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Does putting an adhesive skin on your gaming laptop make it hotter?

One of the fun things about this job is fielding interesting questions that may not seem like obvious inquiries. Such an example recently came up when I found multiple people asking whether using a dbrand or DecalGirl adhesive skin on your laptop makes it hotter.

On the face of it, the answer to me seemed like an obvious 'no, ' and I found the question odd. Nonetheless, I could see the 'broscience' explanation of why maybe it could matter.

Setting the scene

For those who don't know companies like dbrand (opens in new tab) and DecalGirl sell custom skins for various laptops, PCs, tablets, and phones. I've used both before and have been very happy with the look, quality, and feel of the skins, which are a thicker and higher quality than regular stickers.

Example of the dbrand skin configurator for the Razer Blade

Example of the dbrand skin configurator for the Razer Blade

Whether it's to protect your device from scratches, cover up existing damage, or just adding some flair I recommend dbrand or DecalGirl if you're looking for a change.

Why hotter?

On the face of it, I found the concern over the skins peculiar. After all, the skins are not covering the ports or vents of the device – so why would it matter?

Nonetheless, you are adding a layer across the bottom of the laptop and in theory that could act as insulation I suppose. Devices like the Razer Blade are all metal and like the HP Spectre x360 that material does help dissipate heat due to its ability to conduct thermal energy.

Still, I'm skeptical. The decal skins are not super thick, and those ports and intake outlets are still doing their job. Let's bust out some science.

The Test

To evaluate whether using an adhesive laptop skin affects thermals I conducting a simple experiment with the Razer Blade 14" (late-2016):

  1. Play DOOM for 20 minutes without the skin
  2. Take temperature readings using a Seek Infrared Thermal Imaging device
  3. Let laptop cool; apply a dbrand skin (top and bottom)
  4. Replay DOOM for another 20 minutes
  5. Retake temperature readings using the Seek infrared camera

What constitutes a valid finding will vary, but presumably if putting a skin on mattered you would want to see at least a few degrees increase in temperature to be significant. Anything less than 5 degrees could easily be written off as noise and within the margin of error.

Results

There are two areas that I am concerned with when determining the results:

  1. Is there a general increase in system temperatures across the device (top, bottom, back)?
  2. Is there a difference in the thermal dissipation pattern between the two scenarios?

The first question is rather straight forward. Do the temperatures increase at any part of the device in a significant or alarming manner?

For this question, the answer is no. On both devices, the temperatures would hit around 113-115F (45-46C) in the upper right of the laptop. For the bottom near the back, the Blade ran between 100-104F (38-40C). The Blade does get hotter if in a warmer environment, plugged in, or played for a longer time. I saw little reason to believe any of that would have changed the results.

The second question though is more interesting. Does the decal skin affect the heat dissipation pattern?

Again, I saw no difference between the thermal imaging trends. Seek's thermal camera is accurate, and the distribution of hot and cool spots is very apparent in both test situations.

Conclusion

The results are likely not surprising. Putting a body skin decal on your metal laptop – even a performant gaming rig – should not cause any changes in system temperatures or even the distribution of that energy.

Theorizing the outcome is one thing but seeing it tested with empirical data is how science is done. I hadn't seen anyone do this kind of test before and the results to me seem very clear. Granted, there is some room for further inquiries like trying on different devices, or running at full CPU load for an hour. Nonetheless, there is nothing to indicate from our results or even anecdotal reports from users that my results would be different.

Conversely, there is no reason to believe that heat will affect the skin either. The laptop is not getting unusually hot, and the adhesive does not appear to break down. Still, more longterm testing would be needed from users to verify completely.

For now, however feel free to use that dbrand or DecalGirl skin on your favorite device.

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

39 Comments
  • Good Article!!! Love the Science!
  • Well, I tried putting an adhesive skin on my girlfriend, he didn't become any hotter
  • Best instructions unclear comment
  • That's too weird, is your girlfriend a boy?
  • He's probably foreign. When I learned english I had difficulty expressing "it" because all objects in latin based languages (portuguese, spanish, french, italian, etc) are either male or female. For example if I was to ask for a broom and i decided to not use noun, i'd say "Can you pass me "he"" He is being used in a context that broom (given the "oh ending sound") is a masculine object. In Portuguese for example it would be feminine "vassoura", "-a". Gender in objects is really hard to learn for an english speaker because it's not always clear.
    ​On the same token it's hard to rationalize "it" for non english speakers when english is not their first language. Femine Objects in Portuguese tend to end in:
    ​-a, -ção, -ar, etc
    ​Masculine Objects in Portuguese tend to end inÇ
    ​-o, -e, etc To make this more complicated there are exceptions to the rules:
    ​Mapa = by logic should be feminine (such as -a ending) but it's actually masculine. It sounds weird to say "a mapa" as the correct is "o mapa"
    o / a in this case = "THE" in english. The in english is unisex, but once again in latin based languages "the" needs to be identified as MAS/FEM preceding it's noun. Hopefully now that you know a little bit about the rules of other languages and how hard it is to learn a new one you'll appreciate the fact he can understand yours. ;) and instead of questioning the "propper gramitcal structure" You are a successful speaker when you can convey the idea you mean to state. If you want to help him, i would act more like the grammer police and show the correct way to writte it. @renmmo, "Well I tried putting an adhesive skin on my girlfriend('s computer, it) didn't become any hotter
    ​This would be a better way to state your point. "IT" would replace "HE". and it's always good to state the noun or object in question since in your sentence it makes it sound like you placed adhesive on your girlfriend and not her computer. :) Cheers!
  • Please tell me you are kidding....
  • The clever ones won't need me to answer that. ;)
  • The clever ones aren't going to read a twelve page manifesto in a tech comment section. ;)
  • You're good in marketing...
  • Why the ellipsis? Are you going to say more?
  • He has a continuation to that statement next year.
  • Marketing what? His own articles? If you're trying to say he has stock in each of these companies you are really reaching...
  • Plus I name two companies basically at war with each other for the same market, not exactly playing favorites.
  • Hey, you could be betting against yourself.
  • Dan, not even worth it to spend time replying to this or even giving it a tiny amount of space in your head. Happy new year!!
  • Thx for this Daniel, I was wondering the same thing since I ordered my Dbrand cover a couple days ago.. Quick question though a little off topic, since you have the same version of the Blade.. does your heat fans are ALWAYS ON even on idle??
  • re: fans, yes the Blade's fans are basically always on, albeit in a low throttle state, and do not shut off. Thin chassis, plus quad core, plus 1060 is a lot of heat build up ;)
  • no doubt a quad core + 1060 can generate heat quickly.. It just seems odd that the left fan never gets to this "low throttle state" (almost silent) like the right fan does.
  • They sometimes adjust that stuff with BIOS updates and if you put it into 'quiet mode' it may also change that (using Synapse).
  • Off topic, how about an article on who makes the best quality skins and who makes the easiest to install?
  • Can look into it. Honestly, between the two I named here they seemed the same to me.
  • That thing seems to get rather hot on the surface just after 20min of gameplay. Not the best cooling.
  • Actually, for a gaming laptop with a quad-core and 1060 it's quite good.
  • I would have loved to see numbers from something like Core Temp both before and after to go with the thermal cam data. And honestly for these devices I would expect little difference. But could you turn your camera onto devices like the Surface line or mobile devices where the body of the device is considered part of the heat dissipation system. (I have always wondered about cases like Otterbox, for example.)
  • Yeah, will consider that next time (core temps). In some of our recent reviews we have done thermal tests, but will make sure to include them in more.
  • I was going by the temps an Alienware with a gtx 1080 does and that got between 23C - 32C (73-89F) which is quite a bit lower then the 100-113F you got on the Razer. Source: https://youtu.be/Wn3CbLCsniw?t=638
  • I mean, you're comparing a 14" gaming laptop that is the thinnest in its class and weighs just 4lbs to a 17" laptop that is nearly 10lbs and twice the size. Heat dissipation between those two is going to be very, very different simply due to larger volume of air being pushed and more mass to absorb the heat.
  • Then try a bit closer to the Alienware 15 R3 https://youtu.be/XKnPPIT0isM?t=495 bit higher then the 17, but still better then the above ;) especially considering the fact it run for 1h not 20min and has a gtx 1070, not a 1060.
  • Good read. Could you do the same test with skins on phones?? Thanks.
  • My SP4 is sexy hot!! Lol
  • Thanks for this confusion clarity. My friend recommended to avoid lamination+ decal on my laptop. But after this article, I'll order 3M vinyl for laptop . :)
  • If the decal is on the lid, of course it "shouldn't" really have a real effect on heat buildup unless your laptop screen runs hot to begin with (old LCD screens maybe)... Now, if you place a decal on the bottom, covering vents, or on the keyboard area, then yeah, heat buildup is more than possible. Even then, as long as all vents are not blocked, you should be fine, until dust moves into the laptop.
  • Hi, Daniel. Nice job in your lab. Though, I feel there is a pont that has to be made. I studied quite a bit of heat transfer im engineering school. So I am among these guys that believe skins can make your laptop warmer. Simply put, if the chassis is metal, than the heat dissipation through passive convection on the surface should yes be negatively impacted by a skin, because they add, beyond the the thermal resistance of itself, a thermal resistance in the contact metal-skin. The active heat dissipation system, however, would balance this increasing the fan speed. On the other hand, maybe passive convection on the surface probably does not significantly contribute to heat dissipation when compared to a heat sink with a fan. Only way to know would be, additionally to your tests, to monitor motherboard temperature on very low CPU usage (when fan is sometimes disabled) along with fan speed. If the skin is negatively impacting heat dissipation, then we would see motherboard temperature increasing earlier and faster in a laptop with skin, making the fan work in moments that it wouldn't if it wasn't the presence of the skin. Notice that in this scenario, like you saw in your lab, temperatures in the surface could appear to be normal during continuous usage, but actually you would be ignoring the fact there is more stress in your cooling system for bein active in moments it normally would not. Anyway, there is a lot to discuss about this, and it certainly does not diminish your scientific merits. You managed to prove that in your lab there was no negative impact on surface temperature during usage with the fan active, which is the important scenario for most users. Nice work! ;-)
  • Excellent points, Felipe. I'm not an engineer, but have studied heat transfer in great depth because when I was in the US Navy I was a nuclear power plant operator, which I'm sure you know would involve a lot of heat transfer. The decals DEFINITELY have a lower heat transfer coefficient than bare metal (this would be less an issue with plastic PC cases), though the skins are so thin that it is likely to be negligible or near-negligible. I also thought of the difference that the active cooling makes, and if indeed there is an increased heat load that is being properly managed by active cooling, this could have a definite impact on battery life. That said, even though I'm not a gamer, I'm guessing there aren't many gamers who do their thing on battery power, at least for very long. It is indeed an interesting subject, and I appreciate that Daniel looked at it with a scientific eye.
  • I also wondered why this article is just about surface temperatures, especially when it came to the part "how science is done". I mean it should be clear, that the surface of a glass of coffee is hotter than an isolated cup, while the coffee is kept much warmer in the latter. So what about the system temperature inside after running an hour under full load?
  • Lol wouldn't try this on my SP3 ever. Interesting how it would change the SP3 thermals (bad to begin with); would be interesting if there's a before/after comparison.
  • Does this have effect on game? I am unsure about what I am going to say so correct me if I am wrong. I thought that after certain temperature performance start to reduce to keep the temperature below certain value. At least Surface devices do that.
  • It might not be getting warm via the outside, but if its keeping heat in, it would have been interesting to know what the cpu/component temps and fan speeds were before and after, to see if it was making the fan work harder to keep the electronics cool etc.
  • Thanks Daniel.  Nice to see empirical data on this.  Been wondering about this for awhile regarding my SP4.  My untrained engineering brain convinced me a skin had to impact cooling via convection so I passed on the skin.  I think Felipe's probably correctly raised the next issue, is the cooling system working harder or sooner to dissipate heat?  I think I'm still going to leave the skin off.  But thanks for adding data to this issue!