The CPU temperature: How high can it get and how can you monitor it?

The processor or CPU (Central Processing Unit) is one of the most important parts in PCs, technical devices such as smartphones and DVD players, and in programmable washing machines and dishwashers. The CPU is effectively the computer’s brain, as its main task consists of processing data and relaying commands to the responsible performance units. This occurs with a certain degree of clock speed that is crucial in determining how quickly these commands can be processed. The higher the clock speed, the faster the performance unit operates.

However, a high clock speed also causes high temperatures. If a lot of CPU-intensive processes are running at the same time, it’s not surprising that the CPU temperature rises considerably. This should not be alarming as long as it is only temporary and can be attributed to processor usage. If, however, you observe that the CPU temperature is too high regularly, you should find out what the problem is in order to avoid potential damage. For this purpose, there are many tools available that help to display the current CPU temperature and also depict the course of data curves over a longer period of time.

What is the CPU temperature?

CPU temperature defines a value that specifies the processor’s temperature. However, things aren’t quite that simple because a CPU is made up of various components which are governed by different temperatures. Sensors are located in the processor cores and on the surface’s metal cover - the so-called “integrated heat spreader” (IHS). In general, the temperature of the processor core is considerably higher and more conclusive than the temperature that is measured on the surface.

Note

The temperature on the heat spreader (IHS) is actually only measured when the computer is manufactured so that it can be included in the performance specification. All later IHS temperatures are the result of calculations and thus only approximate values.

Depending on the manufacturer, the temperatures are either displayed separately or summarized as average values (e.g. core temperature and surface temperature). Yet, these values are not necessarily comparable because recording methods can differ and the calculation of estimated values can vary. If you want to estimate whether the CPU temperature is normal or within a critical range, it is extremely important to know which make was installed.

Tip

If you’re uncertain about your computer’s processor model, you can find out all the necessary information with the CPU-Z freeware. The tool not only specifies the manufacturer and processor type, it also provides data on other features such as numbers for cores, clock speed, voltage, etc.

How to get a readout of the CPU temperature

The information on the model and performance range form the basis for assessing the CPU temperature. In order to evaluate it, you have various tools to choose from. Windows itself doesn’t provide this information. In Windows, you can review your current CPU usage using Task Manager (use the “top” command in Linux) or check its course over the previous 60 seconds. You can also review which running programs and processes are forming part of current CPU usage.

As previously mentioned, each computer is equipped with temperature sensors that constantly monitor the temperature of the individual components in order to avoid overheating. If you would like to access this information to get a readout of the CPU temperature, you won’t be able to get around having to install additional programs. The best-known programs for this purpose are Core Temp, HwiNFO and AIDA64. The first two are freeware. Users need to acquire a license to use AIDA64 if they wish to continue to use it after 30 days. All three programs not only display the CPU temperature, but also record the temperature variations.

If you prefer not to install additional tools, you can get a readout of the CPU temperature in BIOS. However, in doing so, you must take into account that the values shown will be higher than they are in the Windows or Linux operating systems. This is because energy consumption is not regulated downward in BIOS.

What is a normal CPU temperature?

To be able to determine if the CPU temperature is normal or one, you must familiarize yourself with the “normal value” or tolerance range of your PC. This is not all that simple, because external conditions such as the PC’s location or the room temperature can have an effect on temperature. The specific processor type, however, will play the biggest role. For this reason, the following values are just a rough guide for estimation:

  • low processor usage (in standard operation): approximately 30 to 50 °C (86 to 122 °F)
  • intense usage through programs that require high processing performance: up to 95 °C (up to 203 °F)
  • the maximum temperature, whenever possible, should not exceed 100 °C (212 °F)

Processors can endure very high temperatures. The 100-degree Celsius mark may even be exceeded briefly (with new processors, up to 103 °C is possible) without the CPU being damaged. Values around the limit, however, shorten the product lifespan, as the individual components are highly sensitive to heat. Though this sounds dramatic, it rarely applies to the average user. That’s because high-performance users such as gamers or graphic designers tend to replace parts to ensure their PC runs fast despite performing high-CPU tasks.

Is it possible to lower the CPU temperature?

The average PC users won’t have to think about lowering the CPU temperature because the operating system normally regulates the CPU temperature on its own. The CPU is curbed as soon as a threshold temperature previously defined by the manufacturer has been reached. This means that the clock rate is reduced, thus producing less heat until the temperature is within the tolerance range.

Things are a little different when a user has decided to overclock the CPU in order to achieve better processing performance and accelerate the processes that are running. Gamers tend to overclock their PCs to ensure that online games run smoothly. In this case, the temperature can be temporarily reduced by opening the PC casing or using external equipment such as fans. As a result, the primary fan is assisted in doing its job. The heat can be evacuated quicker and it becomes easier for cooling airflow to reach the overheated components. But this method is only a temporary solution. It should not be used as a long-term solution to lower CPU temperature.

If you regularly use CPU-intensive programs that drive up the CPU temperature, you can use certain programs to regulate the PC fan speed, and in this way customize it as is appropriate. An even more efficient option would be to install an active cooling system (e.g. a water-cooling system). However, it’s a good idea to take into consideration whether these measures are adequate for your needs or your CPU’s performance. Sometimes it makes more sense to retrofit a more high-performance processor.

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