PC Operating Temperatures: How Hot Is Too Hot?
Are you worried about your computer’s temperature? Excessive heat can affect your device’s performance and your hard drive’s lifespan.
But how can you tell if it’s overheating or just hot? What is a good temperature for your Central Processing Unit (CPU)? And what are the signs you should look out for?
How Is Heat Generated by Your PC?
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.
Overclocking generates excessive heat , for instance. This is when you operate your CPU at a higher clock speed than intended by its manufacturers. You can typically find out ideal clocking rates by visiting the site of your processor’s maker, but unless you’re well-versed in speeds, these won’t mean much to you.
The main benefit of overclocking is a more efficient and faster operating system, but it also requires a higher voltage to perform tasks. This greater need for electricity results in your CPU exuding more heat.
Playing games, watching Blu-ray and DVDs, ripping, burning and sharing files can all put a strain on your CPU, as does 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.
Some users try to counteract this using a process called underclocking; this lowers heat transference by replacing the oscillator crystal inside the component. But this naturally decreases the system’s efficacy too.
How to Spot an Overheating PC
Even though heat affects performance, your PC temperature rarely gets high enough to disrupt everyday use. However, if your computer is sluggish or regularly freezes, that’s a major indicator that you’re exceeding the maximum recommended CPU operating temperature.
The internal fans may also be noisier than usual, meaning they’re working faster in an effort to lower the motherboard and processor temperature. It does this by venting hotter air away from important components via the heatsink (a naturally heat conductive component typically made of aluminium) and out of 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, unplug the computer from the main electric, then gently touch the components. Expect them to be quite warm, but none should be too hot to touch. Take care when doing this, in case you hurt yourself or damage anything inside your machine.
Is It Overheating or Just Hot?
Don’t panic if you hear your PC’s fans working. That’s perfectly normal. Any strenuous tasks performed by the CPU, GPU, hard disk drive (HDD), and to a less extent the optical drive (DVD or Blu-ray) will raise your PC temperature. Computers typically generate heat without a detrimental effect.
Of course, if your fans constantly run at considerable, noisy speeds, that’s a sign of overheating. However, if you don’t hear the fan, that could also be the problem.
A broken fan can be the reason your system is too hot, but how else can you tell if the machine is too hot? Your main indicator is your PC’s performance.
You might have noticed it runs slower than normal, even when attempting to complete basic tasks like opening numerous tabs in your browser or running two programs at the same time. Your PC might keep shutting itself down or restarting without any prior warning. And of course, if it freezes completely and shows you the Blue Screen Of Death, something’s definitely wrong!
Naturally, performance issues don’t necessarily mean the ideal CPU temperature is being exceeded. Malicious software could also be affecting your computer, so decrease this risk by employing solid security measures.
On Windows, you can check which applications are most CPU-intensive through the Resource Monitor. Just search for the app on your desktop and you’ll see which programs are running in the background (and probably a few that have recently been terminated). Don’t worry: this list will be extensive, and that’s perfectly normal.
Aside from a broken fan, poor airflow caused by badly-positioned components or blockage of the vents might also be the cause of overheating. Where is your PC? An enclosed space can trap heat in; dusty surroundings can clog up the vents. Find out more about how heat affects your computer .
What Temperature Should Your CPU Be?
Your computer is designed to operate at its maximum capacity at room temperature—that is, a comfortable room which feels neither too hot nor too cold. It’s simple to say, but everyone prefers a different temperature!
So what is a normal computer 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 Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). This is basically the system that instructs the hardware to load the operating system, just after the computer powers up. By necessity, this means you have a narrow window in which to access your BIOS .
Your CPU will run at a higher temperature than the room, so don’t panic when you initially see it. What is too hot for a CPU to operate at? You should consult your system’s documentation as it is dependent on what conditions your hardware is expected to function under normally.
So how hot can a CPU get? Generally, your processor shouldn’t run at anything greater than 75°C/167°F.
How to Maintain a Safe CPU Temperature
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 can of compressed air 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 narrower vents.
If you’re concerned your CPU is overheating, you do have options, including installing your own fan—but this is not advisable for anyone unfamiliar with internal workings.
Should your fail-safe kick in, reducing the risk of damaging components, your device will crash. It’s likely you’ll need a new fan for the heatsink. 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 damage 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 tablet fans can’t be easily replaced. And if you’re not experienced enough, there’s no point in jeopardising your data. Take it to your local specialists.
What Is a Good Temperature for Your Computer?
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.
What should the normal operating temperature of your CPU be? Your processor shouldn’t be hotter than 75°C/167°F, nor significantly colder than 20°C/68°F.
There are numerous things you can do to keep your PC cool, including:
- Keep your PC well-ventilated.
- Clear dust from vents and fans.
- Give your computer time to cool down.
- Consult 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.
Keep an eye on things with a temperature monitoring app. This will alert you should any problems occur. And if you need to look into a new cooling system for your PC, check out our list of the best ones.