How to stop your computer from overheating

Your PC overheating can be a big problem. It can cause thermal throttling and lead to a negative impact on performance. Left unchecked, overheating can impact individual components and maybe even cause premature failure.

Fortunately, it’s simple to prevent a PC from overheating. The most common cause of overheating is dust clogging up fans and the CPU cooler. Besides giving the computer a good cleaning, there are a few other things that can keep your PC cool.

How to check your CPU’s temperature

Before trying to solve your overheating problem, you should check the current temperature. This will provide a baseline, so you can determine if you’re making changes as you go. Most gaming PCs have a program that can read temperatures, but other computers may require third-party software.

  1. Open your cooling control or motherboard software to view the CPU temperature. If you don’t have this software installed, you can add a universal program like NZXT CAM.
  2. Find and note the current CPU temperature.
    1. Ideally, you should take a temperature reading while it is overheating and also while there are no programs running in the background to establish a baseline.
      iCue Corsair control software monitoring temperature

  3. Check the temperature again after attempting each method below.

Step 1: Close power-hungry applications

In some cases, overheating is simply the result of too many applications running at once, including ones running in the background. The easiest way to look for applications sucking up power is with the Task Manager. From there, you can also force the applications to close.

  1. Right-click on an open part of the taskbar and select Task Manager from the dropdown menu.
    Windows homescreen with task manager menu

  2. Click CPU to sort the running tasks by which ones are using the most CPU resources.
    Windows task manager sorting by CPU usage

  3. Select one of the most CPU-intensive apps to highlight it.
    Windows task manager selecting a process

  4. Click End task to force the application to close.
    Windows task manager using End task to close a programe

  5. Repeat the process and close out more apps to see if it lowers your CPU temperature.

Step 2: Clean out the inside

The next thing to try is cleaning out the PC’s case. This is something you should be doing regularly, as dust will accumulate and prevent air from cooling critical components. While you’re in there, you should also verify that the fans are operating normally.

Keep in mind that it’s not possible to disassemble many modern laptops and even some desktops, but you can clean them with some canned air.

  1. Shut down the computer and disconnect its power supply.
    Shutdown PC from start menu

  2. Take the access cover off.
    PC case cover screw removal

  3. Blow out the fans and CPU cooler with canned air.

    It’s important to blow from the inside to force the dust out of the case.

    Blowing out dusty PC case with canned air

  4. Put the cover back on and power up the computer.

Step 3: Change the throttle temperature

Computers are designed to limit performance when critical components like the GPU and CPU begin to overheat. It’s possible to adjust these temperatures with some software changes. We don’t want to raise the temperature as that will cause more problems with overheating, but lowering the threshold for thermal throttling will have a negative impact on performance and prevent damage to the computer.

  1. Shut down your computer.
    Shutdown PC from start menu

  2. Turn the computer back on and boot to BIOS when the option appears.
    MSI Bios boot screen

  3. Every BIOS menu is a little different, but you need to find the Thermal Throttle Limit. It’s usually found under overclock settings.
    MSI overclocking menu

  4. Lower the set temperature by 5-10% to keep the computer from overheating.
    MSI bios throttle limit override

Step 4: Upgrade your cooling setup

Adjusting thermal throttling settings is a temporary fix that does not address the underlying problem. The only solution if you get to this point is to upgrade the computer’s cooling. This can be done in a few different ways, but you’ll likely need to replace the CPU cooler and heatsink. This relatively simple fix requires removing the existing fan, replacing the thermal paste, and installing a new cooler.

Remember that the GPU has a separate cooling system that may need improved cooling. However, if both the CPU and GPU are consistently overheating, then you may have an airflow problem in your PC case.

  1. Turn off the computer and disconnect the power supply.
    Shutdown PC from start menu

  2. Remove the side access panel along with any parts blocking access to the CPU.
    PC case cover screw removal

  3. Disconnect the wire running from the CPU cooler to the motherboard.
    CPU cooler connector/thermostat wire

  4. Each processor mount is a little different, but the cooler has a latch mechanism on most modern motherboards. Unlatch (or unscrew) the cooler from the motherboard.
    Removing CPU heatsink and pump with a screwdriver

  5. With the cooler removed, wipe off the existing thermal paste with a lint-free rag. You can also use isopropyl alcohol to get any dried residue off.
    An image of the Ryzen 5 1600 processor with a paper towel dipped in isopropyl alcohol

  6. Apply thermal paste to the processor. The perfect amount of thermal paste is roughly equivalent to the size of a pea.
    An image showing thermal paste being applied on an Intel Core i7-14700K CPU.

  7. Reinstall the existing cooler or attach your new one.
  8. Connect the cooler power wires back to the motherboard.
    Arrow pointing to CPU fan connector on MSI motherboard

  9. Put the cover back on and fire up the computer.

Step 5: Add or replace PC case fans

The fans in your PC’s case are not just for decoration. They serve an important role by moving cool air in and hot air out, which is critical to cooling components and preventing them from overheating. Some PC cases simply do not have enough fans, or users may not realize that a fan has failed. Replacing or adding a fan to a PC case is quick and easy for anyone to do.

  1. Turn off your computer and unplug its power supply.
    Shutdown PC from start menu

  2. Take off the side cover to access the inside.
    PC case cover screw removal

  3. If you are removing an existing fan, then unplug it from the motherboard or fan module.
  4. Unscrew the fan with a screwdriver. This may require a compact screwdriver to fit inside.

    Be sure to hold the fan so it does not fall onto other components.

    Using screwdriver to remove PC case fan

  5. Pull the old fan out, ensuring its cord doesn’t get tangled.
  6. Place the new fan in position and check the hole positions to make sure they’re lined up with the casing.
    Aligning PC case fan screw holes

  7. Screw the fan in place with the included hardware.
  8. Plug the fan into the motherboard or fan control module. Don’t forget to tie up the wires, so they don’t get tangled in the fan blades.
    Connecting a PC case fan to an MSI motherboard

  9. Put the PC case back together and turn it back on.

Keeping your computer from overheating

The best way to fix overheating is to prevent it from happening in the first place. In some cases, it’s impossible to prevent overheating, but it’s often preventable with maintenance. Cleaning the computer regularly means airflow is never restricted, lessening the chances of overheating.

Cooling systems should also be checked regularly to ensure they are working. Many people choose to replace their cooling system when upgrading other components, especially the CPU. Liquid cooling is a popular way to improve CPU temperatures, especially when you’re running high-powered components, and these systems are more affordable than ever.

However, simply replacing thermal paste can reduce the chances of overheating. Great thermal paste can help transfer heat from the processor to a heatsink. However, it does deteriorate with time and requires replacing.