An overheated computer is dangerous!

Yes, an overheated computer can be dangerous due to a number of factors. First of all, the most obvious is data loss, because excessive heat can easily damage components, such as the processor, RAM, the hard drive, video card, etc. When components fail you are susceptible to losing access to your data because the computer won’t boot up again, but the worst-case scenario is that you lose your hard drive and all of its contents, which could be disastrous especially if you don’t back up your data regularly.

How can I cool down my computer?

There are several ways to cool your computer down and to extend its life by keeping it running cooler and safer. You  have likely heard of many of these tips before in some form or another, but they are important nonetheless, and since you’re reading this article I can assume that you need immediate help, so please take it all in and follow through.

What is the hottest component in a computer?

The hottest component in a computer is the processor (or CPU). Both Intel and AMD processors have a maximum temperature rating around 176°F (80°C), but a processor should never run that hot for any length of time. A computer should be running below 131°F (55°C) when it’s under full load, and it should be below 104°F (40°C) when the computer is sitting and idling. In fact, an overheated CPU can easily catch fire and maybe even burn down your home or business in a worst-case scenario!

What is my current CPU temperature?

Advanced users can usually see the current processor temperature by rebooting the computer and accessing the BIOS, but doing so is inconvenient and beyond the scope of this article. An easier way to monitor your system temperature is by using free software such as SpeedFan. There are plenty of other utilities too, but always make sure that you’re not downloading spyware or viruses instead of actual monitoring software.

Monitor room temperature and relative humidity

Large companies that host server farms have to closely monitor room temperatures and humidity levels at all times to ensure that all of their servers will continue to function properly. Following by example, your computer will function best if it’s in a room with average to mild temperature and humidity levels, and maintaining those levels is important.

You can buy digital clocks with built-in temperature and humidity gauges, these are affordable and very easy to set up, they’re very handy to keep near a computer so that you can monitor its environment. In fact, digital weather clocks that have wireless outside sensors tend to have these features, so you could use a weather clock to monitor your computer room and to show you the outdoor weather as well.

  • Ideal room temperature for a computer is 64ºF (18ºC) to 77ºF (25ºC). If the room is too hot then the computer won’t be able to cool itself off. In contrast, if the temperature is too cool then condensation may occur. You may have to use an air conditioner if it’s too hot (or a heater if it’s too cold) to try and maintain an average temperature in the room.
  • Ideal relative humidity for a computer is 40% RH to 50% RH. If the room is too damp then computer parts will rust from condensation. In contrast, if the room is too dry then too much static electricity will develop. You may have to use a dehumidifier if it’s too damp (or a humidifier if it’s too dry) to try and maintain an average relative humidity in the room.
  • If the room where the computer is located is too hot or too cold and you can’t maintain temperature, or if the room is too damp or too dry and you can’t maintain relative humidity, then you should probably consider relocating the computer to to a more suitable location.

Give the computer some elbow room

Computers need space around them to allow for better airflow. Most of us have fairly cluttered, dirty offices and workspaces. Some of us have spiders that are large enough to frighten Miss Muffet away, others have dust bunnies that are large enough to eat those spiders… and to possibly even gobble up an unsuspecting computer guy! But in all seriousness, your computer needs to breathe, and your computer can’t breathe if you’re suffocating it with the refuse that you have piled all around it…

  • Where towers and desktops are concerned: Don’t stack stuff on top of the computer and don’t lean stuff up against either side or the back of the computer. In fact, your computer should have a good few inches of clearance all the way around it. If any of the computer’s vents are covered or clogged for long periods of time, the computer will overheat more frequently.
  • Where laptops and notebooks are concerned: Don’t block the fans and vents on the computer when using it in your lap. A lapboard is probably a better option which should allow better airflow under the computer. Always use a lapboard under the laptop in bed, letting puffy blankets and bedding cover up all of the computer’s vents while using it in bed will surely fry the processor over time!

Use a cooling pad with laptops and notebooks

You can buy USB-powered cooling pads for laptops and notebooks at most computer and office supply stores. These pads often have built-in fans that are powered by one of your USB ports, and they help to force more air through the portable computer to keep it cool. Most cooling pads are made of plastic, but the better and more expensive ones often have metal surfaces to dissipate more heat more effectively.

The case should be kept closed on towers and desktops

A common (and surprisingly inaccurate) suggestion from people is to open up the case of a desktop or tower to cool down the components and to allow cooler air to get in, but this is a false practice to follow! A properly-assembled (and regularly-cleaned) computer case is designed for the best airflow possible through the case with the currently installed hardware. When you open the case up, you are actually breaking the jet stream, you are ruining the airflow path and you could even cause components to heat up faster this way. Always keep the case closed when the computer’s running to maintain airflow.

Keeping it clean

A dirty computer runs hotter and slower even under normal room conditions.

  • Your computer should be cleaned on a regular basis, at minimum once a year, and it’s a good thing to address when you do your annual spring cleanings. You can use canned air on all computers to blow out all of the vents, fans, cooling grids, etc, and at least a few cans should be on hand at all times in every office. Alternately you can have a local computer professional come and clean your computer for you on-site.
  • Computers should not be on the floor. Many of today’s office desks are poorly designed and in some cases force people to have their computer tower sitting on the floor, at or near floor level on a shelf, etc. The worst desk design that I’ve seen yet are those desks that have a floor-level cabinet with a door in front to place a tower PC inside… this is a very bad design and does not allow for good airflow, in fact it’s the perfect design for catching lots of dust bunnies.
  • Keep pets out of your office area, because pet hair is definitely one of the primary things that clogs up computer fans. Again, computers that are at or near floor-level act like very good vacuum cleaners and they suck in pet hair, pet dander and other dust and dirt that floats along the floor level.
  • Regularly check to make sure that all of the fans on the computer are spinning when it’s running hotter or under duress. If the computer is hot and any of its fans are not spinning, then the computer is already in deep trouble and should be repaired and cleaned up by a professional

Last but not least

The best way to keep a computer running cool, especially when it’s really hot in the summer months, is to shut the darned thing down when you’re not using it. Unless you need your computer running all day for ease of access or for a specific purpose, this is probably the easiest and most effective way to keep it cool, as well as to save on the electricity bill.