Addressing thermal shutdowns and why the fans are on constantly, on my computer

I’ve been working with computers or a couple+ decades now. I’ve done my share of building computers from scratch. In fact, my current main computer I built by picking all of the pieces. Despite being somewhat “seasoned” at this, I was genuinely shocked today at this result! Let me explain…

The Symptoms:
My main computer has 2 case fans and a CPU fan on top of the heatsink. These fans are variable speed, but seem to be at 50-100% MOST of the time. Being the summertime and it being a little warmer in the house (even with the AC on), it’s been starting to really agitate me!

Why are my fans on all of the time? What are they running at max speed?

For my particular motherboard, I have this “EasyTune” application which lets me look at real time statistics on the motherboard. Despite me UNDER-clocking the CPU to keep the temperature down, it consistently shows the CPU temperature hovering lately in the upper-70’s (Celsius) or sometimes hitting 80! 80C is 176F – no wonder the fans were running full-blast!

Generally, 90 degrees Celsius is where computers will just cut power – that’s called a thermal shutdown. The CPU shuts down the system before physical damage can occur.

The easiest way to monitor the motherboard and CPU temperature is via the utilities provided by the motherboard. If you have a name-brand computer (e.g. Dell, HP, etc) just go to the support website and they often have a utility.

If you have a hand-built computer and you don’t remember the model number, it’s often in the registry. For example, check: HKLM:HARDWAREDESCRIPTIONSystemBIOS – in mine, it looks like this:

image

then, I can go to the Gigabyte website and search for “970A-D3P” (the model number of my motherboard) and hopefully find a utility.

The Problem:
If you are having heat issues on a computer, it’s one of a few things:

  1. You have poor cooling/circulation in your custom-built case.
  2. You have an under-sized or poor quality CPU cooler/heatsink.
  3. You have a poor connection between the CPU and the heat-sink.

In my case, I bought the CPU pre-packaged with a decent, liquid-cooled CoolerMaster – and when I open the case, there doesn’t seem to be excess heat inside of the case. So, I looked into item #3.

If my memory serves, the CPU heatsink/cooler came with thermal paste applied, with a shiny piece of paper over it. So, you’d install the CPU on the motherboard, peel off the paper on the heatsink and attach it too.

Knowing what I know now, that is bad – and that was the root of my heat problems all along! When you apply a heatsink to a CPU, don’t ever use pre-applied thermal paste!

All about thermal paste…
So what is this thermal paste? Well, the CPU of your computer gets VERY hot because trillions of transistors have electricity passing through – which builds up heat. You can hook a heat-sink to the CPU to dissipate the heat, but there is a problem! The problem is that those very tiny imperfections on the CPU surface and the heatsink will create air pockets. Air is a horrible conductor of heat and will build-up, instead. So, there exists thermal paste:

image

But wait! Don’t be fooled by it’s enormous size! Despite it’s heavy-duty plunger appearance – this product is actually about 2 inches long!

Anyhow, thermal paste is a gooey substance that you squirt on (just a TINY amount), and that paste fills all of the voids between the two mating surfaces.

Now, heat from the CPU can freely transfer through the thermal paste to the heatsink, and be carried away by the attached fan. Here’s a quick video that shows how to remove old paste with rubbing alcohol, and how to re-apply.

However, from what I read, I put on about 1/2 of what she does in the video. Nowadays, everyone says that a “pea” size is too much.

The Solution:
So, I ordered a “tube” of this Artic Silver thermal paste for $7 (one of the few items on Amazon to have thousands of reviews, and also have almost a 5-star rating!). Once I got it in, I shutdown my computer and unplugged it. I then touch the metal of the case to ground myself – I don’t want static electricity to cause damage to any components!

Normally, what should happen is you disconnect the heat sink from the motherboard, twist it left and right and it “pops” off the CPU. In my case, I did that and it pulled the CPU from the socket!

if this happens to you, it’s kind of bad news. After hours of working on this, I soaked the CPU and heatsink (up to where they mate) in alcohol for 5 minutes, twice and it just was not budging. I tried “twisting” the CPU off the heatsink, but it wouldn’t move. Finally, I used a screwdriver to GENTLY pry the CPU off.

Please know – it’s extremely likely you will irreparably  damage your CPU if you try this “prying” technique. I was desperate at that point, having tried every trick I could find on the internet. At this point, I was prepared that I was going to have to buy another CPU because I would likely damage this one. It worked out for me, but it’s not likely that it will again!

With the CPU and heatsink separated, I used 99% rubbing alcohol to clean the mating surfaces. After making sure they were completely clean and dry, I applied a very small X (I have a square heatsink). I put the CPU back in the motherboard and then in ONE action, applied the heatsink and locked it down. Once those two surfaces come apart, they really need to be cleaned and paste applied again.

Yes, it’s that critical!

So, I buttoned everything up after having bent some pins on the CPU and soaking it in alcohol for :10 minutes – I fully-expected it wouldn’t boot, but it did!

Bottom line:
OK, so what were the results? Well, before when under-clocking this CPU to 1.8GHz, the CPU was running around 78 degrees Celsius, most of the time (and the fans were on full-blast!).

Remember, 80C is bad, and at 90C, there is a thermal shutdown.

I performed the above operation, and after :20 minutes of it’s default 2.0GHz, the CPU temp hovers at 56 degrees Celsius, or so!!

Even better, this processor easily overclocks to 4.0GHz, and when I do that and push the CPU to the max, the highest the CPU temp would go is 78 degrees. That is overclocking to the maximum and using the CPU 100%. That is about as ideal as you can get!

In this case, the fans only become noticeable when overclocked to 4.0GHz (and CPU running at 4.0GHz) and with the CPU at 100% for several minutes.

As for normal operation, the CPU hovers at 1-2GHz and speeds up when necessary. So for normal operation with all of my regular apps open, the temperature generally stays in the 50’s:

image

 image

The bottom line of this is – if you find yourself with a computer with loud fans that are on all of the time… or if you ever have a thermal shutdown (it just shuts off instantly with no warning), maybe it’s time to pull the heatsink and re-apply some thermal paste. In my case, just by doing this simple step, it let me run the CPU at maximum AND drop the operating temperature by 20 degrees Celsius!

Posted in Computers and Internet, General, Infrastructure, Organization will set you free, Professional Development, Uncategorized
6 comments on “Addressing thermal shutdowns and why the fans are on constantly, on my computer
  1. Mike says:

    Rob,
    Another critical preventive maintenance item (you may or may not already be doing) to keep your machine running cool is to use compressed air every so often. The dust bunnies build up within the power supply, vent holes, GPU and CPU. Clearing the dust will allow for free airflow and moving hot sure or of the case

    Like

    • Robert Seder says:

      Yep – definitely a great point, thanks!!

      Like

    • Mike says:

      Ugh… Hit submit but mistake…

      Will allow for hot air to be moved out of the case.
      Also, the same applies to laptops.
      One word of caution though, if using compressor, don’t let fans spin up too much. Do short bursts.
      Or better yet, use compressed air cans.

      Like

  2. You may also experience reduced performance because the CPU cuts back its clock speed to escape heat pressure. Moreover, the fail safe software may trigger a sudden shutdown to prevent hardware damage.

    Like

    • Robert Seder says:

      Thanks, Humberto – I have had shutdowns before, and I since this is a “turbo boost” type of CPU, it does rev up to a much-higher speed now. It really did make a difference!

      Like

  3. […] thermal paste on the CPU and GPU:I’m a computer geek – and I’ve done this before, so why not? This is likely the problem. The  I’ll tell you why not: because it’s Apple! I […]

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