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.
So how hot is too hot for your CPU? How hot should it get? CPU operating temperature should ideally run between 30°C and 40°C, with some going as high as 70°C and 80°C. Anything above that, especially in the 90°C zone, and you’re asking for throttling and failure to occur. Here you’ll learn to identify causes and solutions for an overheating CPU.
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.
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 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.
Too Much Dust
Cleaning your computer out can do wonders for the temperature gauges. If your fan speed sounds too high, you may need to open up 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.
Heatsink Incorrectly Seated
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.
Invest in a New Heatsink/CPU Cooler
A CPU cooler keeps your chip cool by pulling heat up from the CPU and towards 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. So 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.
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.
Here’s a quick guide on how to apply thermal paste to a CPU:
- To check if your CPU needs new thermal paste, locate the heatsink and remove it from the processor. Wipe off any excess paste and squeeze a pea-sized amount of paste onto the processor. Place the heatsink back on the processor (which will evenly spread the paste outward) and monitor the temperature over a few days using Speccy.
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 favourite here at MTE.
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.
Hopefully, your PC is in good shape now, but it can also be affected by dodgy Windows 10 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 for monitoring your SSD or HDD health, too.