The fan is a critical component for any laptop or desktop computer. The Thinkpad fan error indicates the fan is not operating sufficiently to cool the hardware. This places the computer at risk and generates an error or automatic safety shutdown. Fixing the error and preventing future errors is possible through a number of different measures.
Initial Cooldown Process
In the event of a fan error, the first step required is a complete cooldown of the computer. The error will often trigger a shutdown but stopping everything and turning off the computer immediately will protect the hardware against permanent damage. When the error appears, make a note of the specific message and turn off the computer.
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After the shutdown, elevate the computer to expose the underside for cooling processes. This will rapidly increase the speed of cooling by releasing heat stored beneath the computer. In fact, operating the laptop in a slightly elevated position will increase natural airflow and cooling during periods of heavy use.
After the computer has fully cooled, you should continue investing the root cause of the overheating. Solutions range from a basic cleaning to a full replacement of the fan assembly. Ideally, a quick cleaning will clear the fan and the laptop will return to normal usage without issue. A fan assembly replacement however is also possible at home.
Fixing the Thinkpad Fan Error
Dust buildup can severely hinder the functionality of the fan. The fan must circulate air to cool hardware and critical components, and the buildup of dust or grime will block airflow and essentially clog the system. Luckily, cleaning dust from the CPU and fan is a simple process that only requires a small screwdriver and an air canister designed for cleaning electronics.
Turn the laptop upside down and remove the screws with a small Phillips head screwdriver. The ones used for eyeglass repair are ideal for laptop repair. Place the screws in a bowl or baggie for safe keeping as they are small and easy to lose. After removing the screws, pull the back panel to expose the computer hardware and fan.
Use the air canister to thoroughly spray and clean the dust and foreign particles from the hardware and fan. Use the air liberally to really scrub down the crevasses and tight corners here as well. After cleaning, conduct a full visual inspection for other foreign objects that may interrupt performance. Food particles, dust that has formed into a hardened object and anything else that does not belong is a candidate for removal, using tweezers.
Finishing the Job
Be extra cautious while removing foreign objects. Do not prod or poke at wiring and hardware that does belong as you may cause further damage to the computer. After cleaning everything, replace the cover and screws. Wiping down the keyboard, exterior and the screen at this time is also prudent.
Test the computer after cleaning and run applications normally. If the Thinkpad fan error message does not return, the fan is likely functioning properly and only needed a cleaning. If the error does return, the fan assembly requires further attention.
Replacing the Fan
Replacing the fan assembly will solve the overheating issues. The process varies based on the exact model used and in many cases, you must remove the hard drive and access the fan from beneath the keyboard. This process is highly involved and hiring an expert to replace the fan is worth the cost in many cases. Otherwise, order the correct fan for the model and setup a clean workspace to complete the replacement.
Remove the battery, rear panel and the hard drive from the rear of the computer. Open the laptop normally and slide the keyboard slightly forward to lift the keyboard, opening access to the hardware beneath. Disconnect the keyboard cable and remove the keyboard completely. If the fan remains dirty, consider a cleaning from this angle along with another test run.
Otherwise, remove the palm rest casing that seats the keyboard while disconnecting any cables from the casing. Remove the speaker screws and speaker to gain full access to the fan, which is connected to a heat sink by four screws. Remove these screws and disconnect the cable to remove the fan. Install the new fan and reassemble the components to complete the process and prepare the computer for normal use.