Just a few years ago, CPUs notoriously generated so much heat, it was common for a computer to overheat. Although PC’s are not so much in the spotlight these days laptops certainly are still being brought to us here at User2 on a regular basis having overheated due to lack of cooling.

So what exactly happens when a computer does overheat?

Best case it cuts out and cools down. A few minutes later you can turn it on again and probably use it  for a few minutes only for it to cut out again.

Worst case it can permanently damage components or become a potential fire hazard.

This PC above has an extremely bad (but not that uncommon) build up of dirt and dust. Not only is the CPU cooler clogged to the point where it no longer does anything other than provide a metal blanket for the CPU, but the power supply is dangerously choked also.

 It executes processes slower  – There are many reasons why a computer’s processes can slow down. Viruses, low disk space, too little memory, and too many open applications are the most publicized culprits. But if you hear a lot of whirring sound in the background at the same time that your computer slows down somewhat, then that means your fans are working double-time and it is highly possible heat is to blame.  

 It generates more noise – When your PC’s temperature climbs to critical levels, its built-in cooling system (primarily, the fans) will strive to bring it down. To do this, the system will have to ramp up the CPU and chassis fans RPM generating considerably more noise.  

 It exposes its components to critical temperatures – Practically all electronics components in your computer have maximum temperature ratings. If your PC’s cooling system fails to prevent heat from climbing, the temperature may breach critical levels and cause irreparable damage to sensitive parts.

But overheating is now largely a thing of the past for a standard office PC

That’s right. Except for really extreme situations, you no longer have to worry about the dangers we mentioned earlier especially if you purchased your computer only recently. However you are well advised to make sure, especially if you are a smoker that your system is cleaned every 4-6 months. A quick once over with an air can is usually all that is needed if you keep on top of things.

Nowadays, the new architecture uses much less wattage, so much less heat is generated. This allows Windows to slow down the CPU & case fans when things are cool (which is 99% of the time) so there is much less noise and dust build up nowadays. However, if for some reason things do overheat, Windows attempts to shut down before anything gets damaged.

Getting slightly more into the details, the thermal envelope for a current model Intel CPU is up to 90 deg, while  Windows shuts down at around 72 deg. That’s a wide enough window to prevent any kind of damage caused by mere heat alone.

Basically, nowadays you don’t have to worry about overheating much until your PC starts shutting down. If that happens, then you can check for dust. If you work in a hot sun room and you can hear your CPU fan getting louder regularly, then you might consider installing a case fan and cleaning the rest of the fans.

However, if you decide to install a gaming type graphics card (say, upwards of £150 worth) then your PC is going to be generating a lot more heat than your standard office PC. In this case we would recommend installing an added case fan at the same time as you upgrade your graphics card.

Basic PC cooling tips

Now, if you really want to cover all bases, here are some basic PC cooling tips:

●     Setup you PC in a cool place – Once you switch on your PC, it will naturally heat up. There’s no problem with that, for as long as the temp doesn’t reach critical levels and for as long as your computer can easily get rid of the heat to prevent a build-up. The lower the surrounding temp is compared to your PC, the faster heat can dissipate.

●     Keep the insides free from dust and other foreign objects – When dust and other foreign objects enter the computer case and settle on the various internal components they’ll be able to form a layer of insulation. That layer of insulation will prevent heat from leaving the components and cause a build-up of heat there. The most common of these is the use of laptops on beds, cushions or on your lap. They will just suck up fluff like a hoover.

●     Leave some space at the back of your PC to allow air to flow freely – In most cases, desktop computers only have one fan for blowing heat out. It’s the one in the power supply, which is located at the rear. If that fan is too close to the wall, the hot air won’t be able to escape easily.

●     Clean, clean, clean – The simplest way to keep your system as cool as it should be is to regularly clean it. Every 4-6 months for a PC and maybe every 3-4 for a laptop if it is used regularly. Dust buildup can not only effect the heat inside the machine but also is a contributing factor to issues such as fan bearings wearing out or in extreme cases stopping altogether.

This image above shows what is a common occurrence here a User2. A customers laptop has been used on a bed or sofa for a prolonged time and the exhaust port and heat sink have become completely clogged. Fortunately we managed to clean and repair this one.


Advanced PC cooling solutions (Overclocking)

Heat is the nemesis of overclocking. You see, overclocking generally entails an increase in voltage. This consequently increases the production of heat. Now, since your computer’s components were not designed for this extra heat, many of them can fail.

Even if Windows shuts down before critical levels are reached, it would be so annoying to let your system frequently shut down involuntarily.  Here are some solutions to prevent that from happening:

●     Upgrade your CPU fan – As an overclocker, the CPU is where most of your computer’s heat will be originating from. It is also one of the most expensive to replace, so make this your top priority. Your CPU’s built-in fan is designed for temperatures associated with normal operation, which certainly does not include overclocking.

●     Install a couple of PC case fans – A CPU fan will remove heat from your CPU but that heat may build up inside your computer’s case. To release heat from the entire computer, you will need a couple of case fans. One for moving cooler air in and the other for moving hotter air out.

●     Install component-specific fans – Although the CPU absolutely heats up much faster than any component in your computer, other components do heat up as well. Don’t forget that a graphics card also has a CPU. So if its a high end graphics card with a big CPU, then that’s compounding the potential problem.

Extreme PC cooling

Not many users will need to read this part. However, if in the extreme case that you wish to experiment with overclocking, and /or your going to be running applications that run the CPU at 100% (such as video encoding or gaming), then you may wish to install a larger heat pipe CPU cooler, water cooling kit or even a phase change unit.

Heat Pipe coolers are similar to the heat exchange radiators you see on air conditioners or car engines. Basically they utilize gas which cycles through condensation and gas phases, and circulate the heat away from the CPU.

Here is a common heat pipe cooler:

A water cooling kit is made up of tubes of liquid coolant and a transport system that will drive the fluid through those tubes much like a car radiator. Over clockers typically use these systems as they are able to dissipate heat from the CPU much more quickly than air cooling. And the faster you can get heat away, the more you can crank up the CPU frequency.

Typically these days closed loop basic water cooling kits can be had for as little as £60, even the cheapest of these will usually outperform higher end heat pipe coolers. However there are custom water cooling systems that can reach upwards of £300 quite easily but offer superb results.

Hopefully this will give you a small insight into computer cooling and why it is important. For 90% of our customers the standard cooler which comes with any CPU out of the factory will do just fine. just remember whether you are just word processing and browsing the internet or running a top end video editing system, keeping vents and cooling fans clean is one of the most important things.

If you think your PC or Laptop needs an internal clean they why not pop into one of our stores at Golden Acre or South Clerk St. Our staff will advise you on which products, tools and techniques are best suited to your machine. Alternatively we can physically clean your system from as little as £10 for PC’s and £30 for laptops both inside and out.



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