How to Monitor CPU Temp and Fix Overheating Issues

fire Burning cpu on circuit board with electronic (1)
An overheating computer can be a major problem. Learn what could be causing this issue and how to fix it.

So, you feel that your computer is heating up more than usual. Is it anything serious? Aside from the feeling of discomfort caused by the heat it’s generating, should you really be worried? After all, computers can operate at higher temperatures, right?

While it’s true that computers can operate at temperatures much higher than we would be comfortable working in, it’s important to know if your computer is reaching an unsafe temperature. If your computer is plagued by a temperature issue and you want to know why this is happening, whether you should even be concerned and what to do in case you should be, then this guide is for you.

Read on for answers to your burning questions.

Why?

Like any machine, computers get hot when they’re being used. This is true even though computers don’t have any moving parts aside from the fan, which is used to push heat out of the computer.

So why does your computer heat up?

The internal components of computers consist of transistors and microchips, which are made of semiconductors. These parts function based on binary signals present in the current flowing through them. Binary signals can either be a 0 or a 1. The 1 state is when the signal is ON and the 0 state where the current is OFF.

When the signal is off, a combination of transistors work as resistors to block the current from passing through. This resistance is what generates heat.

Even when current is passing through in the ON state, some resistance is there—meaning that heat is still being generated.

The more semiconductors a processor has, the more heat it will produce. Additionally, faster processors can handle more input at a time, leading to more current passing through and more heat being produced.

This is why, no matter what you’re doing on your computer, it produces heat. As work intensity increases, so does the heat.

Is It Really Bad?

It’san undeniable fact that computers produce heat, as anyone who has used a computer for any amount of time is aware. The production of heat by computers is so commonplace that most people don’t even notice it.

Some even think the heat will improve productivity. Since semiconductors increase conductivity when heated, some may think that increased temperatures are good for the processor. This is not entirely true, though.

Depending on the type of semiconductor, the conductivity can either increase or decrease when its temperature is raised. However, whatever the case, there comes a limit after which the microchip experiences degraded performance and may even experience permanent damage.

In a computer, this heat may result in:

  • Damaged pathways
  • Increased resistance and corrupt data
  • The melting of some components, in extreme cases

This is why all electronic devices are made to handle some heat and are tested to measure their heat limits for optimum performance.

Optimum Thermal Range

Manufacturers have their own proprietary method of making microchips and of testing their devices. The results of their tests are usually shown on the packaging of the components, letting the purchaser know the maximum operating temperature of the part. These may vary by a few degrees depending on the type of device and the manufacturer.

For example, your graphics card may have a different operating thermal range from your CPU, and your RAM may have a different range from your SSD.

However, since all of them have to work in a common environment, there’s a shared common range of temperatures where every device should be working fine.  For most manufacturers and components, that range is 35°-50° Celsius or 95°-120° Fahrenheit.

Due to advancements in the way microprocessors are made, the microchips of today can actually handle much more than that. The 9th Gen Intel processors, for example, can operate at 90°C. Its temperature junction maximum or Tj Max is set at 130°C. Tj Max is the temperature at which the processor will shut itself down to avoid getting damaged.

Keep in mind that even if a processor is rated for temperatures this high, it doesn’t mean that they can operate at these temperatures indefinitely without suffering damage.

Why Is the Safe Temperature a Range, Not a Maximum?

Aside from the fan and the hard disk, the parts that make up your computer are stationary. Therefore, it would stand to reason that there should be no minimum temperature below which your computer cannot function.

This is technically true, but keep in mind that water in the air condenses at lower temperatures. If water droplets start forming inside the computer due to the colder temperatures, then your computer will suffer much more damage than would be caused by overheating.

It’s best to have a lower limit set at about room temperature or a bit higher. This is why the 35°-50° Celsius is considered safe for the vast majority of computers.

How to Check Temperatures on a Windows 10 Computer

The CPU and other components come equipped with digital thermal sensors that read the temperatures of various components and help the firmware execute different actions depending on the temperature of the part.

These sensors make it possible for users to monitor the CPU or any other component’s temperature in real-time with the help of specialized software. You can find many of these software programs for free on the internet. They’re usually made by component manufacturers or third-party developers.

Some of the more common ones are listed below.

Speccy

Speccy Interface
Speccy Interface

Speccy is a premium one-stop solution for the health of your computer by CCleaner. There is a pro version for $9.95, but the free version still has many of the features that you’ll need to monitor your computer’s temperatures.

Features

  • CPU, GPU and hard disk temperatures
  • Easy to use interface
  • Real-time temperature readings
  • Screenshots
  • Detailed reports

Core Temp

Core Temp
Core Temp

Core Temp is one of the older straight-forward temperature reading software programs available today. It’s lightweight and free to use.

It can display the temperature of all the individual cores of the processor in real-time.

It can also be customized according to your needs with the help of add-ons and plugins. You can even add widgets that stay on screen for continuous monitoring.

Features

  • Real-time temperature of individual cores
  • Customizable and extendable
  • Free
  • Supports AMD, Intel and VIA x86 processors

SpeedFan

SpeedFan
SpeedFan

SpeedFan is another example of simple software doing an excellent job. That being said, it doesn’t display the temperature of all the computer components like the two programs mentioned above.

What makes it different is that you can actually interact with the hardware through SpeedFan by controlling the speed of the individual fans in your computer.

Features

  • Simple interface
  • Results in graphs and charts
  • Ability to control fan speed
  • Reads temperature and voltage
  • Provides CPU and hard disk temperatures

Note: Other than these programs, you can try searching the website of the manufacturer of your computer or processor for a specific tool with further insight. You can check the temperature and fan speed readings in BIOS as well. However, you can’t monitor them while working on your Windows computer.

Overheated or Not?

Overheated computer
Overheated computer

After installing the software of your choice, you can now monitor the exact temperature of your computer’s components. Instead of trying to guess how hot your computer is, you can now see what parts are producing the most heat.

You should be able to see if your computer is running in the safe temperature range. If it isn’t, go through the list below to solve the problem.

How Can You Fix It?

If you’ve confirmed that your computer is running too hot, you can start finding the reason for the extra heat and solve the problem. Any one of the following fixes can be a solution to your issue.

Most of these methods are simple, free and can be done by an untrained individual. Only a few of them are somewhat complex, may require technical assistance or will require you to spend some money.

We’ll start with the simple ones first.

1. Power Options

Choose the right power plan
Choose the right power plan

What?

Manage the power options of your computer. Change the performance mode to Balanced instead of High Performance. You can also limit your processor to 90% or less of its maximum power.

Why?

This may end up being quite insignificant if you have a powerful desktop computer. However, if you’re using a laptop or a low-end or older desktop machine, then this may reduce your computer’s heat significantly.

Using the High Performance energy plan and using the processor at maximum status will generate more heat. Use the Balanced or energy-saving mode and reduce your processor’s maximum state.

However, remember: Do not set your processor too low. The lower you set it, the slower your computer will be. If you set it too low, your computer may be unable to operate.

2. Clear That Dust

Dusty computer
Dusty computer

What?

Open up the casing of your computer and clean out any dust. You can use a can of compressed air, a lint-free anti-static cloth, cotton swabs or even a blower set at low intensity to do the job.

Do not use your own breath. It contains moisture, which may damage your computer’s sensitive components.

While using a pressurized air can or an air blower, make sure that the CPU fans—especially the one on the processor unit—DO NOT MOVE. The spinning fans can generate a small current that may damage the chipset or you could accidentally spin the fans at a rate higher than their limit speed, which may damage them.

Why?

Computers, especially laptops, are closed boxes. They have small components where dust can become trapped. These dust particles are drawn in by the computer’s fans and may cause your fans to not cool properly or other components to become insulated.

Dust is a poor heat conductor, which makes it an excellent insulator. This means it keeps heat trapped inside your computer’s components. Therefore, it is a must that you regularly clean your computer and not let the dust settle in.

3. Improve Airflow

Airflow - Cable management
Airflow – Cable management

What?

Carefully open up your computer casing and take a look at the air ducts or dust filters, if your computer has them. See if they’re blocked and remove the blockage if there is one.

Cable management is also an important step to improve airflow. Arrange all the cables in the casing of your computer in a neat, managed way. Make sure that none of the cables disturb the airflow between the fans and the outlets in the computer’s case.

Why?

Computers use airflow to dissipate heat generated by their components. This process is accelerated with the use of fans to circulate air through the computer’s case.

Computer cases are usually designed to suck in cool air from the front or side, pushing the hot air dissipated by the components out the back. If anything is disturbing the airflow, it will cause the hot air to remain inside.

The cables inside your casing can take up a huge amount of space if not managed properly and can become a major contributing factor in disturbing the airflow.

4. Move Your Computer

What?

See if your computer is placed too near to the surrounding walls, especially the backside. Also check to see if it’s placed on a soft, cushion-like surface. Move it somewhere where there’s more space for airflow.

If you don’t have another place to put your computer, do your best to orient it in such a way that leaves the air vents as open as possible. The one on the back is usually where hot air comes out. This one should have the most room.

Why?

 Relocating your computer can greatly improve airflow. Soft surfaces tend to absorb heat instead of reflecting it. Keeping your computer or laptop on carpet or a cushion will make it hotter.

The same is true of enclosed spaces. If the area around the computer is a small enclosed space, there won’t be enough room to dissipate the heat. Eventually, the entire space will be hot and your computer may overheat.

5. CPU Fan Cleaning & Thermal Paste

CPU Fans need some cleaning too.
CPU Fans need some cleaning too.

What?

Carefully open up your computer or laptop and see if the fans have any dust on them. Gently clean them so they can do their job efficiently. If your computer has dust filters, make sure to clean or replace them as well. Your computer collects more dust than you may realize, so you should do this cleaning process regularly.

There may be a fan on your CPU in addition to the fans in your computer case. Be sure to clean it too along with its heat sink. As we stated above, be sure to not allow the fans to spin when you’re cleaning them.

Another step you can take that’s more complex is replacing the thermal paste. You can do this by following these steps:

  1. Remove the CPU fan after unlocking its pins and disconnecting its power cable.
  2. Clean up the fan and the metal heat sink.
  3. Remove the older thermal paste that’s on the processor and the heat sink and then apply new thermal paste.
  4. Place the heat sink back on top and replace the CPU fan.
  5. Lock the pins and plug the power cable back into the processor.

This process can be complicated and requires a skillful hand to avoid damaging any important components. There are plenty of videos online that show the proper way to replace your thermal paste. If you’re uncomfortable doing it yourself, take your computer to a professional to have them handle it for you.

Thermal paste
Thermal paste

Why?

Dust that’s built up on the fans can hinder their performance and cause damage. Lint blockage on air filters or heat sinks disturbs heat dissipation and allows heat to be trapped in components.

The thermal paste between the heat sink and the processor is a heat conductor which helps transfer heat from the processor to the heat sink, which is then blown away by the CPU fan. Thermal paste can eventually wear out, resulting in poor heat conduction between the processor and the heat sink.

6. Get a New Case and Power Supply

Casing with good air flow
Casing with good air flow

What?

Get a new case with better airflow and extra fans. 

See if the cooling fan of your power supply is working. If it’s not, get a new power supply.

It’s also possible that your power supply is having to work harder because it’s not quite powerful enough to charge your computer. This can cause it to produce excess heat. You’ll need to replace your power supply with a more powerful one.

Why?

Older cases weren’t designed as well as the cases on the market today. In new cases, there are specific areas to keep the cables out of the way, they have better materials that help remove the heat and have a better design for airflow.

A power supply cooling fan cannot be replaced, so you’ll need to get a new power supply if the fan has stopped working. The power supply is one of the main sources of heat in your computer, so it’s important that it can cool itself properly.

7. Get Extra Fans and Change Fan Speed

Air cooled thermal cooler (Noctua)
Air cooled thermal cooler (Noctua)

What?

Install extra fans to increase airflow through your case.

Increase the fan speeds with the help of SpeedFan (mentioned above).

Why?

If you’re doing CPU-intensive tasks all the time, consider adding extra fans to your computer case. Installing them or increasing the speed of your current fans will increase the amount of air moving through your computer. This will allow more heat to be pulled away from your computer’s components.

8. Third-Party Thermal Coolers

Corsair liquid cooler
Corsair liquid cooler

What?

Try buying a new third-party specialized thermal cooler. These can be air-cooled or water-cooled and can help your computer stay in a safe temperature range.

Why?

If you like to tinker with your computer and push the processing limits, then you should invest in a third-party thermal cooler.

The air coolers come with bigger fans and heat sink units which distribute the heat over a larger area. This helps get rid of the heat faster.

The liquid-based coolers work similarly. They transfer the heat through the water to a radiator where fans are used to cool it down. The cooled water then cycles back around to absorb more heat from your computer.

Air vs Water Cooling

Performance-wise, comparing the off-the-shelf solutions, air coolers are better in terms of value and performance, with one drawback—they’re big and clunky and get connected through a small rig on the motherboard.

After installing an air-cooled thermal cooler, you’ll need to be careful when moving your computer. You may end up bending or breaking your motherboard.

The water-cooled thermal coolers, although bigger, are more securely connected to the motherboard and the computer case. They’re also much more aesthetically pleasing and can be safely transported.

However, installing them is a bit tricky, so get professional help if you can.

Note: This comparison doesn’t take into consideration custom liquid cooling solutions which tend to perform significantly better, but are much more expensive.

9. Undervolting

Undervolting through BIOS settings B
Undervolting through BIOS settings B

What?

Undervolting is when you reduce the voltage that is sent through your computer. This reduces the power moving through your system, which results in less heat being generated. While it may sound risky, it’s completely safe for your computer.

If your motherboard allows a one-click solution for undervolting, then use that option. Otherwise, you may be able to do it through the BIOS setup.

Depending on the motherboard manufacturer, it will be in the voltage management section, under Advanced Voltage Settings in the CPU Core Voltage Control. Here, you can change the Dynamic Vcore. Reduce it in small increments after setting the CPU Vcore to normal. Stress test the settings for stability at each increment.

To conduct these stress tests, you’ll need CPU stress test software like Orthos to test out different voltage settings and find the perfect range for stability.

Orthos beta interface
Orthos beta interface

Why?

Undervolting is used so that the CPU uses a lower range of voltage to perform its tasks. Using this technique, the processor works almost as fast as before but doesn’t reach the maximum limit of power consumption it would reach otherwise. Therefore, not as much heat is produced.

Setting up your computer for undervolting does take time and is a bit more complex than the other solutions. Only try this option if you’re willing to take the time to find an accurate voltage at which your computer can operate.

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This is everything you need to know about CPU overheating issues and how to solve them. Anything beyond these solutions will require professional help or possibly the replacement of computer components. Each one of these solutions will contribute to reducing the heat of your computer and should hopefully help you deal with overheating problems.

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