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From time to time, we all get concerned about our computer’s temperature. But should we be worried? How exactly is your PC affected by heat? And what does it do to cool itself down?

Whenever you hear that little fan overdoing itself, mild panic might set in. Heat does affect your computer – but is it as bad as it sounds?

Which Components Generate Heat?

Thermal radiation is just the by-product of electromagnetic movement within millions of circuits, and the internal resistance it encounters – or to put it another way, electricity powering your computer is the simple reason why your computer becomes hot. Even LEDs produce it, though it’s minimal because the amount of electricity needed to function is low. Naturally, the volume of electricity needed for each component varies depending on the operations being performed, but there are some consistently with higher temperature output.

A computer’s core, its Central Processing Unit (CPU), naturally generates heat as it carries out algorithms, as does the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), which typically handles 3D imaging for display. Gaming can result in higher temperatures, especially as they often require GPUs to carry out complicated calculations (in many instances, the GPU can generate more heat than the CPU). Hard disk drives can also contribute to heat generation, especially when copying large files.

Similarly, the optical disc drive can generate large amount of heat when playing DVDs or CDs, both as it forces discs to spin and as it reads the contents using a laser.

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It’s important to remember that room temperature, too, affects the internal workings of your computer. Higher room temperatures can affect performance, especially exceeding 80°F/27°C since the computer’s internal heat will be greater.

How Does Heat Affect Performance?

pc-hero-overheating-laptop

As part of the PC’s own cooling system, the motherboard, comprising of major components like the CPU and memory banks, instructs intensive applications to slow down. To avoid damage, it can even instruct components to shut down as a fail-safe. In some cases, this can cause your whole computer to turn off without warning; in extreme circumstances, this can occur continually until a new fan is fitted. This can particularly be a result of overclocking, running the CPU at a greater speed than intended by its manufacturer.

For many of us, we just accept that the more we use a PC, the more it slows down. Sometimes, minor calculations are wrong, but the computer soon corrects itself. Heat can also cause your computer to freeze, resulting in you restarting. More often than not, however, performance is not greatly affected; in fact, mostly, you won’t even notice.

But that doesn’t mean overheating doesn’t have greater consequences.

How Does Heat Affect Your Hard Drive?

Even though HDDs don’t consume nearly as much electricity as either the CPU or GPU, they are very sensitive to temperature changes, and excessive heat can irreparably damage your hard drive.

Handheld fan

A simple fact of physics: cold makes things contract; heat makes things expand. Through heat transfer, thermal expansion can warp the internals, meaning discs might not be read properly. This is an extreme example, but the HDD would need replacing.

More seriously, though, most agree that heat can reduce your hard drive’s lifespan, with National Instruments reporting that an increase of just 5°C above room ambient temperature can take up to two years off a drive’s expectancy.

Correlation between disc drive failure rates and high temperatures is questionable, however, even leading Google engineers to conclude that “at moderate temperature ranges it is likely that there are other effects which affect failure rates much more strongly than temperatures do.” Effects are greater with older drives, especially those over three years old.

Normally, data can be recovered What Is Data Recovery And How Does It Work? What Is Data Recovery And How Does It Work? If you've ever experienced a major loss of data, you've probably wondered about data recovery -- how does it work? Read More , but when it comes to a damaged hard drive, things get a little more complicated How to Diagnose and Fix a Dead Hard Drive to Recover Data How to Diagnose and Fix a Dead Hard Drive to Recover Data Several years ago, I experienced a hard drive failure. I was at work when my laptop suddenly started to act particularly strange. About half an hour later, the hard drive failed audibly and the laptop... Read More .

How Does Your Computer Deal With High Temperatures?

The most notable way your computer draws heat away from sensitive components is with a heat sink — normally located by the CPU or sometimes GPU — which pulls heat from its surroundings through conduction and using fins to dissipate higher temperatures across a wide area, i.e. the rest of your computer’s case and out through vents at the back. Heat sinks vary in size depending on the system’s expected performance, based upon Thermal Design Power (TDP) What Is Thermal Design Power? [Technology Explained] What Is Thermal Design Power? [Technology Explained] Acronyms are not uncommon in the world of computer hardware. Most people know what a CPU is but others are more obscure. One example is TDP, which stands for Thermal Design Power. This specification is... Read More .

fanless motherboard

Heat sinks are most commonly made from aluminium alloys, a soft metal with high heat conductivity; copper is also extensively utilised, but it is more expensive than aluminium and greater in density so is only used in costlier and vaster industrial systems. Heat sinks are also used in some gaming consoles like the Xbox 360, which has to deal with very detailed graphics; a more highly-conductive material than aluminium is needed, so copper is largely used.

The majority of PCs also include an additional circular fan near the heat sink to aid airflow and reduce the effect on nearby components.

Larger fans are used to suck cooler air from the computer’s surroundings, convey it through the case, and expel it at the rear. On a hot summer’s day, you might open windows at the front of your house and leave the back door ajar, leading to fantastic air flow throughout; case fans in coordination with vents work on the same principle.

Designers also have to take into consideration the computer’s casing, so that suitably permeable materials help to dissipate excessive heat, as well as the space left inside between components.

Conclusion

More often than not, your computer will deal with heat exchange unnoticed. Occasionally, fans need to rotate quicker when performing complicated tasks like maintenance, copying files, streaming data, and sharing files – there are several ways to silence noisy fans 5 Things You Can Do To Silence A Noisy Laptop Fan 5 Things You Can Do To Silence A Noisy Laptop Fan Read More if this becomes infuriatingly frequent, although this could indicate an underlying problem.

Yes, heat can affect your computer – both its lifespan and performance – but in most cases, you have little to worry about.

Image credits: Shutterstock

  1. zama
    April 24, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    Hi computer workes like human being, when it working it produce heat as human being sweet.
    The mean reason to produce heat is that any componets reqiure a certain voltage of power to fuction. The long it function it create a heart. but we don't need to worry about its functionty that comes out of the system, as there am few fans in side to protect the overheatig against the components burn. There is a cpu fan which is on top of a heat sick to ensure that the processor is in rigth level of temperature. There is also other system fan especailly for desktop computers that is responsible to take cool outside to inside a tower( system case).

    There are few thing that cause a computer to overheat.
    1. Heat condition (putting it in hot place).
    2. Old cpu paste.
    3. Dust around the fan wheels and also around breathing holes of the system cover.
    4. Unworking fans.
    5. Weak fans.
    6. Higher temperature.

    For techincal support or more infor follow me on: 0712790046

  2. .m
    February 26, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    fd6syuBDAIWNJicobvirwfhorjvnijfvbojefjvkfnorvjnrwjkntifhtrnhftfhrotvfvuwenofvcifdnviwrelvwornivhjnofjvhnwoufjnwjfvhboivbwivfovunoiuvbiorbvirvbuyvoguvbovbwgrvhjiowrvuhbuovbruovbwrvowrjvnjrgnvivonwjrtvio3itvjnemrtvij3ntviktnvpiutvn3itovpwntrvwotkjnwitujvn3tvijnwrtkvjwnrtvijwnrtviwprvnrtviuvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv8==================================Duf-rivornvwouvnwrjwkvfvoijtkgnvwoijgbvnwoigjfnvoiwjgrfvnoisdfjvnoirjglvneoirjgvngijvngijvngfviojegfnmvkngjkvmgfikvmiegjkvmgijkv gnfvmijegknveigjbvoknfjmijfkgnmvijgkfnmgijkfvnmgjkfdvnmpsdkfvnpfsjfvnpfivjnsfgkvljflvkjgngjnflkgjvlsfkjnfkvjfnvkjlfvnskfjvnlkfjvnfjvnjvnfshfrt;ogfsnjp ;eligjn ( ???)????? kjfvnlseirfkjnwoetjrlgnwrgwituojnglwkgjtnljntijknkljvnmtijkvnwtrmotrjigotrlkngmpwirjgknpfkjgmnrf[ojpnrgkwjrtnmg[iwrjnmgjptkvntnvig

  3. Jared
    September 2, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    This site fucking blows ass. The writers/admins remove comments that are unfavorable. Lame.

    • Jan Berrios
      August 2, 2015 at 10:16 pm

      why not

      • .m
        February 26, 2016 at 8:53 pm

        cuz why not

    • .m
      February 26, 2016 at 8:54 pm

      m

  4. Kim M
    August 29, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Heat in a laptop can actually ruin the device. For example, I had a midrange HP laptop which was loaded with neat features - high-end graphics, fingerprint reader bunch of RAM, etc. It also featured an AMD CPU which I recently discovered to be a known heat producer. As it was my only device, I used it for everything, including games such as Halo. After a couple months of use, it started showing signs of overheating, despite my use of an external laptop fan. It would shut down, lock up and otherwise go flakey. It eventually just stopped altogether. Upon researching the problem, I found that these (especially HP!) laptops had a known problem with overheating to the point where the GPU actually unsoldered from the motherboard. I tried refloating the GPU, but I could not recover the machine. Needless to say, I was severely disappointed that the known issues were never addressed by HP engineering and now I never recommend HP to anyone who cares to ask.

    Heat is an enemy to all computers and especially laptops. Take care and research well before purchasing and follow recommendations regarding preventing overheating.

    • Philip Bates
      September 5, 2014 at 10:29 am

      Thanks for commenting, Kim. I found that bit about unsoldering really surprising, and can only imagine how annoyed you must have been.

      Part of me is also surprised that HP have done nothing to fix the issue. Another part of me isn't all that shocked...

      I think many overlook heating problems when searching out a new PC or laptop because the general public isn't trained into researching into it. I hope that will change soon.

    • .m
      February 26, 2016 at 8:51 pm

      fr

    • .m
      February 26, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      jadf

  5. Drew C
    August 29, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    heat deinitely affects the peformance of my laptop when gaming; perhaps it's the processor speed that also adds to the heat issue? More noticeable the more intense the graphics as well. And a definite effect on speed. Initially I thought it was the broadband connection but all tests proved that the wi-fi was at full strength; also noted the less heat when NOT gaming in full screen; sometimes it's possible and other times, shut down and take a break; you and the laptop!

    • Philip Bates
      September 5, 2014 at 10:16 am

      Yeah, that's a great tip. Breaks are recommended not only to cool your laptop down but also to give your eyes and concentration a few minutes to get back to the real world! Thanks for commenting. :)

      • .m
        February 26, 2016 at 8:52 pm

        hi

  6. Jerome D
    August 29, 2014 at 9:41 am

    heat affects the perfomance of my desktop when gaming when im using intel

  7. Amjad_a_khan
    August 28, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    great ..
    thanks for the information

  8. Bud Mulqueeney
    August 28, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    bought an Apple 20" iMac in July of 2011, and slowly begin to notice the rainbow-colored ball spinning around on my monitor screen, then felt the top of the computer and felt a lot of heat.
    Devised a way to place a large desktop fan on top of my speaker powered box and directed the fan at high speed towards the back of the vents and which both air in-takes and heat exhaust vents were POORLY designed to dissipate heat normally. Now with the fan running constantly, the problem has been dramatically (99% ) reduced. Also upgraded to 2 - 4GB memory sticks.
    Although not as speedy as a racing Porsche, does the job for me just fine.

  9. Bud Mulqueeney
    August 28, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    bought an Apple 20" iMac in July of 2011, and slowly begin to notice the rainbow-colored ball spinning around on my monitor screen, then felt the top of the computer and felt a lot of heat.
    Devised a way to place a large desktop fan on top of my speaker powered box and directed the fan at high speed towards the back of the vents and which both air in-takes and heat exhaust vents were POORLY designed to dissipate heat normally. Now with the fan running constantly, the problem has been dramatically (99% ) reduced. Also upgraded to 2 - 4GB memory sticks.
    Although not as speedy as a racing Porsche, does the job for me just fine.

  10. ksay
    August 28, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    I'm running a MacBkPro connected to a 20" HP monitor for
    better visability. I have been running the MBK with the lid
    closed and I notice the fan running alot. I'm thinking I should
    probably leave the lid open to help dissapate heat, right?

    • Steve C
      August 28, 2014 at 11:05 pm

      Some designs are in fact optimized to work with the lid open. It is always a good idea to get laptops some sort of efficient cooling. Aluminum coolers are most effective as by just putting a laptop on one without any fans attached absorb heat so efficiently. This will help you dissipate heat with or without lid closed. And remember even if it cooled down by just a couple of degrees C its the long run life that will be mostly optimized.

  11. Adrian
    August 28, 2014 at 10:36 am

    For this reason, by latest builds and purchases have focused on low power consumption/heat dissipation components...like a Haswell Celeron laptop and an Ivy Bridge Celeron for my Desktop.

    Sure they're no where near cutting edge performance but they're more than capable for my work and entertainment needs.

  12. Zhong J
    August 28, 2014 at 2:39 am

    EDIT: *you don't need to worry much about heat circulation in desktops

  13. Zhong J
    August 28, 2014 at 2:38 am

    Generally when you're using a desktop, you need to worry much about heat circulation but since notebooks components are close together, things tend to get hotter. Also, depending on where you place your laptop, hairs and dusts can cause fan noise to become louder.

    • Philip Bates
      September 5, 2014 at 10:14 am

      You're right: laptops are more susceptible to heat issues because of the reasons your mentioned but also our own natural body heat when laptops are placed actually on our laps; it doesn't give good circulation at all.

      Generally speaking, your PC should cope okay, but it does depend on environment too: if it's closed into a small desk space, that will affect its performance.

  14. Howard B
    August 27, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Older CPUs and GPUs did not have "thermal throttling" and "shutdown temperatures" to protect the system; if a CPU fan failed, many chips would burn themselves out, as they had no way to deal with extreme temperatures:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsqGyLH-foQ

    Even funnier, older Socket 5 Pentium CPUs, like the Pentium 60MHz, 66Mhz, and 90MHz, which ran on a whopping 5V (current CPUs run on 1.5V or less!) would *melt through* the CPU socket if the fan ever failed.

    Modern CPUs and motherboards run a CPU fan from a connector on the motherboard that can tell if the fan is disconnected or malfunctioning. They won't even start up, protecting the CPU, if it can't detect the fan working properly, often sounding a beeping tone to warn the computer owner.

    Modern GPUs (video cards) have an even more effective cooling system, ranging from multiple fans all the way to "vapor chambers" that keep them cool.

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