How to keep your PC cool for best performance

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The desktop PC has two major nemeses: dust and heat. Heat can be tough to diagnose since you can’t see it the way you can with dust. The key to avoiding any heat-related issues (besides regularly cleaning your PC) is sticking with some tried and true principles of cooling. If you follow the basics, then adapt them to your local environment and the demands of your PC, you should be just fine.

How to measure temperatures

The best way to easily measure if your PC is getting too hot is to monitor the temperatures reported by the CPU and GPU. If these two components are staying within their recommended temperature ranges, then everything else should be just fine.

For CPUs, this means keeping your processor under 80 degrees Celsius when under load, but preferably much lower. A specific CPU’s maximum operating temperature is often higher than 80 degrees, but this is a good general benchmark.

There are many programs that let you monitor CPU temperature, but we recommend Core Temp, as it’s a lightweight program that does its job well. It will also report a temperature reading for each CPU core that you can see at a glance in your PC’s system tray.

Graphics cards can get slightly toastier than the processor, but ideally they’d stay under 85 degrees Celsius. AMD and Nvidia’s native software overlays can report your graphics card’s temperature. Another option that will work for everyone is MSI’s Afterburner.

If you want more detailed explanations, be sure to read our guides on how to read your PC’s CPU temperature and GPU temperature.

Intake and outtake

Stack of Arctic P12 case fans Alaina Yee / IDG

PC cooling starts with two case fans. You can have more than that, but you want at least two. Some cheaper desktops or PC cases only come with a single fan; you’ll want to install another fan if that’s true in your system. One needs to be for intake that brings cooler air into the case. The other is for outtake or moving hot air out of the case. (Here’s how to tell which way your PC fans are blowing.) Having a single fan doing just one of those things will significantly increase temperatures.

Where these fans are situated depends on the case, but the outtake fan is usually positioned toward the back of the case, near the CPU. It can also be at the very top of the case, right above the CPU. This placement make sense because the CPU is outputting a lot of heat that needs to get out of the case, and the other major heat generator, the graphics card, is just below that.



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