Thursday, January 21, 2010

PC/laptop overheating issues

Many of my friends and myself have faced this problem sometime or the other. And this is a common problem with people using laptops and and also with those having old pcs. What usually happens, is that we are working on our computer and then suddenly it shuts itself down (sometimes it restarts too but generally its made to shut down). This happens more often when playing a game on the computer or while doing some resource hungry work.

I have inquired about this with many people and mostly they face this problem while gaming and the computer shuts down. They get confused and some even get worried. People who know how to format a pc generally do that followed by a clean install, thinking that it would solve their problem. Others, who don't know how to do it, call up their technician and get it done for about 500 Rs (approx. 11 $).

What they don't realise is that a little self diagnosis can solve this problem most of the times. It's a general misconception that viruses/malware cause such problems and therefore the formatting and all that follows. Virus is not always the reason for computers to start behaving oddly.

In this case, it can be a virus but its better to check it out before formatting your computer. Am, in particular, against formatting a computer unnecessarily. In most cases related to the computer shutting down itself, there's a chance it's happened due to overheating. The best way is to check manually by touching and feeling and if it is inconclusive, then one can monitor the computer's temperature using software or through bios and check the heatsink condition .

An overheated CPU can cause computer shutdowns as stated above, it may also cause freezing/hang or it might even burn your processor (literally). To check its condition, we can use the BIOS to check what the current temperature is.

To access the BIOS, restart the computer and press DEL key [or F1 or F10 for most laptops] to get into the BIOS/setup menu as shown in the image.

Once into the BIOS menu, go to Power or PC Health menu.

Inside u can check the temperature as shown in the image to the right above[for pc] and left[for laptops].

There may be many temperatures quoted in there but we are mainly concerned with the CPU temperature which is the temperature of our processor.

A temperature of around 30-40 °C is considered normal, also depending on where you stay. The temperature in cooler countries may be around 25 °C where as a hot and humid place may have 45°C as normal. But a temperature of more than 60 °C is definitely alarming and above 80 °C is dangerous. Motherboard makers by default have programmed the BIOS to shut down the pc if the temperature reaches or crosses the default overheat temperature [generally around 100 °C].

That's the reason a computer shuts down automatically when it gets overheated.
Another method to check the temperature is to use software inside your operating system. Most motherboard manufacturers provide their own custom software for doing so. Another alternative is Speedfan , a freeware published by

This software is a very useful one. It performs many important functions.
It will not only show the CPU's temperature but also its fan rotation speeds and if needed will control their speed according to the temperature of the CPU ,i.e. will run it at higher speeds if temperatures are higher and will make it run slow if CPU temperatures are cool enough.

It also has utilities for motherboard and checking the health status of one's hard disk.

This software is only about 2mb in size and yet so helpful.
You can download it here
Download Speedfan

or from their official site at

By now you can definitely tell if your computer is over heating or not. If the answer is NO, then there might be virus or even hardware issues related to it. If the answer is YES, as will be most the time, then you may need to follow the following steps

Now the question is, why this has happened! Let me show you why.

blowing away dust  with compressed air cans

These images clearly show that a lot of dust has accumulated in the heat sink and their fans and thereby reducing cooling performance. In cases such as these it is advisable to use air blowers to blow off the dust. This can be done by using these compressed air cans. In case they are not available, one may also use the vacuum cleaner's blower function to blow off [and not vacuum it] the dust by applying the air pressure from sideways.

In case of laptops, if yours is in warranty then better not open up anything as it would void your warranty. Instead, get your laptop to the service centre and get the cleaning done by them. For those, whose laptops aren't under warranty anymore, its better you guys get it to some technician who will do it for you. Laptops are very delicate and should be handled properly. But for those who are adventurous enough to do it themselves, I'll put up an article soon on how to clean laptops.

Once the cleaning's done, check the temperatures again. You'll certainly notice a temperature fall and it will show normal status again. If doing this didn't work for you then there's probably one more problem, i.e. of thermal paste.

Thermal paste/grease
The heat from the processor is conducted to the aluminium/copper heat sink which sits on top. But more often than not, this setting is not sufficient to cause enough heat transfer so as to keep the processor cool. Thus a chemical compound called thermal compound/paste is used in between to facilitate the heat flow.

If, after cleaning. the temperatures did not come down as expected then it could be that the thermal paste which was there earlier has depleted over time and hence we need to apply a fresh coat again.
A cheap thermal paste can be got starting from Rs 25[approx half a dollar] to the good ones costing Rs 500 [approx 10 $] and more. You may get it in a syringe form as shown, or in a small box, depending on which brand you're buying.
It is generally advised to use a better quality one for obvious reasons.

To apply a fresh coat of thermal paste, remove the heat sink from its base. 
Put the thermal paste over the processor or the heat sink [as you wish].

Start by applying it on the upper side and  smudging it out in up and down motion as shown in the image.
It's extremely important that the layer of paste is applied over all the exposed surface and that too evenly, for a proper and effective heat transfer.

 The rule, "the more, the better", doesn't apply here. Only a thin, uniform layer of paste will work properly. Hence be careful. For those who do not have the spatula as in the picture, you can use match sticks for spreading it out or even a card board piece. I personally prefer the match stick method.

Now check the temperatures again. This should have surely brought down the temperature by a big margin and into the safety zone. And with that your problem of  laptop getting over heated (users can feel it by touching the keyboard) and computers shutting down automatically will get solved.

So remember, if your computer is shutting down automatically while gaming or doing resource hungry work on computer then do make a point to check out temperatures first.

P.S. : Many readers have mentioned in their feedback that even though this article is about pc and laptop's over heating issues, I've not mentioned enough for those with laptops. This is true, but as I've mentioned earlier in the article, a laptop should not be opened if its covered under warranty and for average users it is advisable to get the cleaning job done by service centre technicians. At the most get a laptop cooler which will help dissipate the heat efficiently and help keep the laptop cool. Google out for the images, there are loads of them in various sizes and shapes.

But I do mean to put up a detailed article for laptop maintenance and therefore one will have to wait a little for that article. In the meanwhile, one may unscrew the compartment cover (on the back side) just beneath the exhaust fan (usually will be the top right one) and give the dust a good blow up till the area gets cleaned up. One will definitely notice a considerable change in the operating temperatures. For some models of HP/Compaq, doing this will be difficult because the processor and its exhaust system is not easily exposed and reach to that area will require opening and/or disconnecting several components of the motherboard, which I would not suggest. For most other brands, accessing that area is just about opening the cover on the top right hand corner on the back face of the laptop.

Do remember to keep your laptop or computer in a dust free place or at least keep it away from dust and clean up the surroundings as regularly as possible. In case the above mentioned methods do not work for you, or if you face any kind of problem, then shoot up a request through the contact form via the Contact page.

Note: the images used here are all from Google image search and not mine. I do not claim copyright for any of these images.They belong to their respective authors.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your help, this explanation that you make is a big contribution with us that have a same problem why our computer hangs up. But a little more problem your..... cant work for me!

optimystix said...

if you could explain a little about your problem then we could help you out too. this solution is generic and for the most common problem with overheated computers. there may be user specific problems too. spell out your problem and we will try our best to help

Enthu said...

My HP Pavillion laptop is becoming very hot when I use Linux. Does the OS really make a difference?

optimystix said...

Hi Enthu

the OS has got virtually no role in making the laptop hot. As mentioned in the post above, it is getting hot either due to dust accumulation on the vents or due to the thermal paste having dried out.

what temps are you getting on idle and load ?

Anonymous said...

Nice post.Very useful.

PCCare247 said...

Good work. The information you shared is really useful. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I am already done to this process and also i cleaned the motherboard using denatured alcohol.. but still hanging after few minutes

Optimystix said...

is the hanging due to overheating? did you compare the temperature if it has dropped or not after the cleanup process?

If this has not helped then you might need to ensure the following -
- thermal paste layer applied to the processor is thin and evenly spread
- the heatsink sits tight over the processor
- check the RPM of the fan and see if they are running at proper speeds (2k RPM minimum maybe)

If these do not help, there might be other elements responsible such as corrupt software, virus\malware etc.

If you wish, I could help diagnose remotely over Team Viewer, with your permission ofcourse.

Rajesh Kumar said...

Laptop overheating repair is a very common issue. This issue is very irritating. Good post and posts like these are very useful for service people like us. We run a hp laptop service center in Chennai city and this post was very useful for our entire team. Thanks.

Shailesh Mehta said...

Hi. Laptop overheating can be due to fan not working. Sometimes fan gathers lot of dust and it speeds down the rotation and it can also cause over heating. Good blog. People can learn a lot of laptop service techniques through blogs like these. We are a Dell laptop service centers in Chennai and this post was very helpful for our team.

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