow air to circulate under it and keep the hot computer off your lap. None of the trays had cushions for comfort.

Cool Laptops
Logitech Cooling Pad N100

Of the trays with fans, Logitech’s Cooling Pad N100 ran the quietest — so quiet that it was hard to tell if it was on, aside from the fact that my lap was cooler. The trays with fans kept my lap cool, but the Kensington tray didn’t work quite as well and left my lap feeling a bit warmer than the others. All the trays raise the laptop higher and closer to eye level, a feature that keeps you from hunching over while reading the screen. I liked the $50 Belkin Laptop Cooling Lounge for its generous size, sturdy feel and three adjustable heights.

Even though these trays help to keep your laptop cooler, they don’t do anything about your keyboard, which, on some laptops, also can get hot — especially where your wrists rest. I noticed that my Lenovo ThinkPad X60’s wrist rest area was still warm when I used this laptop with each tray.

Of the $30 trays, the Logitech Cooling Pad N100 (Logitech.com) was the widest, measuring 14.4 inches across. Its gray and green colors are a welcome switch from the bland white used on most trays. The fan on this and the other trays is powered by a short USB cable that plugs into a USB port on your laptop. An indent in the Logitech tray holds the cable flush against the bottom of the tray when not in use.

Logitech says its tray’s single fan has a minimal drain on your laptop’s battery — draining five minutes of total battery time while using a Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) laptop playing a DVD in one company test. I don’t think many people will use these cooling trays on-the-go and will, instead, use them at home where their laptop can easily plug into a wall socket and power isn’t a problem.

Microsoft’s $30 Notebook Cooling Base (Microsoft.com/hardware) will come in white and black when it’s available early this summer (Amazon is accepting orders now). Compared with the Logitech, its fan was a little noisy. But the Microsoft tray was considerably smaller and thinner, making it more portable.

The tray has a fold-away stand that raises it up about two inches on one end. Its USB cable has a clip on its end so that it can loop around and attach to itself, rather than tuck neatly into the tray. Microsoft says that based on an 18 Ampere per hour battery, the Notebook Cooling Base will lessen battery life by only about 4%.

Belkin’s $30 Laptop Cooling Pad (Belkin.com) reminded me of Microsoft’s offering in shape and size. Both are square, unlike the rectangular Logitech tray, and both have flip-out stands and a wave-like shape that leaves open space under the laptop. Belkin says that its Laptop Cooling Pad uses no more than 5% of a laptop’s battery. But the Belkin fan was slightly louder than Microsoft’s and considerably louder than Logitech’s. It also seemed to be a bit stronger, blowing more air than the others.

Belkin’s Laptop Cooling Lounge (available at OfficeMax.com) was the largest tray I tested, wider and deeper than the Logitech tray by a few inches in width and depth. A piece under the tray can be adjusted to raise it to one of three heights, allowing it to rest comfortably on a lap because it raises up or down using a roll of plastic rather than a stand that might dig into your thighs. This tray’s fan was louder than the Microsoft and Logitech fans, but I ignored the noise because it was so comfortable.

When closed, the $20 Kensington LiftOff Portable Notebook Cooling Stand (Kensington.com) resembles a one-inch thick plastic briefcase with handles. Once the stand is opened, one piece lies flat while the other piece is raised to one of two heights, elevating the laptop. The top raised piece supports the laptop and has a hole in the center, designed to allow air to pass under the laptop, thus cooling it off without a fan. However, this no-fan method left my lap feeling a bit warm. When you’re done with the Kensington LiftOff, you can close it shut and carry it using its built-in handles. But its plastic parts felt flimsy and unstable, especially compared with the Belkin Laptop Cooling Lounge.

Of course, you could always just use a regular laptop tray without a built-in fan. It won’t cool your laptop, but if it’s thick enough, it at least could prevent your lap from feeling the computer’s direct heat. Just be aware that hot wrist rests won’t be cooled by these trays.

Edited By Walter S. Mossberg

The Little Robot Made to Clean the Icky Spots

April 05, 2011 at 1:24 pm PT

PC Downloads as Easy as an App

March 29, 2011 at 5:33 pm PT

Games to Flex Your Brain

March 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm PT

Nintendo’s 3DS Brings Dizzying Fun On the Go

March 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm PT

A Digital “Magazine” With One Subscriber

March 08, 2011 at 9:05 pm PT