CPU Temperature Monitoring

Category: Hardware

Sometimes my computer just shuts down for no apparent reason, and my office mate says maybe my CPU is running too hot. Does that sound possible, and if so how can I measure the temperature of my CPU?

CPU Temperature Monitoring

How to Monitor Your CPU Temperature

The CPU (central processing unit) is the "brain" of your computer. And modern CPUs, despite all their energy-conserving technology, generate tremendous amounts of waste heat. That tends to happen when you pack more and more circuits into an ever shrinking electronic package. But excessive heat damages electronic components, and can sometimes cause your computer to shut down abruptly in order to prevent damage to the CPU.

That is why CPU temperature monitoring is so important. If you know your CPU is generating too much heat, you can take steps to mitigate the problem before it damages your CPU or other components irrevocably.

A CPU in "normal" use will reach temperatures from 40-100 degrees Celsius. That's not a problem if the heat is dissipated properly by a heat sink and fans. But under extremely heavy processing loads, or if the heat-dissipating systems are not working properly, a CPU can get hot enough to damage not only itself but other nearby electronic components. In cases where the cooling system malfunctions, the CPU can reach 300 degrees Celsius (572 Fahrenheit) and will literally go up in smoke.

Gaming, video editing and other CPU intensive activities can put enormous demands on a CPU. In particular, the common practice of "overclocking" kicks the CPU's operating frequency up above that for which the chip was designed. Gamers are particularly concerned with CPU temperature monitoring, but anyone who puts a heavy load on the CPU for long periods of time should also watch the temperature.

Temperature sensors are built into CPU chips and various places on motherboards. Software can access these sensors and translate their data readings into temperature readings for humans. Similar sensors monitor fan speeds, and most CPU temperature monitoring software also monitors fan speeds. The best CPU temperature monitoring software lets you control fans, CPU utilization, and other system functions that can help keep things cool.

Free Temperature Monitoring Software

Motherboard Monitor (MBM) can sense temperatures from sensors embedded in your CPU, graphics card, hard drive, and motherboard. It supports a wide range of CPU and motherboard models. But it doesn't let you adjust fan speeds. MBM is free, but has not been updated since 2008, so support for Windows 7 and 64-bit systems is a bit iffy.

My favorite CPU temperature monitoring software is SpeedFan, because it works on all versions of Windows, and also gives you fan speed control. It monitors voltage levels in various components and the status of your hard drive. SpeedFan can be configured to boost fan speed when CPU temperature reaches a specified level; keep the fan spinning all the time; and much more. Its auto-discovery and configuration modes allow SpeedFan to work with almost any combination of hardware and turn on sensors it discovers all by itself.

If you have a Mac, there's a Temperature Monitor Widget that will display all temperature sensor readings on your Mac OS X desktop.

So how hot is too hot? It depends on your specific processor. Check the manufacturer's website, or search the web to find the normal and maximum CPU temps for your model. Here's a list of maximum CPU temps that covers quite a few models.
A rule of thumb I use is to start worrying if the CPU temp is above 60 degrees Celsius.

If your CPU temperature is dangerously high during normal use, there are several steps you can take to cool things down, in addition to using monitoring software that can regulate temperatures:

  • Heat sink "grease" is a highly heat-conductive, silver-based compound that carries heat from your CPU to the heat sink very efficiently. A fresh, thin layer between the CPU and the heat sink can ensure that the maximum heat transfer takes place.
  • Clean your heat sink periodically to prevent buildup of insulating dust. A can of compressed air may suffice, but sometimes it's necessary to get in between the blades with toothbrush or an alcohol-moistened cotton swab.
  • A bigger, better heat sink may be in order. Be careful to match your motherboard and processor to the heat sink you buy, to get the proper fit. Heat sinks with fans mounted atop them are best.
  • Fans slow down with age. Depending on the design of your fan, it may be possible to lubricate it with a drop of thin oil to keep it spinning at optimal rpms. Replacement fans are inexpensive.

A few years ago, I had a computer with a small footprint desktop-style case. I guessed it was running hot, just by putting my hand near the exhaust fan. The SpeedFan software confirmed that, so I cleaned the dust out of the CPU heat sink and the temperature dropped by 20C. This computer must have had a poor ventilation system, because every month or so, the CPU temperature would creep back up to a dangerous level, requiring me to shut down and clean the heat sink with compressed air and a toothbrush.

A word of caution: Don't ever touch any of the components inside your computer while it's running. A CPU running at 100C is almost 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to boil water, or cause a nasty burn. Turn your computer off, disconnect it from the wall socket, and let it cool down before poking around near the CPU or heat sink.

Do you have something to say about CPU temperature monitoring? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "CPU Temperature Monitoring"

Posted by:

Cobey Kaufman
12 Oct 2010

Great topic - when I built my current i5-750/Win7 PC in April of this year my plan was to use the temp monitoring capability included in the Gigabyte MB list of capabilities. Lo and behold it wouldn't work and the exchange of emails with Gigabyte proved to be fruitless. Their SW was intended for both temp monitoring as well as CPU speed adjustment. My only interest was temp monitoring so I looked elsewhere and found a suitable alternative. The website is - http://www.alcpu.com/CoreTemp/index.html - the SW is Core Temp and works great. When I first contacted them support for the i5-750 still needed some work but that was completed in short order. The site has no fee but accepts donations via PayPal, etc. Thought you might like to add another to your list of alternatives.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2010

For Win7x64 I find the "CPU Usage" gadget useful, which integrates "Core Temp" into its display output as an option. Core Temp can also be run standalone if desired.

Posted by:

Edwin Ridout
14 Oct 2010

I had no luck with Motherboard Monitor you mentioned, despite several install attempts on my Dell D620 laptop running Win XP Pro (and my admittedly low-brow guesses at the configuration).

But the CoreTemp program from ALCPU.com mentioned by CK above installs easily and works like a charm.

Posted by:

14 Oct 2010

FWIW, I read this article and my system overheated and went down (!)

Posted by:

17 Oct 2010

I run my computer about 6 hours in day. Sometimes i run my computer about 2 days without stoping it. I have face no problem now. But if i run my computer like this, then will I have to face any problem?

Posted by:

18 Oct 2010

Until reading this article, it hadn't occurred to me that my CPU may be running hot, other than the machine sounding like a jet aircraft upon take-off when undertaking anything more than a simple task, but then it's done this for as long as I can remember and other than that has always run fine without any problems. Upon installing Speedfan, the CPU was registering 62C whilst idling and would shoot up just by moving the mouse. Further investigation revealed a mass of gunge in the heat sink and around and behind the fan. With said gunge removed, the CPU temperature now idles at around 46C and peaks at around 57C when working and the machine is completely silent all the while. I'll be keeping a close eye on the CPU temperature from now on and removing any further dust/gunge build-up from the heat sink and fan.

Many thanks for such an informative article Bob, and for very likely extending the life of my five year old machine.

Posted by:

01 Dec 2010

For Mac users, in addition to the Temperature Control widget mentioned in the article, you can also download the free "smcFanControl" application at http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/23049/smcfancontrol .

smcFanControl will not only monitor CPU temperature, but will also monitor and allow you to adjust Fan Speeds to your liking, even permitting you to override system defaults and let you select your own default minimum speed.

Posted by:

31 May 2011

Thanks for posting this article Bob. I didn't realize that a high-temperature CPU can cause damage to other parts of the computer. I have a Compaq laptop Windows Vista OS. I have noticed that the touch pad can get a little too warm at times. Again, thanks!

Posted by:

10 Jul 2012

I bought a quad q6600 and i saw on everest ultimate edition that on games or stability tests he reach to 94ºC... But tjunction temperature is about 100ºC so i dont lnow if this is a normal tenperature for gaming,or if is lack of thermal paste or bad heatsink!

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