Tips on keeping your Chromebook Pixel running cool

Google’s Chromebook Pixel is certainly a work of beauty, but it doesn’t come cheap. At $1299 for the base model, it’s fairly easy to start worrying about your new gadget, or to even become paranoid about defects or flaws that don’t really exist. Such was the case during my first night of ownership, when I noticed the Pixel getting quite warm, even downright hot at times, and the fans blasting at least 50% of the time.

After reading a related thread over at Google’s Chromebook Central, starting a conversation about it with other Pixel owners on Google+, and even calling a Chrome Ninja, I’ve decided that my Chromebook Pixel is running just as intended. Let me explain.

My first night with the Pixel was pretty intense: After initially signing on, allowing it to download and install updates, and syncing it with my Google account – all of which do require a fair amount of processing power – I decided to switch it into dev mode, which wiped the device and did some other magic behind the scenes to turn OS verification off. Then, I decided to install a Linux environment using crouton, and after that I played around with Linux and installed even more desktop applications. When I went back to the Chrome OS interface, I used Chrome’s image burner feature to create a USB recovery stick, and after that, I decided I wanted a more “pure” Chrome experience, along with the enhanced security of running in verified mode, so I turned off developer mode, and then – just because – used my USB stick to recover the device.

In other words, I was really putting the Chromebook Pixel through the paces, and much of what I was doing required some heavy processing power. And to top it all off, I was using it on my lap, and it was plugged in – both of which can contribute to the amount of heat I noticed. No wonder the fans were running so much!

So, given my experience the past few days, along with some good information I received from the Chrome Ninja, here are a few tips to keep your Pixel running cool. Many of these tips are common sense, and valid for any laptop – I’m not really sure why I thought the Chromebook Pixel would be any different.

Use it on a flat surface whenever possible.

The Pixel doesn’t have any visible vents, but it still gets rid of heat through a narrow opening along the piano hinge. If you’re using it in your lap, on top of carpet, or on a comforter, instead of on a table or desk, chances are all or part of that opening will be blocked. A laptop mat is relatively inexpensive and can be purchased practically anywhere that sells laptops; it’s also something I’d highly recommend if you’re planning on using this in bed or on the couch.

Some fancy mats use additional fans to cool your laptop and circulate air, but I don’t think this is really necessary. The Pixel actually does a really good job of keeping itself cool enough, as long as it’s on a flat surface.

The stable channel is your safest bet.

I’ve talked before about how much I loved the dev channel, but the fact remains that many of the features introduced into the dev channel are untested. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a bug in one line of code might accidentally cause the processor to start working overtime and overheat, or the fans to start running nonstop. When I’ve spent over a grand for the privilege of owning this machine, that’s not a risk I necessarily want to take.

But, on the other hand, maybe I’m being paranoid. I asked the Chrome Ninja about this possibility, and while he admitted there was a slight chance something like that could happen, he said it would be very rare. He had actually heard of someone who was able to physically damage his Chromebook on the dev channel, but it was more of an intentional experiment to see if this was possible. Of course, the Ninja didn’t tell me exactly what this person did.

I’m currently on the beta channel myself, because features here do get some basic testing before being released. Still, if you want to play things even safer, stable is the way to go.

Understand the risks of dev mode.

Dev mode, which is different from the dev channel, allows you to modify Chrome OS and install other operating systems alongside or in place of Chrome OS. When I ran an XFCE Linux environment alongside Chrome OS, the processor obviously had a lot more to handle. Full Linux distros are not as lightweight as Chrome OS, so if you’re running something like that, you should naturally expect more heat to be produced.

Be mindful of the room temperature.

This should be obvious, but computers naturally like colder rooms – that’s why computer labs in schools tend to have the air conditioning cranked way up. The same concept applies to the Chromebook Pixel; if you don’t have your air conditioning running in the middle of summer, the fans inside will likely start much sooner and be on longer.

Keep the Pixel unplugged as much as possible, and try to charge it when you’re not using it.

The Chromebook Pixel does tend to get hotter when it’s plugged in, even when it’s fully charged. A charging battery obviously produces more heat, and some have suggested that Chrome OS might even be programmed to overclock the i5 processor a little bit when plugged in, which could also contribute to heat. I ran some Octane benchmarks, and they didn’t seem to indicate any difference in the processor while plugged in, but my tests were quick and unscientific.

Regardless, I’ve noticed just from personal experience that the fans seem to start up much less when the Pixel is unplugged. Therefore, you may want to try using it on battery power more often (this might actually help to extend your battery’s lifespan, too). And when possible, try charging the Pixel whenever you’re not using it.

Understand that intensive tasks do produce heat – there’s no way around that.

Google Hangouts, HD videos, and Flash-based games all require a little more processing power than simpler tasks, like performing a Google search or chatting with friends. Doing those tasks that require more power will heat things up – and the longer you do them, the more heat will be produced. That’s simple physics, and it’s something we have to accept.

That being said, once I turned dev mode off and started using the Chromebook Pixel in a more reasonable manner, according to how I’ll actually use the device day to day, I have noticed that the fans run much less frequently, and the machine overall is much cooler than it was at first. In other words, everything now seems to be operating as intended.

If you have any more tips, or comments that could clarify anything I’ve written, please share your knowledge and contribute to the comments!

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John F

John was the editor-in-chief at Pocketables. His articles generally focus on all things Google, including Chrome and Android, although his love of new gadgets and technology doesn't stop there. His current arsenal includes the Nexus 6 by Motorola, the 2013 Nexus 7 by ASUS, the Nexus 9 by HTC, the LG G Watch, and the Chromebook Pixel, among others.