PC cooling, what is too hot for a CPU?

what is too hot for a cpuAnything that works produces heat in the process. Gaming computers are no exception. Equipped with a powerful processor, up to date graphics card, fast HDD or an SSD, motherboard and a power supply, there are many sources of heat. All those components generate a lot of heat while gaming and need to be cooled. If the cooling system of a computer is too weak or does not work properly, you will notice a slow down in performance or if worse components could suffer permanent damage from heat. But, what is too hot for a CPU(Central Processing Unit)? What temperature should my GPU be (Graphics Processing Unit)? What happens when the CPU temperature is exceeded?

The importance of keeping your PC cool

In general, manufacturers already know if their products and provide them with sufficient cooling. But even those parts are supplied with cooling, it does not mean that the gaming PC is always optimally cooled.

What is too hot for a CPU?

The colder, the better. You have propably read that supercomputers are cooled with liquid nitrogen or that experiments with quantum computers involve liquid helium to reach temperatures near absolute zero.  At near absolute zero,  electrical conductors become superconducting and electrical resistance drops against nill. But those high tech gizmos are only affordable to research labs.  Gaming computers for consumers must run at normal temperatures to be affordable.

When in idle most modern processors are just a couple of degrees warmer than room temperature. With increasing workload, the temperature of the CPU and the GPU will rise.

Depending on type and specifications processors have a temperature range within which sufficient performance is guaranteed. However, exceeding those temperatures will result in a loss of performance.

So as long as the processor temperatures are below about 176 Fahrenheit (80 Celsius) things are fine. When warmer than around 176 degrees F, processors throttle down and performance drops.  Continuing to use a computer where the CPU or the GPU regularly overheat will reduce the life expectancy of those processors.

How to know when the processor is too hot?

When cooling becomes insufficient and processors get too hot symptoms may include:

  • The computer runs much slower
  • Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) appears
  • Computer restarts frequently
  • System randomly turns off

How to control CPU temperature?

There many options checking the CPU temperature. You could restart the system and enter the BIOS, CPU temp is displayed there. But who wants to restart the system all the time? Also, this displays the temperature when the computer is very much at idle.

Easier is the installation of software that continuously monitors your hardware. Open Hardware Monitor is a free software that monitors the “Vitals” of your system.

There is also free software that monitors specific hardware in more detail. GPU-Z from TechPowerUp provides comprehensive information about your graphics cards.

Keeping your PC cool

There is passive cooling, such as increasing the surface of a body with the help of cooling fins. They absorb heat from one object and transfer it directly to the environment.

There is also active cooling where an additional device such as a fan is used, that with the help of a coolant transfers heat from one place to another. In a gaming computer, this is usually air or when liquid cooled water.

PC cooling
The two most common types of PC cooling are air and water cooling. The main differences between these two cooling systems are, in addition to the functionality, the price and the noise. Water coolers are still more expensive than air coolers, but offer more cooling power and are quieter than air coolers. How do these two cooling systems work?

Air cooling
A heat sink made of aluminum or copper is placed onto the surface to be cooled. Heat produced by the processor is transferred via conduction to the cooling fins and further transferred to the surrounding air. Colling fans increase efficiency.

Water cooling
Cooling a computer with water consists of a couple of hoses, a radiator as well as a water pump. Water coolers are mostly used by PC gamers who overclock their systems for more performance hence producing more heat than regular PC users.

Is water cooling worth it?

Water cooling is an effective way to cool a large gaming rig where processors are pushed to maximum performance. In case you are looking to upgrading your computer with a water cooling system, you will find a huge variety of kits available on the market.

Clean the CPU and GPU

The first and most important thing that you have to consider is dust that gets “sucked into” the computer. Dust will settle on the cooling fans will slow them down. The need to work harder and draw more electricity and in turn produce more heat themselves. Blocked fans and airflow is the main cause of PC’s overheating. Most heating issues will be solved simply by cleaning the fans and the heatsinks.

Increase the airflow

If the insides of your PC are clean and free of dust you also need to make sure that air can efficiently circulate through the system. Provide also for some open space around the tower to get hot air exchanged. This will dissipate the heat effectively.

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