Troubleshooting And Preventing Computer Overheating

by Rod Dunne on August 24, 2010

in Articles, Performance

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Computer overheating can result in your hardware burning out and needing replacement. In less severe cases it will result in your computer running very slow.

Here, we’ll look at computer troubleshooting tools for identifying heat issues and simple ways of preventing these problems occurring.

The Dangers Of Computer Overheating

Heat problems can be due to external exposure to heat, internal venting problems or component damage. Some users may find their computer keeps turning off which can indicate that the BIOS has detected high CPU temperatures and forced a shutdown. You can often fix a slow computer simply by stopping the CPU from getting too hot.

If this problem is allowed to go on then there is the risk of:

  • CPU malfunction
  • Hard disk failure (and potential data loss)
  • Power supply failure.

Computer Troubleshooting – BIOS/Software

Before you can fix computer problems like these you need some metrics to establish what the heat levels/fan speeds are. Luckily, all modern desktops and laptops have heat sensors on the CPU and fan speed monitors that track these levels.

The settings can be viewed using the BIOS system menus. You can access the BIOS as the machine is booting (usually by hitting the delete key). Each BIOS is slightly different but you should look for a ‘monitoring’ sub-menu with entries for the CPU temperature and fan speeds.

There are also free monitoring tools that you can also use (e.g. HWMonitor, Real Temp or SpeedFan) to see these levels as your PC is running so may be more convenient than having to restart the PC to enter BIOS mode.

AMD/Intel has different recommended limits for their chips so each machine’s optimum setting will be different. As a general guideline though, most users should aim to keep the temperature at:

  • 40 degrees centigrade maximum when idling.
  • 50 degrees centigrade maximum when under a heavy processing load
  • Anything reaching 80 degrees is a severe overheating issue and you’ll probably see your computer keeps turning off as the BIOS/Operating System cannot operate properly.

Preventing Computer Overheating

You can fix computer overheating issues simply by doing the following maintenance checks on a regular basis.

1: Clean PC Internals Of Dust

It is worth opening the PC up on a regular basis and cleaning out the build up of dust inside. This dust acts like a blanket on components raising heat levels. Always wear an anti-static wrist band when opening up a PC and only use a screwdriver and cans of compressed air to clean components. Do not use any cleaning liquids (as this could lead to corrosion or shorting-out electronics).

Focus on cleaning the fan on the CPU heat sink, fan filters and the fan embedded in the power supply. Clean off fan blades and any air inlets too.

2: Reduce External Exposure To Heat

It is one thing cleaning the PC to stop computer overheating, but you also need to reduce the amount of warm air being sucked into the PC. Make sure the desktop/laptop is not placed near a radiator or other heat source. Laptop users should also make sure the air inlets on the underside are not being blocked (e.g. if placed on an uneven desk).

Our preventive maintenance checklist article provides more hardware and software checks that you should be running on a monthly basis.

Computer Troubleshooting – Component Damage

If you still find your computer keeps turning off or the monitored levels remain high then you need to consider component damage.

  • Start with the fans. Make sure monitored fan speeds exist (i.e. the fan has not stopped). Check the fan for blade damage/chips and the blades revolve freely (i.e. bearings have not seized up).
  • Make sure the heat sink on the CPU is in good condition and not cracked or missing any pieces.
  • Check all cables to/from fans are in a good state (no signs of heat damage), that all cables are securely connected, with no pin damage.

If faulty components are found then they should be replaced without delay – do not continue to use the PC. If you are not technically comfortable changing fans/heat sinks then a PC repair should be well capable of helping.

Hopefully, this article has shown you how to keep your computer from overheating. With regular PC maintenance it should be possible to prolong the component lifespan and avoid the pitfalls of your PC having a severe melt down.

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