Overheating can damage the vital components in a computer. Modern computers try to protect themselves from overheating by shutting down before damage can occur.
If this happens to you, don’t ignore it – shutting down can be an early warning sign of serious damage to come if the cause of overheating is not fixed.
It can create software problems too – just like powercuts, sudden shutdowns may cause corruption in Windows files (e.g. the registry) and stop Windows starting up.
An overheating computer will typically shut down or reboot (restart) by itself – in more serious cases this may happen just a few seconds after the computer starts up.
Once the computer has restarted it will likely stay on for even less time (because it is already hot to begin with) e.g. if it shuts down after an hour and you restart immediately, it may only stay on for a few minutes – because the cooling fans can’t dissipate the heat quickly enough.
Other signs may include random BSOD (‘Blue Screen Of Death’) crashes or increased noise (as fans in the computer have to spin more quickly to try to cool it down).
Using HWMonitor To Check If A Computer Is Overheating
HWMonitor (Hardware Monitor) is a free program that reads the main health sensors in computers. It displays the temperatures and speed of fans, as well as voltages and battery power/health. The program handles the most common sensor chips and can read the thermal sensors found in modern processors, as well has hard drive and video card (GPU) temperatures.
Download the portable (.zip) version of HWMonitor from the developers here – the portable version is highly recommended as it requires no installation. It is available in 32bit or 64bit versions.
[Note: the installation version may contain additional software e.g. the Ask.com toolbar/search engine will be installed automatically if you do not opt out.]
Unzip (extract) the portable zip file and run the HWMonitor.exe program – after a short delay, the Hardware Monitor program opens. The current data is displayed in real time (Value) as well as the Minimum (Min) and Maximum (Max) values since the program was opened – this lets you track how temperatures change during use.
An example is shown below:
What Do The Values Mean?
Detailed interpretation of the values may require you to search manufacturer or user forums to find the normal (and maximum) operating temperatures of the components in your own computer.
However, a general guide to the more important values is as follows:
CPUFANIN0 – the CPU (processor) fan – should be a positive value. A value of 0 may be a faulty reading but visually check if the fan is spinning.
SYSFANIN – the system fan – normally a positive value but not all computers will display a reading.
AMD CPUs typically run hotter than Intel CPUs. Newer CPUs typically run cooler than older designs.
Intel and AMD guidelines for maximum temperatures under full load vary from 75 to 90 degrees depending on the CPU design but, ideally, it should be 30 – 60 degrees max
Hard Drive Temperatures
Vary by hard drive but typically should be 25 – 40 degrees. Over 50 degrees should be considered dangerous.
Graphics Card Temperatures
Vary hugely depending on the card. 40 – 70 degrees is common.
No Data In HWMonitor?
If HWMonitor does not recognize your components or their sensors it can’t report on their temperatures.
A good alternative is Speccy which I reviewed here – although primarily a system info tool to report what components are in a computer, Speccy also reports temperature data for many components.
If you are unable to start Windows, most computers display basic temperature info in the BIOS – usually accessed by pressing Delete or F2 button on startup.
Also consider the most obvious physical signs:
- PC – from the outside of the case, is the power supply too hot to touch. Are any of the metal plates at the back (especially if there is a separate graphics card) too hot to touch?
- Laptop – does the bottom/side of the laptop feel like it will burn through your trousers…
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it is likely that the computer is overheating.
HWMonitor is a useful free program to check if a computer is overheating – it can report and track temperatures of key components with compatible sensors.