Temperature?!? Are ya kidding me? Yes, and no I am not kidding. Nor does it need an Ibuprofen. It just needs your or a technician’s attention. This will be in fact part of my book “Computer Science in Plain English”, but I feel the need to share this here and now as well. It turns out people do not have a clear or any knowledge of heat or temperature when it comes to computers. Laptop owners do realize that at times their laps end up slow-cooked after 3 hours of tweeting, pinteresting, facebooking and whatnot, but few seem to realize what’s really happening there. The same thing about desktop users, though, in their case it’s much less obvious since they don’t keep the case on their laps, so there’s really no sign of knowing if there’s anything overheating inside the “big ol’ box”. Or is there…?
It turns out there are signs that show overheating. The worst one is smoke. If you see that, don’t even dream of using that computer any more. Smoked computer = no computer. Go get another one. The next sign is a computer constantly restarting. Some (most) BIOS chips on the main-board are smart enough to detect when the temperature is dangerously high, so they’ll restart the entire machine. However if this keeps on happening, you’ll end up with a pretty much unusable computer. The last and the less obvious sign is your computer running slow. No smoke, no restarts, just running slow. The cause of a slow running computer is hard to detect, but it does pay to check the temperature. The same symptoms go for laptops as well, the only difference being that laptops are even more susceptible to temperature related failures and finally death.
So, what causes high temperatures? Electricity flowing around your computer in itself produces a huge amount of heat. For that heat not to destroy the electronics, we use heatsinks and fans. Now, that’s all nice and dandy you say, what’s the problem then? It’s one word. DUST. Don’t laugh. Dust can kill a computer. Dust killed many computers before, and yours might be the next one. With all those fans running there, dust will start accumulating inside the computer or laptop. Impressive amounts I might add. If dust sits on a hot surface for long enough, it actually burns onto it. The fans themselves get heavy and inefficient because of dust, and they might even fail altogether. Very dangerous. Airflow gets worse and worse every week, until your computer will reach critical temperatures, especially your CPU (processor) and GPU (graphics card). You see, dust is in the air. Always. No matter how clean your house is, dust is in the air. And it is heavier than the air so it will eventually sit on something. Fans get air from outside, aka they get air with dust. And that’s how you get dust into your computer. That is one of the reasons why Power Source Units fail so often. It’s one of the dustiest places in a computer. Let an engineer open up one for you after using it for 3 years and you’ll see the 1-2 mm thick dark burnt dust all over the PSU. Horrible scene. Death is black. So is dust. You do the math…
As if the dust issue wasn’t enough, there’s another one affecting laptop users. It’s funny really, but laptops are not really for lap-top use. Or at least not if you want them to last or work properly. Again, it has to do with air-flow. Laptops already run hot being all crammed up in a small casing with a few holes here and there. By letting it sit on your lap you’re actually blocking the air-flow. Not a good idea. Temperatures will instantly rise, and your laptop will be forced to run at dangerously high temperatures. Avoid this by all means. Get a cooling pad. They’re quite cheap and comfortable to use.
You might ask yourself now, ok but how can I really find out what the temperature of my computer is? Nothing simpler than that. All you need is a little diagnostic tool lots of technicians and engineers use. There are many, but I will give you a link to the one that is free to use. It is called SpeedFan and it is freely downloadable from here or here. All you need to do is download it and install it. It’s a simple next-next-finish process. After that you run it and it will show all the different temperatures in your computer, CPU, Hard Drive, GPU, etc. It will even let you know whether that particular temperature is considered to be an optimal one or overheating. A small note on that. If for example you see 45 C being green as in optimal, then 46 C flaming red, aka overheating, do not panic. Obviously from 45 to 46 it cannot become dangerously hot, so use some common sense here as well. From experience I can say that a plus 10-15 C above the optimal temperature is still acceptable. However if you see one of your components going from 45 to 75, please DO panic and call a technician. Also it is good to test the temperatures at idle state (when you just have your desktop open), and also under stress (when you watch a movie, do some browsing, editing a photo). When under stress you’ll see higher numbers, than you would see in idle state. If your computer is running hot in idle state, don’t even bother stressing it, you’re just risking a total failure. If in idle state everything looks ok, stress it up, do stuff, let SpeedFan run in the background, see where you’ll temperatures will be in 15 minutes.
Now, is there any way to avoid overheating? If it’s a laptop, make sure you’re not blocking the airflow. If it’s a desktop, try not to keep it on the floor. The lower the case is, the more dust gets into it. That’s really all you, as a user, can do. I do not advise you to open the case of your desktop, and start hoovering it, unless you really know what you’re doing. Nor do I recommend opening up your laptop hoping you’ll get the dust out somehow. That’s something that a qualified technician or engineer will have to do.