Trackpad burn

Regular readers will know that I treated myself to an MSI Wind netbook at Christmas, and I now use it quite heavily instead of my HP desktop PC. In fact I haven’t used the desktop at all for the past week.

I’ve been using the Wind’s built-in trackpad rather than plugging in a separate mouse. This is the first time I’ve used a trackpad for more than a few minutes, and after a busy session of dragging, cutting and pasting in Microsoft Word a few days ago I discovered something unexpected … trackpads can get very hot! (Well, mine does anyway.)

Since I’ve never heard of this before, and there doesn’t seem to be anything much about it on the web, I’m left wondering whether this only happens with the MSI Wind, or whether it only happens with *MY* MSI Wind.

It could be to do with friction – in the same way that you can make fire by rubbing sticks together – though that seems unlikely as the trackpad feels smooth.

The wind’s trackpad only works when you touch it with your skin – prodding it with the blunt end of a pencil, for example, won’t work. So perhaps a more likely cause of the heat build-up could be to do with the way it uses the capacitance of your skin to detect movement.

I would have asked you to help me test this on other laptops and netbooks, but I don’t want to be held responsible for burns or nerve damage. So I’ll take all the risk myself and try it out on a few other machines. Playing a few quick games of Spider Solitaire (which comes with Windows) is a good way of testing it, as it involves lots of dragging and dropping and heavy trackpad usage.

As I said, I don’t want you trying this for yourself. (But if you do, I am not to blame for any damage or injuries.) Spider solitaire is also horribly addictive and will keep you away from your writing, so if you have it on your machine you should delete it!

(If you’ve experienced “trackpad burn” – which is my name for the phenomenon – or you can explain what’s causing it, please leave a comment. Any cures for overly sensitive fingertips – which is what I now have – are also welcome!)

Dave Haslett, ideas4writers, www.ideas4writers.co.uk

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10 thoughts on “Trackpad burn

  1. I’ve had an IBM, and now an HP (for work) and Dell (for home) all with trackpads and none have ever got warm. I do, myself, much prefer a mouse.

  2. Hi Dave, I have had a similar problem with my Macbook. I use my right hand for computing (normally a southpaw) and I noticed during Finals week that my right hand ring finger is getting a peeling of skin on the knuckle. It turned into a full-fledged burn blister with red lines and I had to put Neosporin on it for 4 nights over break before it healed. I think it is because the Mac trackpad is an electrostatic charge (that’s how it knows not to sense a pencil, but it can feel your finger) and somehow I am sensitive to it. It is starting to happen again, which is how I Googled you with “trackpad burn” today, because it is my Finals week again and I spend 8-9 hours a day writing papers on my laptop. I am going to send Apple computer an email about it. Let me know if you find out anything else.

  3. hi dave, i found your post because i put ‘trackpad burn’ into a google search. my toshiba laptop’s trackpad gets very hot and i wondered whether the unpleasant sensation on my trackpad finger after browsing for a while could be considered something like a slow burn… and whether it’s likely to cause long-term problems. it’s not very nice, i’m buying a mouse, and at the moment that’s all i’ve got to say about it!

  4. i totally get this. it happened with both my dell laptop and the toshiba one i have now. its mostly because of my own overuse, but the trackpad causes my fingers to become irritated until they burn and get tingly when i rub them across its surface. i think its the constant friction which causes it. it used to happen with the scrollweel on my desktops mouse for me too, particular when i did a lot of scrolling.

  5. I googled trackpad burn and got here.

    It’s an HP I’m using. After opening the thing, I can see that the CPU lies just beneath the trackpad. So I therefore assume that it’s the CPU heat causing my blistered fingers.

    I was also worried about radiation. Is this simply a matter of thermal burns? or perhaps something more mysterious? From what I remember from high school physics, heat is nothing but a form of radiation. So maybe radiation is nothing but a form of heat…

  6. @Levi – I still don’t know the definitive cause – I’m guessing it’s a combination of friction and heat. Though as many trackpads work by measuring the capacitance of your skin, it might be something else. I wouldn’t have thought it was radiation – that seems unlikely to me.

    It happened to me when I was doing some intensive graphics work that meant dragging my finger around on the pad a lot more than what would be considered normal.

    I’ve been experimenting with the trackpad on my netbook, and I can’t really understand how it works. It works if I use my finger on it, and it works if I use the corner of a cotton handkerchief – even if the hand holding it is several inches from the pad. But it doesn’t work if I use a pencil or a plastic comb.

    I keep the trackpad switched off now. I haven’t found a way of disabling it permanently, so I switch it off manually every time I turn on the netbook (Function + F3 in this case).

    I’m now using a Logitech TrackMan instead – it has a ball you move around with your thumb, so it’s like an upside-down mouse. I find this very easy to use, though it’s slightly slower than a mouse. But using a mouse would not be convenient as there’s nowhere handy to rest it. So this is the best solution for me.

    Even though it’s over 18 months since I stopped using the trackpad I still haven’t recovered full sensation in my fingertip, and it tingles sometimes.

  7. I found this post after googling “track pad mouse finger burn cancer” because I was terrified I was getting finger cancer (is there such a thing?). I have an MSI Wind and have noticed for months that I have to continually switch fingers that I am using on the mouse to avoid a burning discomfort. I see I am not the only one concerned about possible radiation exposure, nor am I the only one who came across this story trying to google what was wrong with my finger and/or mouse. My solution? Switch fingers every few minutes.

    1. I don’t think you need to worry about getting finger cancer – I’ve never heard of such a thing happening. At the worst all it will do is damage the nerve endings in your fingertips. That seems to be what happened to me. It’s been more than 2 years since I stopped using the pad and my finger still doesn’t feel right, so I guess the damage is permanent. I notice it most when I use the scroll wheel on the mouse. I try to switch fingers and scroll with the middle one, but I usually don’t remember.

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