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.
Signs Of A Computer Overheating
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.
Overheating can create software problems too – just like powercuts, such sudden shutdowns may cause corruption in Windows files (e.g. the registry) and stop Windows starting 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 of overheating 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).
In a laptop, you may notice that the underneath becomes very hot and sometimes any exposed metal on the side (e.g. a VGA socket) may actually become too hot to touch…
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 as hard drive and video card (GPU) temperatures.
Download the portable (Zip) version of HWMonitor (not the paid Pro version) from the left hand side of the developer’s site 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. Whereas the Portable zip version doesn’t]
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 HWMonitor Values Mean?
Detailed interpretation of the values in HWMonitor 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 you should try to 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 CPU 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 certainly be considered dangerous.
Graphics Card Temperatures
Vary hugely depending on the card. 40 – 70 degrees is most common.
No Temperatures Shown In HWMonitor?
If HWMonitor does not recognize your components (or their sensors) then it can’t report on their temperatures.
A good alternative to try 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 then you won’t be able to use either of these tools – but most computers display basic temperature info in the BIOS – often accessed by pressing the Delete or F2 button on startup (or check with your manufacturer to find out which key to use).
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’s going to burn a hole in 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.