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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, but there are 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.

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Overclocking What Is Overclocking, And How It Can Help Your PC, Tablet, & Phone [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Overclocking, And How It Can Help Your PC, Tablet, & Phone [MakeUseOf Explains] Provided that you have hardware from a manufacturer who understands those principles, you can do plenty to juice up your system, whether it be a computer, tablet, or smartphone. One of the best things you... Read More , 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.

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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 heat sink (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.

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If you don’t hear the fan, however, 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!

Other things could be affecting performance, so it’s important to check that no malware is running.

On Windows, you can check which applications are most CPU-intensive through the resource manager or you could download the latest version of Process Explorer.

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!

Too Hot

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, so 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 The BIOS Explained: Boot Order, Video Memory, Saving, Resets & Optimum Defaults The BIOS Explained: Boot Order, Video Memory, Saving, Resets & Optimum Defaults Your computer’s BIOS (basic input/output system) is the low-level software that starts when you boot your computer. It performs a POST (power-on self test), initializes your computer’s hardware, and passes control over to the boot... Read More ). After restarting your computer, you only have a narrow opportunity to check your BIOS. Here’s how to do so How To Enter The BIOS On Your Computer How To Enter The BIOS On Your Computer Inside the BIOS you can change basic computer settings, like the boot order. The exact key you need to strike depends on your hardware. We have compiled a list of strategies & keys to enter... Read More on different operating systems.

If you’re using Windows 8, 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 3 Laptop Computer Temperature Monitor Apps That Could Save Your Hard Drive 3 Laptop Computer Temperature Monitor Apps That Could Save Your Hard Drive Read More .

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.

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 How To Fix An Overheating Laptop How To Fix An Overheating Laptop Read More than computers, but they are also prone to generating excessive temperatures due to smaller heat sinks and area in which to dissipate heat. If you’re concerned your CPU is overheating, there are numerous things you can do including delidding Two Ways to Cool Down Your Defective Overheating Intel CPU Two Ways to Cool Down Your Defective Overheating Intel CPU Looking to purchase a Haswell or Ivy Bridge Intel CPU? A secret may change your mind. According to bloggers, Intel recently got caught using thermal paste on its CPUs and lying about it – the... Read More and installing your own fan How to Choose and Mount a CPU Fan: Everything You Need To Know How to Choose and Mount a CPU Fan: Everything You Need To Know Are you looking to mount a new CPU fan? Finding the right CPU fan requires a great deal of research. Not only do different fan sizes populate the market, a byzantine maze of CPU socket... Read More .

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 How To Install A New PC Cooling Fan How To Install A New PC Cooling Fan Computers have changed a lot over the last decade, but one thing remains the same – the need for cooling. Efficiency has pushed temperatures down but hasn’t eliminated heat as an issue. That’s particularly true... Read More 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.

Conclusion

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

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