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How Hot is Too Hot For a CPU?

From the Desk of Matt Topper, Professional Services Manager, Iconic IT

As summer heats up and computers spend more times in home instead of air-conditioned offices, we’ve been asked a question:  How hot is too hot for a CPU?

While different components in a PC or laptop have different maximum temperatures, you don’t need to independently monitor the readings from your computer’s CPU, video card, and hard drive sensors [If you want to do that, give us a call].   Instead, pay attention to the ambient temperature of the room you’re working in.

As a rule of thumb, try to keep the room you are working in under about 80° F.  But computers can get hotter than you might think.  Here are a few manufacturer-provided operating temperature ranges for models across our clients:

ManufacturerModelOperating Range (F)
HPProDesk 600 G3 (mini)50° – 95°
HPProBook 450 G6 (laptop)32° – 95°
DellOptiPlex 7050 (desktop)32° – 158°
DellInspiron 7000 (laptop)32° – 104°

High temperatures aren’t likely to cause a machine to suddenly become damaged.  In fact, all computers will initiate a type of power off called a thermal shutdown to prevent damage if the temperature gets too hot for a CPU.  Before getting to that point, you’ll notice the fans spinning at full speed and the computer’s case may be hot to the touch.  There may not be a warning message before the thermal shutdown and the machine will appear to just power off.

Temperature fluctuations, not high temperatures, cause significant damage to electronics.  A room that becomes very hot over the weekend without any air conditioning, then is rapidly cooled on Monday for work to start is much more likely to cause a problem than a room that is constantly hot.  This will manifest in hard drives, motherboards, and other components that fail before a computer’s normal lifespan.

How hot is too hot for a CPU? That depends.

Here are 6 tips to keep your computers running smoothly this summer:

  1. Keep the rooms that computers are in below about 80° F.
  2. Keep humidity below about 60%
  3. Stable temperatures are most important.  Don’t try to save money by turning the air conditioning off over the weekend – this wall cause computers to fail sooner.
  4. With laptops, keep the computer on a table or desk – avoid soft materials like blankets, beds, etc. that will block air vents
  5. Keep at least a few inches clear around desktops, so that fans aren’t right against the wall
  6. Try to keep computers in rooms away from pets (easier said than done).  The hair can clog fans and require more frequent cleanings
  7. Listen to your computer.  If the fans start spinning at full speed constantly, you might have a heat issue in the room your computer is in.

Remember that though computers can tolerate high temperatures (Google is famous for its very hot data centers) and it’s has to be very hot to be too hot for a CPU, they can’t tolerate rapid changes in temperature. 

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