[REVEALED] Your Computer's Worst Enemy

Category: Hardware

A reader asks: “Why does my computer shut down without warning at random times?” There are several possible causes, (including miniature cows and angry bees) but overheating is the most likely, and easiest to solve. Read on to learn why heat is your computer's Enemy Number One, and how to keep your computer from being damaged by overheating...

Signs of Overheating - And What To Do

Electronic components in your computer and other devices generate heat. The harder they work, the more heat they generate. But heat is the mortal enemy of all things electronic. (Remember the "Exploding Samsung Note 7" debacle of 2016?) So it's important to be alert to temperature spikes in your laptop or desktop computer, and take steps to cool it down when necessary.

How can you tell if your computer is overheating, and what can you do to keep it from frying itself, catching fire, or worse? Sudden, inexplicable shutdowns of your computer are often due to overheating. Other symptoms of 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, but overheating is one suspect that needs to be confirmed or eliminated.

computer overheating

Your computer's BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is designed to detect when the CPU, motherboard, hard drive, or graphics adapter is approaching its maximum operating temperature and shut things down to avoid damaging that vital and expensive part. If you are experiencing seemingly random shutdowns, measure your computer's temperatures and do something to lower them immediately.

Temperature sensors are built into many computer components; the trick is accessing these sensors to read temperatures. Unfortunately, Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X do not have built-in utilities to let users read temperatures. You have to find third-party software. Fortunately, there are several free temperature-monitoring utilities. Some can not only monitor temperatures but also do something to lower them.

SpeedFAN is a long-standing favorite temperature monitoring utility. It also monitors voltages in various devices and the speed of the fan(s) which cool your CPU, power supply, and other components. Some motherboards allow users to control fan speeds while others do not; if fan speed can be controlled, SpeedFan will do it automatically to optimize the fan's cooling.

NOTE: Unfortunately, the download link on the SpeedFan website is hard to find. Be sure to click the Download link near the top of the page (next to Screenshots). You may see a full-page ad appear, if so click the "X" to dismiss it. On the next page, look for "The latest version is..." You'll find the download link there. Clicking other links on the site may not get the desired result.

Another tool to display temperature readings is Speccy. Speccy reads temperature sensors built into your motherboard, graphics adapter and hard drives. In addition to that, Speccy also gives you detailed information on every hardware component inside your Windows computer. (See also my article Should You X-Ray Your Computer?)

Open Hardware Monitor is a free system monitoring program for Windows and Linux computers. It monitors all of the voltage, temperature, fan speeds and other sensors built into your motherboard, including CPU temperature.

Temp Monitor is a similar utility for Mac computers which will show you all available sensors in your Mac, and alert you when your Mac overheats. ($5.99)

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.

If you use a fan-speed controller that works with your system, it will provide several benefits. First, it will keep the temperature of your CPU and other components under the critical level, protecting your hardware and preventing shutdowns. Second, it will extend the life of your fan by running it only when it's really needed. Third, it will minimize that irritating noise than cooling fans often make.

Other Overheating Solutions

A good rule of thumb is to make sure your CPU temperature is under 70 degrees Celsius, but each processor has a different safe operating range. I recommend that you see my article Should You X-Ray Your Computer? to find out what hardware is under the hood, and then search for information on the maximum safe temperatures.

If adjusting the fan speed doesn't bring the problem under control, there are several other possible causes for overheating. Dust is one common culprit that leads to overheating. You can buy cans of compressed air to clean the dust out of heat sinks, fans and airflow vents. Crack open the system unit every few months and you'll be surprised at how much dust accumulates there, and how it affects your system temps.

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 cooling pad to allow air to circulate under the machine. (In addition to cooling the laptop, this can keep your "human components" from overheating as well.) I've also seen stories of fires caused by laptops left under a blanket or pillow, or charging on a bed. If the air vents are blocked, heat can build up inside a laptop and create a fire hazard.

It's possible that the fans themselves may need to be replaced. If a fan is noisy, that's a sign that it's not working properly. Some components have built-in fans that can fail. This happened to the graphics adapter on one of my desktop computers. My computer was shutting down unexpectedly, and SpeedFan revealed that the temperature of that component was hitting 120 Celsius (about 250 degrees Fahrenheit). After opening the system unit case, I saw that the fan attached to the graphics card wasn't spinning, and was partially melted!

Another computer in my office would occasionally make a loud sound that I can best describe as a combination of a "moo" and a buzz. Opening the case did not reveal any miniature cows or bees, but I did find a noisy fan with a bad bearing. As a temporary workaround in both situations, I left the case open and cooled things down with a small clip-on electric fan, until I was able to replace the failing components. Ebay is a great place to find these parts at a good price, and the only tool you'll need is a screw driver for repairs of this type. If you're hesitant to go the do-it-yourself route, you can find YouTube tutorials on how to fix almost anything.

It could also be that the thermal seal between the CPU and the heat sink (which draws heat away) is not good. You can remove the heat sink and reapply thermal grease, but that's beyond the scope of this article. Again, YouTube is your friend.

Do you have questions or tips on how to resolve computer overheating problems? Post a comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[REVEALED] Your Computer's Worst Enemy"

Posted by:

Ron Atkinson
09 Oct 2023

I've never used a laptop cooling pad. My method is to rest one end of my laptop on a pen placed on the desk. The underside of the laptop remains cool at no cost. Obviously the pen is not a necessity, anything which serves to elevate the laptop to allow air flow beneath will serve.

Posted by:

09 Oct 2023

Yes, that works for me too. I have also noticed the fans run much quieter with the rear of the laptop is slightly elevated off my desk.

Posted by:

10 Oct 2023

DUST ACCUMULATION on all of those components inside the computer can cause overheating and/or cause changes in the electrical conduction on them; which in turn could cause interference between in and around signals. I used to clean my computer tower at least every six months. I would suggest to take it to a computer tech so he can open up the computer/laptop to clean the inside.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2023

What about laptops with solid state drives? My laptop with a SSD doesn't seem to generate much (if any) heat and I don't think it has a fan either. (If it does, it's a very very quiet fan!)
Do I need to be concerned about heat with a SSD laptop?

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