While most modern computer components can deal with a lot of heat in an efficient manner, overheating still poses a lot of dangers for your precious PC. For anyone who is investing hundreds to thousands of dollars into a computer, knowing how to stop your PC from overheating is incredibly important.
Certain components of a computer overheat more than others, for example, a powerful CPU or graphics card, with high TDP (thermal design power) is going to output more heat than your motherboard or power supply, so these components usually come with cooling systems to take care of this. The issue is these components output that heat directly into your PC case, raising the ambient temperature of the overall PC and causing issues elsewhere.
In this article, we are going to cover what the main causes of an overheating computer can be, how to keep track of the temperatures of your components, and ultimately show you how to tackle these problems head-on.
What Causes A Computer To Overheat?
Some of the answers to this question are specific to individual components whereas other causes can affect your entire system. High temperatures shorten the lifespan of your components, so identifying the potential causes for overheating is the best place to start.
As mentioned earlier, most, if not all, components in a computer produce heat and this expelled heat can raise the internal temperatures inside your case. If you have been facing recent performance issues or the odd random shut down, this could be down to a specific component facing cooling issues.
Let’s look at how individual components can affect the heat inside your system and then move on to the main threat to anyone’s PC.
Modern CPUs from both AMD and Intel can take a hell of a lot of heat before it starts to harm the processor but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sufficiently be cooling your CPU. Most processors come with a stock cooler and while these aren’t the best, they do an effective job of protecting your processor against heat. If you have overclocked your CPU this is where some issues can arise, as stock coolers are really only designed to tackle the base clock of your processor. If you are committed to overclocking your system, you may want to replace your stock cooler with an aftermarket fan or liquid cooling solution.
You may be running your CPU at its base clock and still see a rise in temperatures or dips in performance and this could be down to the thermal paste layer between your processor and cooler. Over time, the thermal paste will dry out so it is best to replace the thermal paste properly every few years and if this is something you have never done, it is a great place to start to prevent your CPU from being damaged.
An often overlooked possible problem can sometimes be with a poorly fitted CPU cooler, so whenever you are building a new system or replacing the thermal paste, make sure you install your cooler as instructed.
When it comes to gaming PCs, a graphics card is generally going to be the component that outputs the most heat. Aftermarket graphics cards feature one, two, or three fans, to actively cool the card as it tries to tackle your AAA games. You may have felt a large burst of warm air after running a game for some time and while this is normal, you are going to need to make sure your case has at least one fan to get some airflow and remove the hot air.
Most high-end components and specifically graphics cards, use passive cooling to give you the best of both worlds from an acoustic and cooling perspective. The fans on your graphics card will only start to spin when the GPU reaches a certain temperature but this is something some manufacturers will allow you to change, meaning you can optimize your settings to get rid of heat sooner if you don’t mind the noise of the fans.
The Main Threat To Your PC - Dust
Dust, dog hair, spiders, whatever finds its way into your case will raise the temperatures significantly over time and can cause some real damage to your components. Let’s not be too dramatic, your system will still work but you can be sure your components will never last as long as a periodically cleaned computer.
Even with high-end cases featuring dust filters, the particles still find their way into your system due to the vast amounts of air being sucked in. Dust will stick to everything but usually will find its way onto every fan inside your case. The dust can clog the fans, stopping them from rotating at their advertised RPM speeds and in some extreme cases, stopping them from moving altogether (eww).
Dust is one of those compromises we need to make to have sufficient airflow but it doesn’t have to be the end of your PC, it can be easily beaten.
But I’ve cleaned my PC? It is a dust-free environment. Well, it sounds like you could have a poor airflow configuration or need to increase the number of fans in your setup. A lot of systems can run just fine with a single 120mm fan, so this isn’t the first stop when we are looking into how to stop your PC from overheating.
Fans simply remove stagnant air inside your case, replacing it with fresh air from your room. Constant airflow helps keep the ambient temperature of your entire system down and has a positive impact on individual components too.
Keeping Track Of Temperatures
You can check the temperature of specific components with a plethora of downloadable tools off the web. You can, of course, do this in the system BIOS, but downloading a tool is a much simpler way and saves you from restarting your system/ booting BIOS, which many newcomers to PCs find a little daunting.
System monitoring tools are often free and display the temperature of your CPU cores, graphics cards, and other components along with the minimum and maximum temps they are running at.
Free Windows programs like HWMonitor, which display these various temperatures are the best place to start but double-check the hardware your system has is supported by the software.
How To Stop Your PC Overheating
How do I stop my computer from overheating you might ask? Well, in this section we are going to run through the various solutions (some of which are above) in a quick and easy to read manner, so you can get back to your games as soon as possible.
As mentioned above, poor airflow leaves you with stagnant air inside your case, raising the ambient temperature and negatively affecting the entire system. This can be caused by a lack of fans or with too many obstacles in the way, such as cables! If cable management is something that has always taken a back seat with your builds, it is time to appreciate the power of proper management. Make sure you have run your cables efficiently out the back of your system, giving you much more space inside your interior for air to flow.
To assist in the airflow, you are going to want to ensure your case has the side panels ON. Taking a side panel off changes the pressure and makes your fans less effective at doing their job. Furthermore, having gaps in your case, like a missing side panel, will allow dust, dog hair, and all-sorts to go inside your case, further raising the temps!
The lack of airflow could be due to really old, clogged case fans. Make sure they are clean or replace the case fans in your system to start pumping fresh air through the computer. If you only have one case fan pushing air in, try installing another to pull the hot air out, and if you already have a push-pull configuration try adding a third. Of course, at some point, it becomes less effective but if you have never considered airflow or have poor quality fans, this is a cheap and easy way to reduce the effects of your PC overheating.
Clean Your PC
This step seems pretty obvious but how often do you periodically clear dust out of your PC? If the computer is overheating, then probably not enough. Remember the fans inside your case (case fans and component fans) suck in vasts amounts of dust and hair, some times clogging up and generally filling the interior of the PC with dust. Dust is the enemy, so periodically cleaning it out is a very effective step.
Whether it's just dust or a collection of pet hair, the most effective way to clean your PC’s internal components and space is to use a can of compressed air. Some may use a vacuum cleaner but the safest way to get all that grime out of your case is to simply spray it away with compressed air. Take your time to clear each fan of its gunk and you are fast on the way to happier components.
Upgrade Your CPU Fan
Are you still using that six-year-old stock fan that came with your CPU? While it does a sufficient job of cooling the processor, you can do better. Aftermarket fan coolers come with larger heat sinks, which transfer heat in a much more efficient way and can keep your CPU running at lower, safer temps for longer.
You could remove the hot air of your processor from the equation altogether if you went for an all-in-one liquid cooler instead. Liquid coolers aren’t particularly better for the job (unless you are overclocking) but they use radiators that are screwed onto the extremities of your case, removing the heat output from your case interior, lowering the ambient temperatures, and basically stopping your entire PC from overheating.
If you have overclocked your system, you are probably aware this pushes your components to their limits and gives you the best performance for your buck but it also raises the temperatures of your PC significantly.
Overclocking has a dramatic effect on a computer overheating, so if your PC is no longer able to handle it, it could be time to pack it in.
How to prevent your PC from overheating has never been easier but the important thing to do is keep track of those temps with the tools available. Monitoring your CPU and GPU temps give you an early warning if something is starting to go wrong with a fan, lack of thermal paste, or a build-up of dust.
You should periodically clean your PC, at the very least once a year but the more regularly, the happier your components will be. Don’t forget to replace the thermal paste on your CPU every few years if the temps start to creep up. Lastly, have you considered the fact your current PC case may just offer poor airflow? Look for upgrades, there are plenty of cases out there that champion airflow over everything else and can provide you with a very low ambient temperature if that is something that is important to you.
In any case (no pun intended) stopping your PC from overheating is mostly down to common sense and if you want to squeeze every last drop of performance out of your system, you should start to take it seriously.