Active or Passive Cooling?
Shown above are the three adjustable fans from the Cooler Master NotePal U3. Again, I'm partial to active cooling, because it really is only through these fans that you can get some really good cooling action. You also have to realize that not all active notebook coolers are made alike; some coolers just don't work.
The other tradeoff is that all active cooling pads will necessarily require power, which would then pull away from the battery life on your laptop. They're mostly USB powered and you could turn off the fan, but that almost defeats the purpose. Passive coolers have their place, but I find that most aren't nearly as effective in dissipating heat.
Adjusting to Ergonomic Angles
This applies much more to the desk-based notebook cooling stands, since you can move your legs around with a lapdesk. I like being able to adjust the angle of the stand for a couple of reasons. First, it's helpful to get a comfortable typing angle. Second, you can prop up the display a little higher when watching videos and such.
However, having the ability to adjust the angle of the cooler means you have more moving parts and less stability. It can be quite annoying when you're typing and the whole thing is wobbling. That's why static coolers like the Antec Designer are sometimes more desirable. They won't wobble and, hopefully, they already come at a pretty comfortable ergonomic angle. If the adjustable stand is stable, though, I'd much prefer that.
Additional Features and Functions
And then you have the X factor. When all else is held constant, the extra bonus will always sway you in that direction. For me, I really appreciate it when a notebook cooling stand comes with an easily accessible USB hub. Even when you're on the road you have accessories, like flash drives, external mice, and the like. It helps having more ports, especially if your notebook is lacking and the stand takes up a port or two to power the fans.
There are even some notebook cooling stands that go even further to stand out from the crowd. The Choiix Air Through Stash, for instance, comes with a hard drive dock. This is pretty handy when you're on the go, since you get some extra storage without having a separate external hard drive.
Some other stands may have extra battery power, built-in lights, and other doo-dahs to give you a little extra. Keep an eye out for these, but choose your stand based on the core features and not these bonus niceties.
Just the Right Fit
In the end, there is no such thing as the perfect notebook cooling stand, just as there is no such thing as the perfect pair of shoes or the perfect car. It really depends on your personal preferences and the purposes that you need the product to serve. What may be great for your friend might not be all that appropriate for you.
Speaking for myself, I've reviewed a lot of notebook coolers over the years and my personal favorite is still the Cooler Master NotePal ErgoStand. It's far from perfect, but it has a lot of the features that I like: adjustable height, great active cooling, USB hub, quality materials, and so on. That said, it's not at all useful as a lapdesk.
In this way, getting the "right fit" could mean buying more than one notebook cooler. Such is the life of a consumer!
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