The CPU (or processor) is the brain of your computer, so it’s vital that it runs nice and smoothly. Under duress, the CPU temperature can start getting hot, at which point your PC may start slowing down, crashing and – over the long term – the CPU may die. Here’s how to cool down your CPU – from tracking temperatures, to working out how hot it should be, to finally fixing the problem.
- How to Monitor Your CPU Temperature
- How Hot Should My CPU Be?
- Identify and Bring Down High CPU Usage
- 1. Clean Out Dust
- 2. Reseat Your Heatsink
- 3. Invest in a New Heatsink/CPU Cooler
- 4. Reapply Thermal Paste
- 5. Check for a Malware Infection
- 6. Stop Overclocking
- 7. Give Your Computer Some Space
- 8. Replace or Add Fans
- 9. Clean Up Cables
- 10. Use a Laptop Cooler
- 11. Adjust Your CPU Settings in Windows
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Monitor Your CPU Temperature
Checking your CPU’s temperature is very easy. If you’re using Windows, Speccy is a great diagnostics tool that tells you everything about your PC, including the CPU temp. MSI Afterburner is another great tool for monitoring your CPU and GPU temperatures.
Mac users can grab Fanny, which doesn’t go into as much detail as Speccy but sits as a widget in your notification center for easy access to your CPU and fan stats. Linux fans can check their CPU temperature using the psensor tool.
How Hot Should My CPU Be?
This is where things get a little complicated. Different CPUs are built in different ways; as such, they each have their limits as to how far you can push them. A temperature of 80°C, for instance, can be shrugged off by some processors and seriously damage others.
Regardless of your processor model, ideal idle temperatures don’t differ too much. “Idle” is when you boot up the PC but don’t open anything, and the operating system isn’t doing other intensive things (such as Windows’ Superfetch process). At this time, an average idle temperature around 30 to 40°C should be fine.
When Under Heavy Load
If you’re using an Intel CPU, search for the specifications of your processor. You’re looking for a statistic called “TJunction” or “TJ Max.” This number is the absolute maximum it can take before problems arise. Then, as a general rule of thumb, try to keep the processor’s temperature 20 to 30°C below that maximum at all times to ensure you’re not toeing the danger line.
For example, the Intel Core i5-9500 has a TJunction of 100C. If you used this processor, you’ll want to make sure that it never goes above the 70 to 80°C range. AMD is a little easier: just find the “Max Temps” specification on your processor’s product page. The Ryzen 5 2600X has a max temp of 95°C, so try to keep it below 65 to 75°C to maintain its health.
Identify and Bring Down High CPU Usage
Once you’ve confirmed that you do indeed have an overheating CPU, then it’s time to try and identify what the cause could be. The possible problems may reside on the software or hardware side of your PC, so there’s quite a bit to get through.
It’s easier to start with software solutions, so one of the first things you can do in Windows 10 and Windows 11 is press Ctrl + Shift + Esc and see if you have abnormally high CPU usage. Weaker CPUs can often come under heavy strain from certain Windows processes and services, and we’ve jotted down a list of common fixes for high CPU usage in Windows 10. We also have a similar guide for how Linux users can bring down high CPU usage.
1. Clean Out Dust
Cleaning out your computer can do wonders for the temperature gauges. If your fan speed sounds too high, you may need to open your PC and clean it out.
Too much dust can clog fans and heatsink fins, but fortunately, cleaning the inside of your computer is easy. Ground yourself by touching metal to avoid electrical discharge to computer parts. Using compressed air from a 6-inch distance, blast away clumps of dust from fan blades, the power supply, motherboard, and all other components. For hard-to-reach places, use a Q-tip dipped in >90% isopropyl alcohol. Do not turn your PC back on if there is any moisture remaining.
2. Reseat Your Heatsink
If you applied thermal paste, and your CPU temperature isn’t decreasing after a few days from the brief break-in period, your heatsink may be improperly seated. When this happens, the heatsink is not making full contact with the processor, which may cause it to overheat.
To fix this, simply remove the heatsink and reapply it to the processor. Make sure it’s aligned with the mounting points around the perimeter of the processor and lock it in place using a screwdriver or via tabs, depending on your heatsink.
3. Invest in a New Heatsink/CPU Cooler
A CPU cooler keeps your chip cool by pulling heat up from the CPU and toward the baseplate/heat pipes. The heat transitions from gas to liquid via the condenser and cools down through the heatsink fins and fan. This “cooled down liquid,” or coolant, makes its way back down through the evaporator so it can be used again.
The entire process is essentially reusing the same heat that was originally generated by the CPU. If your CPU cooler/heatsink is out of date, then the reuse of this heat won’t be cooled down. If you want to look into this more, see our guide on how to choose the right CPU cooler for your PC.
It’s also beneficial to understand the difference between air cooling and liquid cooling, which are the two main ways CPUs are cooled. With air cooling, the heatsink with a fan is attached to the CPU using thermal paste. As the fan runs, heat is dissipated. This is the most common setup and is also why you’ll hear the fan running harder with increased CPU usage.
Liquid coolers use small shrouds to attach to the CPU. Add liquid coolant through tubes and radiators to help cool the CPU. A fan is attached to the radiator, much like with a heatsink, to dissipate any built-up heat. While you can create your own custom loop liquid cooling system, they’re difficult to make – but they perform far better than any other solutions.
Overall, liquid coolers offer better performance and are quieter. However, air cooling is more affordable and easier to maintain.
4. Reapply Thermal Paste
Thermal paste fills in the gaps between a CPU processor and the heatsink and aids in efficient heat transfer. Running a CPU with no thermal paste is like driving a car without oil. And what happens when you ignore obvious warning signs, like a check engine light? Instant engine failure.
Follow these steps:
- Pick the right thermal paste for your CPU. Ceramic is the easiest and most universal to work with. Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut and GELID GC-Extreme are two great, affordable options. If you want even better CPU performance, opt for a liquid metal-based thermal paste. However, these are harder to apply, and even a tiny mistake can damage your PC. Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut is a good option.
- Power off your computer and disconnect all cables.
- Gently remove your heatsink from the processor.
- Gently clean the heatsink to remove any leftover paste. You may need to use a Q-tip. For anything that doesn’t come off easily, you can use >90% isopropyl alcohol or a thermal paste cleaner such as ArctiClean.
- Squeeze a pea-sized amount of thermal paste onto the center of the processor. Do not apply any more than this. It only takes a tiny amount. You can also apply a few thin lines or even spread it evenly using a piece of cardboard or a glove-covered finger. Just try to avoid getting any paste on any other components.
- Gently reseat your heatsink and screw it back on.
- Monitor the temperature over a few days using Speccy.
Ideally, you should reapply paste every few years for optimal performance. If you tend to push your CPU to the limit regularly, such as hardcore gamers, you may want to reapply yearly.
5. Check for a Malware Infection
A serious malware infection will cause your CPU to work harder and your computer to run at a snail’s pace. Some common malware infections that cause a spike in CPU temperature include:
- Viruses (system infectors, file infectors, and macro)
- Trojans (backdoor, rootkit, exploit, among many others)
- Worms (email, Internet, network)
Malware that uses a large number of resources tends to create high CPU temperature and noisy fans; notable examples are the Bitcoin Miner viruses (Otorun, Kolab, BTMine). We did an annual review of Windows Defender and found it to be just as effective as the best third-party antivirus software out there, but if you want a lightweight tool to add an extra layer of security on top of that, Malwarebytes is a favorite here at MTE.
6. Stop Overclocking
Overclocking is when you increase the CPU’s speed/clock rate through the BIOS setting, which increases the overall performance of your computer – but at a small cost: overclocking = more CPU heat generation = higher temperature. This isn’t always the case, though. If you invest in a good heatsink/CPU cooler setup, then your CPU should continuously stay cool.
But if you excessively overclock with a subpar cooling system, the CPU will overheat, throttle, and may cause a system failure. We mentioned MSI Afterburner earlier, which is also an overclocking software. Here’s our overclocking guide for the tool, which also shows how to stop overclocking.
7. Give Your Computer Some Space
It’s not unusual to cram your computer tower out of sight or to keep it from getting damaged. However, computers need room to vent. If it barely fits in a space, consider moving it. You should have at least a few inches of space on all sides.
And, if it’s left running in an enclosed computer cabinet, you’ll likely deal with far more high CPU temperature issues. You can still have it in a cabinet, but consider installing a fan to vent out heat or leave the door open whenever your computer’s running.
8. Replace or Add Fans
If your computer wasn’t built specifically for high CPU usage and overclocking, the fan might not be equipped to cool as much as you need it to. Most fans in standard computers are made for average use. Anything above that, and you’ll get higher CPU temperatures.
Consider replacing your CPU fan with a higher performance model. It’ll cool better, helping with overall CPU performance and health.
Another option, especially if your CPU fan is already the best you can get, is to install a case fan. As the name implies, this is an extra fan that pulls out heat. Or, you can opt for a dual approach with an intake and exhaust fan. One pulls in cool air, while the other pulls out hot air. Just make sure you match the fans to avoid any pressure issues in your computer. A few options that work well include Corsair ML120, Corsair AF140 LED Low Noise Cooling Fan, and Cooler Master Sleeve Bearing 80mm Silent Fan.
One final fan to check is your power supply fan. If it’s not working properly and you don’t have a case fan, there isn’t a fan to pull out heat from your computer. If it’s not running well even after cleaning it, consider replacing it to help dissipate heat from your entire case.
9. Clean Up Cables
Adding components in your case is great – but not if it’s left a tangle of cables behind. No matter what cooling system you have in place, air won’t dissipate well if there is a wad of cables blocking the fan(s). All you need to do is arrange your cables so that they’re out of the way of your fan(s) and CPU. This can involve using cable ties, adhesive hooks to pull cables up out of the way, and even using shorter cables when possible.
10. Use a Laptop Cooler
For laptop users, you can’t really use some of the options above, such as adding more fans. However, you can use a laptop cooler. These feature fans that help dissipate heat from your laptop. They also double as laptop stands. They can work well if you tend to keep your laptop actually on your lap while gaming or other CPU-intensive tasks. You will need a free USB port to power it, though.
11. Adjust Your CPU Settings in Windows
While not always an ideal solution, you can adjust your CPU settings in Windows to reduce overheating issues. Lowering the maximum setting helps prevent your CPU from reaching 100 percent usage. This also reduces higher temperatures. The idea is to find a comfortable medium between performance and temperature.
Go to “Start” or “Search” and type “Control Panel,” then open “Control Panel.”
Choose “Hardware and Sound -> Power Options -> Change Plan Setting -> Change Advanced Power Settings.”
Expand “Processor power management” and “Maximum processor state.” Change the percentages to 80 or 90. Then, see how your CPU temperature changes after a few days. Try to stay as close to 100 as possible. If you go too low, you’ll see a noticeable decline in performance.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Will simply keeping my case open help?
No. As strange as it sounds, a closed case actually works better. Otherwise, your fans are pulling too much dust and debris, which can result in higher CPU temperatures. Plus, it’s better for all your computer components to stay cleaner.
2. Could my CPU be failing?
Excessive heat can cause your CPU to fail. However, high CPU temperatures usually aren’t a sign that your CPU is about to die. Instead, you’ll see startup issues and random crashes.
But when a CPU gets too hot, your computer can crash too. If this happens, your CPU is likely still fine. You just need to focus on the above to reduce your CPU temperatures in the future.
3. Should I let my CPU cool before turning my computer back on?
If your computer shut down and feels hot, let it cool before you turn it back on. Otherwise, your CPU is just going to overheat again. Make a note of what you were doing to see if maybe you were asking too much of your computer. Or, investigate to see whether there are other issues, such as dirty fans, fans not working, lack of thermal paste, etc.
4. Should I replace my case?
If you have an older case that doesn’t provide much ventilation, you may want to consider upgrading to a new computer case. Some already have fans built-in, plus they may also have vented sides in addition to just the back. You’ll need to use some compressed air to clean them out more often, but they do cool significantly better.
Hopefully, your PC is in good shape now, but it can also be affected by dodgy Windows updates. See our guide for the latest Windows 10 update problems and how to fix them. Another vital health check is your hard drive, and we have you covered when monitoring your SSD or HDD health, too.
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