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How hot is too hot? Don’t overheat your computer.

When your computer’s processor, chipset, or hard drive overheats, you can wind up with big problems. From system slowdowns to application crashes, video corruption, data loss, to permanent damage to your computer hardware. It’s important to keep your computer running cool.

Your computer has sensors in various places to monitor the internal temperature and regulate the fan speeds. These sensors are typically in places such as your CPU, graphics card, hard drive, and maybe one in open air (typically in desktops). Unlike your car, there’s no easy indicator of what the temperature is until things start to go wrong, and those fans can only do so much. Dust can clog heatsinks and air passages, which can slow down the flow of air and drive the chip temps up. If a fan fails completely, it will stop the airflow and the temperature will climb rapidly. For those reasons it helps to have a program to actually tell you what these temperature sensor readings are. If things are getting a little too hot, you might want to know so you can check things out.

For Windows, two good utilities are Speedfan (free) and Everest . For Ubuntu, two good programs can be found in Synaptic: sensors-applet and hddtemp.

Those programs will read the temp sensors and tell you the values. Unfortunately, these numbers won’t mean very much if you don’t know what the limits of your hardware are. For example, while typing this article on my laptop, my CPU temp is 35C (95F). While that might sound hot to some, the thermal design limit of my CPU is actually 105C (source: Intel). I know my processor is well within the design limits.

That said, here’s a list of a few common chipsets and their operating limits:

Various Intel Core 2 Duo (Desktops):

Models E6700 (2.66 GHz), E6600 (2.40 GHz), E6420 (2.13 GHz) and E6320 (1.86 GHz): 60.1 C (140 F).
Models E6400 (2.13 GHz), E6300 (1.86 GHz), E4400 (2 GHz) and E4300 (1.8 GHz): 61.4 C (143 F).
Models E6850 (3 GHz), E6750 (2.66 GHz), E6550 (2.33 GHz) and E6540 (2.33 GHz): 72 C (162 F).
Models E4500 (2.20 GHz) and E4400 (2 GHz): 73.3 C (164 F).
Source: Core 2 Duo Temperature Limit | eHow.com

Various laptops by manufacturer and chipset:

Dell Latitude D620 (using T7600 CPU): 100C
Dell Latitude D630 (using T7700 CPU): 100C
Toshiba Satellite A215-S7422
(using AMD Turion 64 X2): AMD Doesn’t say — See guidelines below

(I may add to this list as time goes on)

I’ve been seeing a lot of conversation about the nVidia Quaddro mobile chipset and it’s failure temp. While I haven’t been able to find anything official, I have been able to keep my chip under 80C and haven’t experienced a problem to date. See also: Disclaimer.

If you want to find the correct spec for a specific Intel product, you can use Intel’s ARK lookup.For AMD, try the AMD Product Specification lookup. For hard drives, check the manufacturers spec page for your specific drive.

However bear in mind when using these spec sheets that the given specs are for the components themselves under controlled conditions. Chipsets are likely to become unstable before reaching these temps, and heat run-off may damage nearby components on circuit boards. Additionally, occasional manufacturing defects can cause chip failures before these temperatures are reached. I would always suggest to try to stay at least 15-20C below the rated temperature.

If you can’t find specific temps for your chipset, good guidelines would be to try to stay below the following temps:

55C for desktop CPUs, 85C for laptop CPUs.
75C for desktop GPUs, 75C for laptop GPUs.
55C for desktop HDDs, 45C for laptop HDDs.

These are merely a reference point. While some chipsets may tolerate higher temps better than others, cooler is always better. See also: Disclaimer.

FAQ: Why are the rated chipset temps so much higher for laptops?

Laptops are by their very nature smaller and lighter than their desktop counterparts. In order to accommodate this, you will find laptops have smaller fans, heatsinks, and internal airways. Additionally, instead of fan-heatsink-chip assemblies, laptops often feature fan-heatpipe-chip assemblies, which locates the fan further from the chip. Mobile chipsets are thus designed to have higher operating temperatures because heat cannot always be dissipated quickly and occasionally the airways may become blocked. In addition, the higher operating temperatures allow the fans to cycle off to conserve battery power.

One last point worth mentioning is to make sure you’re using the latest OEM BIOS for your computer, especially for mobile machines. BIOSes often have a fan speed table in them which is what sets the fan speed based on the chipset temperature. You can typically find the BIOS update listed on the manufacturer’s website.

If you believe any of the information I have posted above is incorrect, or you would like to ask me to post data on a specific chipset, please leave a comment below. If you have any information to contribute, please do so in the comments. If you want to share this information, please do so as a link to this page for the sake of updates. Thank you.

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