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Why Do Computers Produce So Much Heat? (Solved!)

Does it ever feel like your laptop is trying to cook you alive?

You might be wondering why laptops get so hot?

Like all electronic devices, laptops utilize electricity to perform tasks namely on the CPU and GPU. Some of this electricity is inefficiently lost in the process and incidentally converted to heat and can give off these high temperatures. Heat is also exacerbated by poor ventilation, poor interior cooling system and heat sink, taxing and overloading the CPU and GPU, and even a warm environment.

What causes a computer to heat up?

If you’re wondering which area of your computer or laptop gets the hottest, it’s going to be the side that has the CPU or GPU in it.

What’s funny is that a typical CPU is designed to run at high temperatures and it’s completely normal for it to get really warm. Thankfully, it’s always encased inside the body of the laptop and not exposed to your skin.

When electricity travels from the outlet or battery into the CPU, a small percentage of it is lost and changed into heat. The concept is known as heat dissipation in electronics and is sometimes known as electric heating. It’s when electrical energy is converted into heat energy.

Take, for example, the heating element in a toaster oven. Engineers have long known about this phenomenon. In the case of a toaster oven, they used this concept to create a device that cooks food.

By running electricity from the outlet to the heating element, the electric resistor works with converting the electric energy into heat energy.

That was the easy part. The hard part is not allowing heat energy to be created when that same electric energy travels into a computer.

The truth of the matter with computers and all electronics is that all energy that is sent into electronics, computers, laptops, and even toaster ovens ends up being converted into heat.

When your computer receives electricity it can do calculations with it. And it does as many calculations as possible before this electricity is converted to heat. Once the electricity converts to heat, the CPU inside the computer will no longer be able to use that energy to perform any calculations.

The law of conservation has a lot to do with CPU heat

In the world of physics, there’s also a law that is considered true when regards energy. It’s called the law of conservation. It states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. And that it is only able to convert from one form of energy to another. This ultimately means that a system or closed system will always have the same amount of energy as long as it’s contained within it.

Frankly, what this means is that if your computer draws in 300 watts of electric energy when that electricity is converted to heat, it will effectively heat the room 300 watts warmer.

How hot should a computer get?

According to the Hampshire College of Informational Technology, most laptops and computers have been designed to work safely in temperatures ranging from 50 to 95° F (10 to 35° C). While this is the optimal temperature, it’s not always the most frequent. The majority of users on laptops should be running their units well below 140° F (60° C). However, the cooler the temperature the better for your computer hardware.

CPU overheating - Tech Guide Central
CPU overheating

This also has a lot to do with external environments and what your computer is being used for.

Computer companies such as Hewlett-Packard (their publication can be found here) have published recommendations for how most users should experience heat from their laptops. They explain that most computers and PC hardware should be running at an average temperature below 140° F (60° C). And they also agree the cooler the temperatures the better the computer will run.

You also have to consider the usage factor when determining an appropriate temperature on your laptop. Obviously, if you are gaming on your laptop you’ll find the CPU and GPU temperatures to be on the high end of the temperature spectrum. Depending on how long you’re playing, it’s also possible for the temperatures to reach above and beyond the recommended numbers.

How can I tell if my computer is overheating?

Your computer suddenly just shuts off

The processors that you find inside your computer are usually capable of running at extremely high temperatures. It’s really normal for a CPU to actually heat the instant the computer is turned on.

Sometimes, you might find a CPU as hot as 200 degrees Fahrenheit but that’s okay.

However, there is a limit to how hot a CPU can get. Once it reaches that temperature the light outcome would be for it to inadvertently malfunction and shut down. If your computer is old or is failing to properly displace or cool down, you will likely have experienced the issue of your computer automatically shutting off while you’re working.

Heavy load issues can overheat your computer

What’s probably more obvious is that the more electricity that runs through your CPU, the more the CPUs temperature rises.

If you’re doing some light load work on your computer, for example like working on a spreadsheet or sending out emails, the CPU will probably stay relatively cool most of the time.

However, if you are doing some really complicated tasks on your computer like playing video games, or watching movies for long periods of time, this can cause the CPU to become way more active and start to heat up. Intensive computational tasks will likely increase the need for the CPU to work harder to get the job done. CPUs and GPUs alike will find themselves requiring more energy and dissipating more heat as you call upon them with more calculation demanding tasks.

However, with the proper cooling system and CPU management algorithms, your computer should be able to manage and control what is going in and out of it as the demand increases.

Ventilation issues can cause overheating

Computers usually have holes and ventilations created into the casing that allows heat to dissipate out into the environment.

Some multiple cooling systems and components work together to achieve cooling. However, this will all be in vain if there is no proper ventilation that allows this heat to leave the casing of the CPU.

I recommend that you use some compressed air to blow out whatever that is clogging up the holes on your computer. Over time this is necessary because the dust and the particles in the air will likely block the entry and exit ways of heat which inhibits the traveling of it leaving the computer.

CPU cooling system is failing

A traditional computer is likely covered with multiple assemblies that will work together to keep your computer cool.

These include:

  • A fan
  • A heat sink
  • Thermal paste

If your computer is heating up, and the case itself has no visible signs of dust and clogging of the air passages, then it is likely that the failure of one or more of the included items above is to blame.

Back in the day, would be much easier to repair laptops if these were the issue. But today standards of laptops are razor-thin. Opening them up and replacing or fixing the parts that have failed is extremely difficult.

If this is an issue, I highly recommend that you go see a professional who has the skill and knowledge to open up these devices and replace or fix the components.

How do CPUs stay cool

CPU throttling

At some point, while you’re gaming or taxing the computer CPU, something called dynamic frequency scaling also known as CPU throttling will kick in. The technique is typically used to slow the computer down so that it will use less energy and potentially conserve battery in laptops and computers.

The main idea is kind of like the throttle on your car which translates pretty well into CPU throttling. When a small load is placed on your CPU, running it at a lower speed keeps it cooler and uses less power. This is further improved with controlled voltage throttling. That’s because the power that a CPU uses is proportionally linked to the clock frequency and linearly backed with voltage requirements.

This is always been a focus of CPUs and GPUs.

Large computer manufacturing companies like AMD and Intel have their name for this sort of thing. AMD calls their power throttling system PowerNow! and Intel calls their throttling system SpeedStep and then later Turbo Boost. Well, all these names are likely to cool and different, they all do the same thing.

Some companies had added in capabilities allowing these processes to be closely monitored so that the CPU decides on when it will do certain things to keep the performance steady for the user.

Today’s typical CPUs have several different types of cores included. That’s why they are called multi-core processors. And because of that, an intelligent computer system would be able to manage which cores turn on and off or throttle so that the user can experience the best performance possible.

CPU cooling fan

Today’s modern CPU fans can control their speeds. There’s usually a sensor that’s located on the motherboard that monitors the CPUs temperature as the computer is on.

When the CPU gets hot enough, it directs The fan to speed up or slow down. It also uses data from the activity and load that the user is taxing on the computer itself.

It all depends on the manufacturer and the way they build the system to react to certain situations.

You’ve probably noticed that the fan knew your CPU is running when you are playing a video game or watching a video for an extended period. But when you’re doing less intensive tasks like writing a document or just browsing the web you’ll notice that your computer is completely silent.

Ultimately what this does is that it passes warm air out through the vents of the laptop or computer. Fans will spin in such a direction that it cups and drags out heat from the interior and releases it out to the environment.

However, be aware that if you do hear your fan running all of the time, then there is potentially something wrong going on with your computer.

Heat sinks

Engineers noticed that fans just weren’t enough to keep a CPU cool. Rather someone brilliantly came up with the idea of a heat sink that would use metal to conduct and direct heat in a different direction.

CPUs would get so hot that even the fans were not enough. What heat sinks did was that they redirected the heat flow away from a hot device. They do this by increasing the CPU surface area.

Heat will be attracted to these certain types of metals which means they will spread out and expand quicker than if there were not a heat sink present.

When it comes to conducting heat, metals and stones are considered good conductors since they can transfer heat fast. On the opposite spectrum would, paper, air, and cloth are pretty poor conductors of heat. Heat simply does not transfer through these materials quickly enough to be considered good conductors.

Thermal paste

Thermal paste is an oily thermal interface material that processors use before installing the cooling solution. It allows for easy transferring of heat from the processor to the base plate of the motherboard.

It’s designed to dissipate heat and it does this by filling in the microscopic imperfections that otherwise trap air particles between the CPU and the heat sink. These air particles usually prevent the CPU from cooling properly.

What to do to keep your computer from overheating

I’ve been using computers for as long as I can remember. And I have a few pics of how to keep your computer lasting for as long as that.

  1. Always place your laptop on a hard surface.
  2. Keep the table that you place your laptop clean.
  3. Occasionally use compressed air to blow out the dust from your computer.
  4. Invest in a laptop cooling pad.
  5. Keep your laptop in a cool and dry environment.
  6. Avoid eating and using your laptop at the same time.
  7. Never place your laptop on carpet or bedding.

The bottom line

Taking care of your computer should be a number one priority. Because hey, you paid a lot for it.

One of the biggest problems with CPUs, and will always be a problem, is the heat that is produced when it’s running. I don’t think this is ever going to be solved anytime soon because that will probably require some physics law-breaking science.

They’re always ways for you to make sure your computer runs as efficiently and as performant as possible.

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