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Your central processing unit, often shortened to CPU, is the central piece of your computer. It has to do millions of calculations every second for you to have a seamless experience. As such, it can get very hot very fast. Your CPU has to be cooled at all times. If it has no way to dissipate heat quickly and efficiently, it will overheat and shut down in a few seconds. If it is an older CPU, it could continue to heat up until something bad happens.
Even in normal working conditions, your CPU will get very hot, and sometimes your cooler will not be able to catch up, especially if it is an old one. This will result in thermal throttling, which is what the CPU does to prevent overheating. What that means for you is that you will experience stutters and freezes. Overheating can also cause the CPU to become unstable, resulting in crashes, BSODs, and lost documents.
The only way to prevent overheating issues is to reduce the CPU temperature. This will not only make your system more stable but also perform better by reducing or eliminating thermal throttling. Thankfully, there are many ways to do it. So, here is a guide on how to reduce CPU temperature.
Clean Your Computer
One of the easiest ways to instantly lower your CPU temperature is to clean your computer. You can reduce GPU and motherboard temperatures this way as well. You can clean your computer quite easily using nothing more than a can of compressed air and a face mask that everyone has nowadays (thanks, COVID-19).
Here is a step-by-step on how to clean your PC:
- Turn off your computer and unplug all the cables.
- Place your computer on a desk or floor. It is best to take it outside.
- Remove both side panels. The exact mechanism varies from case to case, but typical cases have two thumbscrews holding each panel in place. Simply unscrew them and slide the panel back to remove them.
- Put on your face mask and any other protective gear that you have to prevent dust from getting into your airways.
- Grab the can of compressed air and blow off all dust that you see. Make sure to pay extra attention to the CPU cooler, which sits on the top part of your motherboard. Clean all the fins with compressed air as well as the fan blades.
- If your CPU cooler is extra dirty, you can take it off and do some additional cleaning using a soft bristle toothbrush, isopropyl alcohol, and paper towels. If you do, make sure to let it dry completely before putting it back on.
While this is a great method, you will likely need to combine it with the following step to achieve a significant CPU temperature reduction. Also, if you are taking off the CPU cooler, the following step is going to be mandatory as reusing old thermal paste is not possible.
Change the Thermal Paste
This is pretty much a follow-up step to the previous one. Sure, cleaning your computer is always a good idea, but changing the thermal paste is one of the cheapest and best ways to significantly reduce CPU temperature. If your CPU is running at around 85°C, expect it to drop to around 80°C once you are done with this step.
Thermal paste is important because it allows the metal part of the CPU cooler and the heat spreader of the CPU to make contact. This is because even though the metal surfaces look smooth, they have microscopic imperfections that create gaps between the two. If you use your cooler without thermal paste, it will be as if there were no cooler mounted in the first place.
Even high-quality thermal compounds are very cheap and easy to come by, so try to get the best that you can. No matter which one you buy, you will significantly reduce the CPU temperatures, especially if you have never done it before. Ideally, you should change your thermal paste every year to have optimal CPU temperatures. Doing it by yourself is super-easy and much cheaper than having it done by a professional in an electronics store.
Here’s how it’s done:
- After unplugging all cables, removing the left side panel, and laying the computer horizontally, you will have to remove the CPU cooler. There are many different mechanisms used for holding the cooler in place. Whichever cooler you have, first unplug the CPU fan from the fan header on the motherboard.
- For AMD, you simply have to unscrew all the screws holding the CPU cooler in place and remove it. Coolers like the AMD Wraith Prism stock cooler have to be unlatched, though. On Intel, you have to turn each pushpin 90 degrees clockwise and pull each pin up. After that, remove the cooler and you are done. Most aftermarket coolers will either use latches or screws.
- Once removed, take some isopropyl alcohol and a dry cloth or a paper towel. The alcohol is optional, but it will make it much easier. Slowly and carefully clean both your CPU and the base of your CPU cooler as much as you can using circular motions.
- Apply the new thermal paste. Only apply a thin vertical line or a pea-sized blob in the center. Using too much is almost as bad as using none at all.
- Mount the CPU cooler back in place. Once the base has made contact with the CPU, do not lift it because you will introduce air bubbles that will reduce the efficiency of the thermal paste.
- Plug in the CPU fan.
- Close the case and plug back in all the cables.
This step will significantly reduce your CPU temperatures. However, if your CPU cooler is old or you just want better thermals for maximum stability and some overclocking, there are many other things that you can do.
Upgrade the CPU Cooler
Almost any aftermarket cooler is better than the stock cooler that came inside the box together with your CPU. This is especially true if you are using an Intel CPU. While you can go for a high-end liquid cooler that costs $200, most people are not ready to spend that kind of money. You can and you should go with an air cooler if you want to have the best performance for the money.
Thankfully, there are tons of different aftermarket coolers to choose from. Get the best that you can afford and make sure that it is from a reputable brand. Cooler Master, Arctic, Noctua, Corsair, and Thermaltake all make some great CPU coolers that will guarantee your CPU is properly cooled. If you already have a good CPU cooler but still see high CPU temperatures, then increasing airflow by following the next two steps will have some impact.
Clean up Your Cables
If you are one of those people that plugs everything in without paying much attention to your cable management, then it is high time you changed that. With all those cables obstructing airflow inside your computer, no wonder your CPU is overheating. The laziest and easiest method is to simply move all the cables away from the fans. You can use Velcro straps and zip ties to bundle the cables together and then move them out of the way.
If your case has cable management holes, then make use of them. Route all the cables that you can through them, such as the 24-pin cable for the motherboard and the 8-pin for the CPU. If your PC has a PSU shroud, tuck all the cables that you don’t need behind it. If you have a modular power supply, plug out all the cables that do not connect to anything to further reduce clutter.
Doing some cable management probably will not do any wonders for your CPU temperature, but it can improve airflow and lower the temperatures inside the case by around 3-4°C. If anything, your computer will look much better and cleaner once you are done. You will also have more space in your case that will make it easier to do the next step.
Add More Case Fans
Your CPU cooler needs good airflow to dissipate the heat generated by the CPU. Assuming that your cables are now out of the way, the only thing that is left to do is to add more case fans. Just like with the CPU cooler, you should get the best that you can afford. Whether having a ton of cheap fans or a few high-quality ones is more beneficial is still being debated.
There is also the question of air pressure. Positive, balanced, and negative air pressure simply describe how much air is coming in compared to how much is being expelled. Tests have shown that negative air pressure has the best results, but there are some benefits to having balanced pressure too. It is up to you to decide.
We would advise that you have at least two exhaust fans and one intake fan. You can really feel the difference between cheap and high-quality fans, so try to get some fans that come from a well-known brand.
Having RGB lights all over the place is nice, but having good airflow is nicer. This does not mean that RGB fans are bad by any means but expect to pay a slight premium for the lights with any brand.
But what if you can’t even add more fans in the first place? Then the next step is for you.
Get a Better PC Case
If your current case is too small and you have nowhere to mount your case fans, then you should probably get a new case. This will greatly improve the airflow of your computer, resulting in lower CPU temperatures. You can kill two birds with one stone by getting a high-quality case that also comes with some high-quality case fans. Some brands are very generous and give you three to four fans, which will probably save you some money and installation time.
Generally speaking, getting the largest case will result in the best airflow. However, most people do not have enough space on their desks already. You can make a compromise and get a mid-tower. Just make sure that it is very spacious, looks good, and has all the features you are looking for.
Reducing CPU Temperature on a Laptop
If you are using a laptop, getting a case, or adding more fans inside is not really an option. However, you can get a cooler for your laptop that essentially does the same thing. The cooler will especially come in useful if you use your laptop for gaming. It will greatly lower both the CPU and GPU temperatures. If the cooler makes it uncomfortable for you to use the keyboard, you can plug in an external one and the issue is solved. The same goes for the display.
In addition to getting a laptop cooler, taking it apart to clean it from dust and change the thermal paste is also a good idea. Since taking apart a laptop is much harder than a regular desktop computer, having it done by a professional makes more sense. If you want to do it yourself, find a tutorial on how to do it for your specific model.
Speed up the Fans
This step does not cost any money, but it certainly costs a lot of noise. Cranking up your fans. The best idea is to create a custom fan curve in the motherboard’s BIOS. Try to make it so that the fans do not make too much noise when idling but allow them to hit 100% at around 75-80°C. Most people agree that constant changes in fan speed are more audible and annoying than having them run at 100% the whole time, so take that into consideration when making your fan curve.
Note that having them run at high speeds all the time will shorten the fans’ lifespan. If your BIOS does not support custom fan curve settings, you can probably do it via a third-party program. Change both the case fan and the CPU fan speeds. The former is for better airflow and the latter is for lower CPU temperatures.
How Hot Should the CPU Be?
Your CPU idle temperatures will constantly fluctuate, but they should never exceed 60°C. When gaming or running intensive workloads, the CPU temperature should be in the 75-80°C range. Any hotter than that and your CPU will start throttling and acting up, resulting in crashes.
If you live in an area that gets very hot or your room is generally very warm, consider turning on the air conditioner or moving your computer somewhere else in the house. The ambient temperatures play a huge role in CPU temperatures, which is why you may have experienced frequent crashes, throttling, and BSODs only during the summer.
Even if your room is not very hot, the computer will generate a ton of heat if you are running intensive tasks, so you have to counteract it by reducing the temperature inside the room through other means.
What Happens When the CPU Overheats?
If your CPU hits temperatures that it considers dangerous, it will automatically shut off itself to prevent any damage from happening. Some older CPUs do not have this feature and your CPU can get toasted and bring the rest of the computer along for the ride.
If the CPU is constantly running hot, which usually means above 85°C, then its lifespan will be significantly reduced. It can also heat up the surrounding area and kill the motherboard as well. Since the motherboard does not have many heatsinks and is not designed to withstand high temperatures, it can easily get damaged.
The best-case scenario that you will see when your CPU overheats is that it will simply throttle down, which means that it will reduce its clock speed to achieve better thermals. This will not make the computer crash and you will not lose any files, but you will see stutters and performance issues. You can reduce or eliminate throttling by making the CPU run cooler.
The CPU works hard to make sure that you can do your work, play games, watch movies, browse the Internet, and so much more. All that processing power requires some decent cooling. There are many ways to reduce CPU temperature, most of which are not expensive or even completely free.
Cleaning your computer, changing the thermal paste, and doing some cable management are the most basic steps that will result in significantly better CPU temperatures. If you want to take it up a notch, consider doing some upgrades to your CPU cooler, case, and case fans.
If you still see high temperatures, you can create a custom fan curve and force your fans to speed up at high temperatures. Preventing overheating will result in better performance and stability.