CPU overheating is not as uncommon as you might think. Even if you have decent cooling, many things can go wrong. Your thermal paste can dry out as it ages, the CPU fan can malfunction, and general dust buildup will have an effect on temps as well because it acts as an insulator. With that out of the way, what happens when CPU overheats?
The most common thing that will happen when your CPU overheats is that it will become unstable and shut down. This is true in the vast majority of cases. If you have a newer CPU, it will probably thermal throttle, i.e. reduce its speed and in turn performance to make the temps go down.
But there are many other things that can happen when your CPU overheats. What happens when CPU overheats and how to diagnose it? You will find the answers explained in more detail below.
What Happens When CPU Overheats?
First of all, how to check if your CPU is overheating for real or if it is another issue? The best and most accurate way is to use third-party programs. You want to download a CPU stress test, such as Prime95. Stress testing is a great way to find any CPU issues, especially when it comes to overheating because they push your CPU usage to the maximum.
The second thing that you will need is a program that will let you track the thermals of your CPU. SpeedFan, Core Temp, HWMonitor, and even CPU-Z are all great solutions. You want to run one of these programs along with your stress test to track your temps.
The normal operating temp for your CPU is below 80°C under a full load, such as when doing a stress test. If your CPU is reaching temps as high as 85°C, then you know that it is overheating and that you will need to fix it. What happens when CPU overheats then?
As mentioned previously, when your CPU overheats you may easily recognize the issue simply by the computer’s behavior. GPU overheating is somewhat similar, but it will typically only make your current app crash or make the screen go black while the computer keeps on running. The CPU, on the other hand, will make the system shut down completely.
This is because the CPU is responsible for everything inside your computer. The proof for that is that you can run a computer without a GPU, but not without a CPU. And with the CPU being such an essential part of your system, you can see why overheating is not something that you should ignore.
Since the CPU is responsible for the operating system functioning properly in the background, overheating will create instability and make the computer shut down. This is expected behavior for an overheating CPU because it is a built-in feature that will protect your hardware and potentially avoid a fire hazard. The last one is the most dangerous.
A fire hazard, or usually just a wisp of smoke, can happen if your computer is dusty and your CPU overheats or the built-in protection features fail. This is very rare and if you were unfortunate enough that it happened to you, you will need to replace most of your components.
The most common thing that will happen won’t be the CPU catching on fire, but instead CPU throttling. Throttling is another protection feature that will make your CPU downclock to prevent stability issues. You will feel your CPU thermal throttle in games when your FPS drops or you experience stuttering.
When your CPU overheats you will experience stability issues, thermal throttling, and there is also a very small chance for the CPU to get lit. The last one is very rare, so you should not worry too much about it, especially if you keep your computer dust-free.
Stability issues caused by overheating can be stressful because you might lose a document that you spent many hours working on or losing progress in a game. This is why fixing your overheating issue is crucial. Most of the time, it will be an easy and cheap fix, so don’t worry too much.