Is Your CPU Overheating?

Category: Hardware

A computer's CPU (central processing unit) is like a car's engine in one way. Both generate heat in proportion to how hard they work. An overheated engine can seize, stop working, and even suffer permanent damage. So can a CPU. Here's how to monitor your computer's CPU temperature and take action if you're running hot...

How to Monitor and Control Your CPU Temperature

Heat is the enemy of all things electronic. So it's important to be alert to your CPU's temperature and take steps to cool it down when necessary. Symptoms of CPU overheating include declining performance after running processor-intensive tasks for several minutes or hours. Games may run sluggishly, video may skip, and response to mouse clicks may be delayed. More alarming are sudden software crashes, random reboots, and the dreaded Blue Screen of Death. These symptoms may have multiple causes; overheating is one suspect that needs to be confirmed or eliminated.

Your car has an engine temperature gage that warns you when the engine is getting too hot. There are temperature gages for CPUs, too. A temperature sensor is built into your CPU; all you need is the right software to read and display the CPU temperature.
CPU Overheating

Motherboard Monitor is a free system monitoring program that's been around since 2000. It monitors all of the voltage, temperature, and other sensors built into your motherboard, including CPU temperature. It can be configured to shut down your computer if a critical component is in danger of being damaged. It can also create a log file showing CPU temperatures and other measurements over a period of time, which can be helpful in diagnosing what activity is causing the overheating. Motherboard Monitor comes with a list of supported motherboards.

SpeedFan is a donation-supported program that monitors voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds. It can also monitor and report the health of hard disks that are equipped with S.M.A.R.T. technology, including the disk's internal temperature. A key feature of SpeedFan is its ability to control how fast your cooling fan's spin, and at what temperature they will kick in. You can even set a fan to run constantly.

CoreTemp is designed for Intel and AMD multi-core CPUs. It can monitor the temperature in each core in each processor in your system. It also has a logging feature to record temperatures over variable periods of time.

How Hot Is Too Hot?

The maximum safe operating temperature varies from one CPU to another. Check the specs of your CPU to see what the manufacturer recommends. If your temperature monitoring logs obtained with one of these programs show that the CPU temperature exceeds its maximum safe temperature for significant periods of time, you should take steps to keep it cooler.

Adequate air flow is important. A tower system should be placed so that its vents are not blocked by desk, wall, or other obstructions. A laptop can be elevated on a lap pad to allow air to circulate under the machine. All of your computer's vents should be cleaned of dust and other obstructions. In desktop systems, rearranging cables can eliminate air flow blockages.

A heat sink is a finned aluminum radiator that sits atop your CPU to absorb heat from it and radiate heat into the surrounding air. Make sure the heat sink is firmly clamped to the CPU for maximum heat transfer. A dab of thermal paste between the heat sink and CPU conducts heat even better. Dust can also settle into the fins of the heat sink, and reduce its ability to draw heat from the CPU. Clean the cooling fan, which tends to collect dust bunnies that diminish its performance. If the fan blades do not spin freely, install a new cooling fan.

A can of compressed air can be used to clean the heat sink as well as fans and vents. I've also used an old toothbrush to clean the heat sink and fan blades, when they are especially caked with dust. Just don't touch any of the other components while you're poking around inside the system unit.

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

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Most recent comments on "Is Your CPU Overheating?"

Posted by:

John Palmer
15 Jul 2011

Interesting timing! I just recently read about someone who had a liquid cooled gaming system and the tubing carrying the liquid leaked, causing multiple problems with other components. Do you think liquid cooling is necessary?

Posted by:

Anders Cornell
15 Jul 2011

You can use a vacuum cleaner hose to suck out dust too, but it's quite powerful and you'll break something unless you're careful.

Posted by:

Mike Neale
15 Jul 2011

Thanks for the great service you provide. Re: CPU temperatures, I found the following site when I thought had a laptop temp problem. It has hundreds of Max temps that may be useful.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by:

15 Jul 2011

My ASUS G73JW all-solid-state laptop has a unique way of cooling itself:

Air is sucked through the backlit keyboard and is directly sucked out the back of the unit where TWO exhausts are located one for the cooling of the CPU
and the other for the cooling off of the GPU!

My laptop Never overheats!
In fact, it is mildly warm to the touch even when doing some intensive work on it.



Posted by:

17 Jul 2011

Hi Bob,

Timely article - heat is the enemy of components!

I use Speccy, a free utility from Piriform, the folks who make CCleaner and Defraggler. It reports on the temperatures of CPU, motherboard and hard disk, as well as all the other things it does.


Posted by:

17 Jul 2011

As it is getting hotter in Japan I noticed my Laptop is getting too hot even I can not touch the Touch Pad or keys. I checked the fan it was working ventilation was cleaned. I called Dell support they helped to change BIOS after changing temperature goes down around 45% but not completely.
Later I installed Speed Fan and Core Temperature to know the exact temperature. I noticed when I use Fan near computer the temperature goes down but the best solution was using Air condition. Unfortunately due to electricity shortage in Japan we can not use use cooler often.
I wonder if I use Notebook Cooler under the laptop will that be a kind of help or not? Please share your experience.

Posted by:

20 Jul 2011

I have found that Piriform's Speccy software does a great job of letting me know how my system is running. It monitors each core, the hard drives, video cards, etc. and lets you know how they are doing. Best of all, it was free. I was afraid of SpeedFan because I wasn't sure how to set it.

Posted by:

23 Jul 2011

Great article!

The point that you made about built up dust, I think, is just about the most important point, of this whole article. Dust is the 'killer' of not only a CPU, but many other components.

I 'dust' my PC, about every 2 months or so. It is so easy, all you have to do is remove the side panel, take a can of air & use it. I then blow out all of the vents on the computer case, including the Power Supply. Every so often, I will remove all Memory Modules & cables, to 'blow out' the slots. I accomplish 2 things by doing this, better connections & making sure that all cables are properly seated. Over time, the cables will loosen, simply because of the vibrations of the PC fans & moving of the Computer Case.

A word of caution, do NOT use compressed air on any of the CD-ROM or DVD drives insides. You can damage the laser in the units. I only 'dust' the outsides. Learned that lesson, the hard way. }:O)

While, this may seem strange...I have also, learned that changing my A/C filter regularly, can reduce the amount of dust that my PC will collect. A new filter will also, reduce the overall dust, in one's house.

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