Using a computer for work and hobby-related purposes has been the norm for pretty much over a decade at this point – and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, due to the global pandemic we had to go through recently, the usage of computers has skyrocketed even further – so much so that we’re entering yet another crisis – the lack of silicon required to make enough chips for all our computer needs. And yet, for all this time we spend using computers, it is sometimes really easy to forget to think about the computer’s integral part: the central processing unit, or CPU for short.
The largest part of a computer’s workload is handled by this very component, which means that if there’s anything wrong with it, you’re very likely to feel it while using the computer. Whereas the importance of a processor with a good performance in a healthy state is obvious for work-oriented users, gamers can often overlook their CPU in favor of a shiny new graphics card. This is never an optimal choice, as the CPU does a lot of the heavy lifting for video games as well – especially open-world ones.
So, if you’ve been noticing that your computer is acting up, is shutting down on its own, slows down unexpectedly, or crashes in unfortunate moments, it may be the time for you to check up on the device’s brain – the CPU.
One of the biggest offenders when it comes to the state of health of your CPU is its temperature – like with humans, a high temperature implies that there’s something wrong going on, and as such the CPU won’t function optimally. This article will be focusing on what the optimal temperature for a CPU is while it’s in an idle state, as well as when it is under a heavy load. Without further ado, let’s get straight into it.
|How do I know if my CPU is overheating?|
|High CPU temperatures while gaming|
|How do I monitor the temperature of my CPU?|
|What should I do in order to avoid CPU overheating?|
How do I know if my CPU is overheating?
There are a couple of factors that should be considered while looking at a CPU’s temperature. The first one is ambient temperature – in other words, the temperature of the room you’re currently in. Obviously, the colder the room is, the lower your CPU temperature will be by default – since it resides in the room. This is why people living in hotter climates may experience more temperature-related issues with their components than others living in colder climates. For the benefit of your CPU, a room temperature of 22 to 24 degrees Celsius (or 71 to 75 °F, if you prefer) is considered to be optimal. Of course, the temperature of your CPU will never really exactly match the temperature of the room you’re in – after all, there’s an electrical current going through it at every moment while it’s on, and additional heat gets built up. Now, a temperature that is 10 to 15 degrees above room temperature while the computer is on with the CPU in idle state is perfectly fine and you shouldn’t be concerned. If, on the other hand, your room temperature is 22 degrees Celsius but your CPU is idling at 60, there’s likely an underlying issue with the cooling (or the CPU itself).
Now, there isn’t really a predetermined temperature that every CPU should always run at under specific conditions. Instead, the temperature threshold and expected temperatures under load vary depending on the manufacturer and even model of the CPU. While modern CPUs can take a lot of heat, there is usually a temperature at which they’re considered safe to work at – anything over this temperature might shorten their lifespans. Thankfully, most modern CPUs are built in a way that prevents catastrophic damage, by shutting down automatically once they reach a certain temperature threshold (which you can even set yourself, with certain CPUs and motherboards).
The biggest two CPU manufacturers currently are AMD and Intel – while Intel has dominated the CPU market throughout the 2010’s, AMD has been making a terrific comeback recently with their Ryzen series and they’re taking up more and more of the market share. The general consensus is that Intel CPUs are better for gaming performance (due to better single core performances), while AMD’s CPUs are better for work-related purposes, due to their massive amount of cores and threads. Of course, this isn’t to say AMD’s offering is lacking in the gaming department – their CPUs still do a great job here and there’s a reason they worked together with Sony on developing the new line of PlayStation gaming consoles.
Back to CPUs and their temperatures, here’s a small list of some popular CPUs out currently and their max temperatures, to give you an idea of just how much heat they can withstand:
|Manufacturer||Model||Junction Temperature (°C)|
|AMD||Ryzen 5 3600||95|
|AMD||Ryzen 5 5600X||95|
|AMD||Ryzen 7 2700X||85|
The term Junction Temperature refers to the highest operating temperature of the semiconductors in the CPU – so basically, the highest temperature the CPU can reach before sustaining serious damage. Keep in mind, however, that it is not recommended to even go near this temperature – as even coming close to the junction temperature can shorten the lifespan of your CPU. So, for example, if your CPU has a junction temperature of 100 degrees Celsius, you’ll want to keep it around 85 degrees at maximum – for safety reasons. Once again, most modern CPUs have defensive mechanisms to prevent critical damage, but they won’t shut down at higher temperatures that just wear them down. What might happen, however, is CPU throttling – this term refers to the event in which a CPU downclocks itself in order to keep the temperature lower. As you may imagine, this can result in the overall performance of your PC plummeting.
An important note to make when considering manufacturer differences is also the difference between the stock coolers that come with your CPU – AMD is currently handling this in a better way, packaging higher quality coolers together with their processors. Intel’s stock coolers, on the other hand, can unfortunately be lacking in certain circumstances.
High CPU temperatures while gaming
Expect the temperature of your processor to become high while gaming – as running all the calculations required for a modern video game can be quite taxing for it. It’ll even be higher than idle if you’re playing older games, simply due to the fact that it’ll always try to output as much frames as possible for you – meaning it’ll keep its frequency at a higher point constantly. With that in mind, you can try to help your CPU out by shutting down other processes while running games – in order to keep the load on it as low as possible. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to monitor the temperature of your CPU while gaming and keep it 15 to 20 degrees Celsius below the junction temperature.
How do I monitor the temperature of my CPU?
Back in the day, using the BIOS was pretty much the main way to monitor your computer’s temperatures – which could be a bit frustrating as in order to access the BIOS you’d need to restart your PC every time. Thankfully, we now have a plethora of other ways to monitor the temperature of our PC components, including the CPU. We’ll go ahead and list a couple of them here now, but you can feel free to do a bit of research of your own and find a tool that you like, too.
HWiNFO is a fantastic tool for monitoring your CPU temperature and a whole lot more than that. You can also check which CPU model you have, information regarding your graphics card and RAM, and other components can be found with this little program. It even comes in a portable package, if you don’t want to install it – simply run it once and check on the state of your hardware. HWiNFO is simply just a neat tool for monitoring the inner workings of your PC.
If you’re looking for a more compact application that will allow you to monitor the temperature of your CPU, Core Temp may be just the application. It comes with the added benefit of showing you the frequency each core is currently working at, as well as their individual temperatures. If you’re only interested in monitoring your CPU, Core Temp is a great solution.
Yet another great tool for tracking your CPU’s temperature, CPU Thermometer, allows you to monitor the clock speeds, core temps, and load percentages for each core, along with the overall power consumption. It also has a very clean looking UI – with everything fitting on the screen perfectly.
The SpeedFan app allows users to not only monitor the temperature of their components, but directly control the speed of their fans as well. If you have a lot of air fans, this tool can help you with maintaining their speed without constantly rebooting your PC and going into BIOS.
As mentioned previously, there are many more solutions out there, so if you don’t like the ones we’ve listed, you can certainly find an alternative that suits your taste better. Either way, your CPU will thank you for taking proper care of it in the long run.
What should I do in order to avoid CPU overheating?
With the current market prices, you certainly want to avoid damaging any of your computer’s components – especially your CPU and graphics card. One of the biggest steps you can take in order to avoid damaging your CPU and/or shortening its life span is monitoring its temperature and making sure that you’re not getting too close to the dreaded junction temperature. To reiterate, the sweet spot temperatures you’re looking for are 10 to 15 degrees Celsius above room temperature when idle and 15 to 20 under junction temperature when under heavy load, for maximum safety. If you used any of the aforementioned software in order to monitor your CPU temperature and noticed that it is overheating either during idle state or under heavy load (or both), you don’t need to panic just yet. There are a couple of ways for you to overcome this problem before the component gets fried.
The first, and most obvious step, is making sure that you have an adequate cooling system for your CPU. We’ve mentioned previously that AMD provides better stock coolers with their modern CPUs than Intel, but if you’re planning to keep the CPU under heavy stress frequently, you may want to look into aftermarket cooling solutions – these can be a bit expensive, depending on your budget and the coolers you go with, but they undoubtedly do a good job of keeping your chip cooler under stress. Of course, if you really wish to go all in, there’s also the option of investing in a water cooling system for your components – just know that this option is costly and harder to maintain. Also, if you’ve had the CPU for a couple of years and never did this, it may be beneficial for you to reapply thermal paste – as this will help your cooling system do a better job with keeping your chip from reaching critical temperatures.
Once you’ve ensured that your cooling system is adequate and functional, let’s go through the steps you can take in order to ensure that your CPU doesn’t get too hot.
Check your overclock
If you’ve got a K variant of Intel CPUs or X variant of AMD CPUs, you likely overclocked your processor. While this is a great feature of said CPUs, it also comes with its own problems – namely the increased temperature. As overclocking your CPU ensures that it works at a frequency higher than the base one, the component accumulates heat faster and gets hotter than it usually would. This is why any overclocking guide will warn you to ensure that you have a good cooling system before proceeding with the overclock. If you find yourself having trouble with temperature on your K or X series CPU, consider toning down the overclock until your CPU is at a more comfortable temperature.
Tidy up your tower
Yes, we know, cable management is no one’s favourite thing to deal with. However, maintaining a proper air flow inside your tower is of utmost importance when it comes to keeping the temperature of your components down. Having cables run all over the place will cut block off potential routes for proper air flow, which will make the entire surface of the tower hotter – and since the ambient temperature goes up, the temperature of your CPU (and other components) will follow. So if your case is messy – take some time to rearrange the cables and make sure that you have proper airflow inside – it’ll mean a world of difference to your components and your wallet down the line.
Purchase a bigger case
If it’s simply impossible for you to tidy up the cables inside the case you have, or you can’t fit enough fans into the case, perhaps it’s finally time for an upgrade. While people don’t usually pay too much attention to their case when putting together a PC, the case can play a crucial role in ensuring the PC is in a good shape. A bigger case will have more air flowing through it, more space for a bigger number of fans to be installed, and will take longer to heat up due to a bigger surface. A bigger case may also have bigger fan slots, allowing for even better cooling. It’ll also get bogged down in dust harder than a small case would.
Clean your PC case and components
Speaking of dust, it is single-handedly the worst enemy of your PC components when we’re talking about temperature. As the fans on your components spin, they accumulate dust on their blades (and it doesn’t help that dust is also attracted to heat), and over time they slow down more and more. As you may imagine, a fan working at a slower speed produces less air flow, which in turn means that your component is getting less cooling overall. Less cooling means more heat, and more heat means more trouble. In order to combat this, you should make sure to clean your entire computer case and all of the components at least once in 6 months. This period should probably be even shorter if you happen to live in a hotter climate or hold your PC case in a spot where dust can be accumulated faster. It sounds simple, but the importance of having clean components and a clean case cannot be overstated. Avoid using a vacuum cleaner in order to clear your case and components, as the static electricity that gets accumulated at the top of the plastic can cause a static shock – which can damage all of your components if the motherboard gets zapped. Instead, the easiest and best way to make sure everything is dust-free and in tip-top shape is using compressed air. It should be available at your local computer shop for an affordable price – so take a look around.
Move your PC case
Coming right off the topic of dust, if you notice your PC case and components (namely the blades on your air fans) accumulating a bunch of dust quickly, you may want to move your PC case. Make sure to keep it in a spot that is accessible to you, but less accessible to all the dust that comes floating in to the room – your PC will be thankful. When relocating the computer case, make sure that you don’t block the airflow of your case on either side, as you’ll be making the temperature issue worse this way. Also, make sure never to put your tower on a carpet or similar material, due to the possibility of a static shock happening.
Turn the fan speeds up
As mentioned previously, an air fan working at a faster speed produces more air flow, thus providing better cooling for your components. Every air fan that you have installed has a default speed it runs at, and it usually isn’t the maximum speed. Knowing this, if you’re having trouble with your CPU temperatures, you may want to look into turning the speed at which your air fans work up. You can either do this through the BIOS (the process will vary depending on your motherboard and BIOS version), or you can accomplish it by using the aforementioned application called SpeedFan. No matter the way you go about it, turning up your fan speeds and making sure their blades are dust-free will ensure that your CPU’s temperature gets lower – just be prepared to deal with the noise, if you turn the speed up to the max.
Swap out your CPU
If nothing you do seems to have an effect on the speed of your CPU, it may be time for an upgrade. Simply put, every electronic component has a limited life span and if you’re using an older CPU it may be reaching the end of its cycle. Still, do make sure that you’ve tried out everything else you can before, in order to save your wallet if possible.
Keep your computer case closed
Though it may seem intuitive to keep your computer case open if you’re facing temperature issues, it is actually quite a bad thing to do. While you technically open the case up to more air flow, you also open it up to influx of more dust – and, as we’ve mentioned, dust is the number one enemy of our components when it comes to temperature. With that in mind, make sure to keep your case tightly closed and only open it up when cleaning it and the components.
Make sure that your CPU cooler is properly seated
There is a chance that your CPU cooler isn’t seated properly on top of the chip – especially if you’ve recently played around with it. The cooler can only function well if it is seated directly against the CPU – as the heatsink on the bottom can only siphon heat out if it’s pressed firmly against the CPU and thermal paste on it. If the cooler isn’t seated properly, there will be an airflow between the two, which will make it so that your heatsink and cooler aren’t doing their job properly – resulting in your CPU temperature skyrocketing. If in doubt, you can always re-apply thermal paste and reseat the cooler on top of your CPU.
After following the steps above, run any of the recommended software for monitoring your CPU’s temperature (or use a tool that you prefer), and check how the temperature is standing under load and in an idle state. If the temperature is still reaching the point of the junction after you’ve followed all of the steps, you may simply need to replace the chip as it is either faulty or has reached the end of its usefulness. Always make sure to check in on your CPU’s temperature from time to time, and especially so if you notice your PC slowing down – as this may be just what’s causing the issue.