Updated by Gavin Phillips on 04/22/2017
Excessive heat can affect your computer’s performance and your hard drive’s lifespan. But how can you tell if it’s overheating or just hot? And should you be worried?
It can be hard to determine if high temperatures are damaging your PC before it crashes. Luckily, there are several things to watch out for.
How Is Heat Generated?
The simple fact is, heat is a natural by-product of electricity. Anything that uses energy to set in motion an activity (whether that’s a computer, a car engine or our own bodies) results in heat transference. Of course, the amount of electricity needed is dependent on the task being performed. Components inside your computer easily exude heat, notably the Central Processing Unit (CPU) and Graphic Processing Unit (GPU) as electricity is carried across circuits and experiences resistance.
Overclocking, especially, generates excessive heat. Essentially, this is operating your CPU at a higher clock speed than intended by its manufacturers. The big benefit is a more efficient and faster operating speed, but it also requires a higher voltage to perform tasks. This greater need for electricity results in your CPU exuding more heat. In an effort to lower heat transference, some occasionally replace the oscillator crystal inside the component in a process called underclocking. This naturally decreases the system’s efficacy.
Playing games, watching DVDs, ripping, burning and sharing files can all put a strain on your CPU, as well as normal system maintenance, editing and encoding. As you can imagine, with several tasks being carried out at once, overheating can be a very real concern.
What To Look Out For
Even though heat affects performance, it rarely disrupts your use of the PC. If your computer is sluggish and freezes, that’s a big sign that the insides are overheating.
You might also hear the internal fans working faster, more noisily, than usual; your computer will try to cool itself down by venting higher temperatures via the heatsink (a naturally-heat conductive component typically made of aluminium) and the accompanying fans which direct CPU heat through the case.
Computers have a fail-safe which shuts down overheating parts to prevent permanent damage. In some instances, the whole system will shut down and refuse to fully restart until it has sufficiently cooled. Even then, if there is malfunctioning hardware, it might allow you access to files briefly before shutting down again.
If you have access to the computer’s interior, gently touch the components. Expect them to be quite warm, but none should be hot enough to elicit you pulling your hand away.
Is It Overheating or Just Hot?
Tasks strenuous for the CPU, GPU, Hard Disc Drive (HDD), and Optical Disc Drive (ODD) should raise awareness of your PC’s temperature, but you shouldn’t get too paranoid. Computers generate heat without having a detrimental effect. If you hear the fan working, that’s perfectly normal. If it’s constantly running at considerable, noisy speed, that’s a sign of overheating.
However, f you don’t hear the fan, there could still be a problem: in fact, that could be the cause of the problem! A broken fan can be the reason your system is too hot, so pay attention to your PC’s performance. It might be running slower than normal, even when trying to complete uncomplicated tasks; it might keep shutting down or restarting by itself; it might freeze completely and show you the Blue Screen Of Death!
Can't even play Diablo 3 on lowish settings without my PC overheating and going BSOD. Guess it's time to find a way to finance a new machine
— Poochie Mane (@HowBoutDemOsHon) August 15, 2016
Other things could be affecting performance, so it’s important to check that no malware is running.
Aside from a broken fan, poor airflow caused by badly-positioned components or blockage of the vents might also be the cause of overheating. Its surroundings definitely have an affect; your computer’s position – if, for instance, it is in an enclosed space or in a dusty area which clogs up the vents – is an important consideration, but so is the room’s ambient temperature…
What Is The Best Temperature For Your PC?
Your computer was designed to operate at its maximum capacity at room temperature – that is, a comfortable room which feels neither too hot nor too cold. That’s simple to say, but everyone prefers a different temperature!
Scientifically speaking, ambient room temperature is between 20°C/68°F and 26°C/79°F, averaging at about 23°C/73°F. Anything exceeding 27°C /80°F is potentially damaging to your computer. Obviously, this is especially something to watch out for in the summer.
The cold is certainly not as hazardous as excessive heat. Temperatures slightly below 20°C/68°F aren’t something to be fearful of.
A simple mercury thermometer can give you an accurate gauge of your worktop.
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your CPU, accessible through your BIOS (find out more with our handy guide). After restarting your computer, you only have a narrow opportunity to check your BIOS. Here’s how to do so on different operating systems.
If you’re using Windows 8 or Windows 10, holding Shift when clicking Restart will open up Advanced Start-up Mode and allow you to easily look at your motherboard settings (containing the CPU).
Alternatively, you can utilise various monitoring apps.
Your CPU will run at a higher temperature than the room, so don’t panic when you initially see it. You should consult your system’s documentation as it is dependent on what conditions your hardware is expected to function under normally.
Generally, though, your CPU shouldn’t be running at anything greater than 75°C/167°F.
Okay, So What Can You Do?
Keeping your computer’s environment cool is key. That can be as simple as opening a nearby window or placing an oscillating fan in the vicinity.
The fans on my computer stopped working >.< pic.twitter.com/OUgLJsqJCM
— Dennis Vareide (@Vareide) July 23, 2013
Potentially simple solutions include changing its surroundings (moving your computer or laptop to a cooler room in the summer, for instance), and using a specialist air compressor to unblock vents. Laptops are easier to cool down than computers, but they are also prone to generating excessive temperatures due to smaller heatsinks and area in which to dissipate heat. If you’re concerned your CPU is overheating, there are numerous things you can do including delidding and installing your own fan.
If your computer keeps crashing because the fail-safe kicks in to reduce the risk of damaging components, it’s likely a new fan by the heatsink is needed. It may be another fan that’s not working sufficiently, but unless you know this, it’s not advised to switch on your computer as this may permanently affect your CPU.
You can replace an internal fan relatively simply, but on some models, taking off the casing can void your warranty. Laptop and Windows 8.1 tablet fans can’t be replaced. And if you’re not experienced enough, there’s no point in jeopardising your data. Take it to your local specialists.
What should you take from all this? Ideally, your room should be about 23°C/73°F, but anything in excess of 27°C /80°F can be detrimental to your computer.
Your CPU, meanwhile, shouldn’t be hotter than 75°C/167°F.
There are numerous things you can do to keep it cool, including:
- Keeping your PC well-ventilated;
- Clearing dust from vents and fans;
- Giving your computer time to cool itself down;
- Consulting the manufacturer’s manual;
It’s also important to remember that problems with excessive heat are easy to fix, and rare unless you put your system under considerable strain.
Image Credits: Burning computer Via Shutterstock