Ask LH: Is My Computer Too Hot?

Dear Lifehacker, My laptop feels like it's going to burst into flames at any second. I hear this might be normal, though. How can I tell if it's running too hot — and if it is, what can I do about it? Thanks, Scorched Laptop UserPhoto by MichaelHenry

Dear Scorched,

It's true, computers — laptops in particular — tend to run very hot (though cooling technology has advanced a lot in recent years). It's hard to tell simply by touch if your laptop is in the overheating danger zone or just feels that way. Here's how to tell for sure.

Signs of Overheating

First, you didn't mention if you were having any problems with your computer. Usually you'll experience telltale signs of overheating like random shutdowns or your fans running like crazy ("all BRRRRRRRRRR the whole day," as Whitson would say).

Another way to tell if there's a potential temperature issue is if you feel too hot in your working environment. Computers, like people, do better in air conditioned rooms. Ideal temperatures are between 10C and 35C for your working environment.

Test the Internal Temperature

Laptops and desktop PCs also have optimal operating temperature limits; both Intel and AMD publish maximum temperatures for their CPUs (around 100C). Testing and monitoring the internal temperature is probably the surest way to check if your laptop is running too hot.

In a previous guide on preventing overheating, we mentioned several tools for checking your computer's temperature. Previously mentioned GKrellM is a cross-platform solution, but we're also fans of SpeedFan and Real Temp, which reside in your system tray. These apps will show you visually if you're going over the temperature threshold.

How to Cool Your Laptop Down

First, make sure your room isn't too hot. While workers may perform best at 25C, according to one study, as long as you don't feel like you're overheating, the room is probably at a decent temperature for your computer.

Whitson's tips on quieting your laptop fans will also help cool it down. Specifically, getting a laptop stand should help a lot (ones with USB-powered fans work well, but you can try a DIY version or two for a cheap solution first).

You might also try adjusting your power setting to a power saver or more balanced plan so your system doesn't use more power than required.

Be careful if your laptop is overheating and after taking your laptop in from the hot outdoors to a cooler indoor environment. In both cases, let your laptop cool down before using your computer or trying to fix the problem (via BIOS updates, contacting your manufacturer for known issues or replacements, etc).

Good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

P.S. Since this is a common problem, if you have other computer cooling or cleaning tips, your suggestions are welcome in the comments.


Comments

    Something that drove my laptop almost to self-immolation was running the Western Digital Smartware software for handling one of their USB drives. Even with the drive disconnected their software was pushing my processor to the hilt. (Check their forums for other similar stories). My laptop was running so hot it kept bluescreening.

    Once I uninstalled it all, normal cooler service was resumed.

    For Macs, use either Temperature Monitor or the wonderful iStat dashboard widget to get a quick view of all the main temp monitors. If your CPU is running over 50 - 60 degrees (C) when sitting "idle", you've definitely got problems.

    My HP DV6-2119TX on high load would run at extremely high temp. I used realtemp to get temperature statastics and found that all 4 cores were howering around 90 to 95c when the room temp would be around 15c.

    I have changed the power plan and set that CPU should only go max 80%, I have seen temp range of around 70c.

    A nice application (windows, as far as i know) is speccy (made by the folks at piriform - they made ccleaner). It also gives information on motherboard and hard drive temperature, as well as cpu temp.
    Its actually a full fledged system moniter, able to detect pretty much all the info you could want about your computer.

    Coretemp, Speedfan etc will give you live temperature reports on your cpu, and other components on your system.

    Speedfan also does S.M.A.R.T monitoring

    Another important point that was overlooked here was the use pattern, ie. what apps are running?

    eg. if you are running 3D rendering, games, or whatever other CPU/GPU intensive application(s), you would expect it to normally run a lot hotter than if you were say, reading email.

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