Is Your Processor Running Too Hot?

by Mitz Pantic from

Is Your Processor Running Too Hot?

If you’ve ever wondered what temperature your processor should be running at, consider the following: computer processors are primarily made of semiconductors, so there’s a fairly narrow temperature range at which they work well. Unlike metal conductors, they require some heat to work correctly—but just like metal conductors, too much heat can destroy them. You need to find just the right balance.

How Semiconductors Use Heat

All home and office electronics use simple metal wires (usually copper) to transmit electricity because many common metals transmit electricity very reliably and some metals (such as copper) are fairly cheap. But your computer processor does more than just transmit electricity, it also does very basic math using just zeroes and ones. To perform that math, your computer processor has to turn electrical connections on and off.

Because metal transmits electricity reliably, your computer would have a very difficult time turning metal electrical connections on and off. But semiconductors are less reliable than metal, that’s why they’re called semiconductors—they only conduct electricity in certain circumstances.

If your computer can control the circumstances in which a semiconductor works, it can turn that semiconductor connection on and off quite easily. Different semiconductors require different circumstances, but the majority of semiconductors in your computer processor are activated or deactivated by heat. The colder they get, the less electricity they transmit; the hotter they get, the more electricity they transmit.

A 1 GHz computer processor is designed to perform 1 billion operations each second by managing the heat of the semiconductors in your computer. When the processor wants to turn a switch on, it heats it up using a bit of spare electricity until it starts transmitting electricity. When the processor wants to turn a switch off, it stops sending spare electricity to it so that it cools down and turns off.

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7 thoughts on “Is Your Processor Running Too Hot?”

  1. I had to check we had passed April 1st. I can’t believe you publish such rubbish. Does you no credit whatsoever. You should remove this article as a matter of urgency.

  2. I'm shocked that rubbish such as this can see print.
    Overclockers use liquid nitrogen on CPUs to get the fastest results. This gives the most resistance to heat, which allows them to pump more electricity (which generates heat) into the chip. Nothing about running too cold would hurt a CPU with factory settings, but running too hot will destroy it quickly.
    Keep the CPU under 60C and it should run for many years.

    1. @David Wendorf: As noted in the article, the computer’s sensors only monitor the general temperature of the CPU, not the temperature of each individual circuit. In order for the general temperature of the CPU to increase above room temperature, the individual circuits must rise above the temperature reported by your operating system.

      Since the individual circuits are quite small (they’re measured in nanometers), they must become quite hot in order to significantly raise the general temperature of the CPU—especially when the CPU is actively being cooled by air, water, Freon, or other coolants.

      I completely agree that a too-hot CPU would be destroyed quickly and that keeping the CPU’s general temperature under 60C should prevent damage to it (although I find that keeping CPUs under 60C challenging in practice).

  3. Fully agree with the previous commenter. Have tested it myself a few time: should you fail to install the processor cooler properly, the performance of the computer reduces drastically and this is reflected in the current temperature increase. Even a 10 degree temperature increase within the operational range leads to interruptions during weighty video files playback.

    1. @Marcus: Indeed, when processors get too hot, they can’t cool down quick enough to turn off the semiconductor circuits in between clock cycles, so you lose those clock cycles (interrupting your video playback) or your computer activates its emergency overheating shutdown procedure to prevent damage.

  4. This article is jam-packed with misinformation. Why do print things like this?
    I worked in the semiconductor industry for 36 years. Yes, ICs have a range of temperatures over which they will work properly, typically 0C to 70C or -40C to 125C. They will work fine anywhere within that range. What changes with temperature is the failure mechanisms occurring on the chip. For many the rate at which they degrade the circuitry doubles for every 10C higher temperature. Therefore cooler is always better for long life.
    That paragraph about the chip having a little circuit that heats it up prior to it actually running is TOTAL HOGWASH.
    Please … after this I don’t think I can believe anything I see on your site.

    1. @Steve: The control unit (CU), often called the “brains of the CPU,” is responsible for regulating the clock speed of the CPU. When you power on your computer, the CU’s hardwired logic circuits will flood the CPU with electricity until it warms up and a regular clock cycle is established. Only then will it attempt to load the boot up code.

      You can read more about the CU on Wikipedia:

      I agree that cooler circuits will last longer, but it doesn’t matter how long they last if they don’t work because they’re too cold.

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