This is common knowledge for many PC builders, but figuring PC cooling out why cooling is an integral part of a build can be useful, as can applying these principles to new builds.
The basics are simple: large workloads (such as games) cause heat to be generated by the hardware. Overheated components can cause performance issues. The ideal setup keeps all your components cool and allows you to get the best performance from your system.
How Heat Can Affect Performance
Heat is an inevitable product of the operation of computer hardware, but too much heat can cause slowdowns throughout your system.
If the CPU temperature gets too high, a mechanism will trigger reduced performance to avoid damaging the processor. According to Mark Gallina, System Thermal & Mechanical Architect at Intel, “Intel CPUs deliver very robust thermal management features, which quickly adjust operating frequencies to reduce power when the system cooling solution is insufficient.”
This safety mechanism, which is sometimes referred to as dynamic frequency scaling, is useful for protecting your processor from potential damage. However, this protection affects performance when active. A better option is to let the CPU cool enough that the mechanism doesn’t get triggered at all.
Many laptops that use the latest Intel® Core™ processors use a feature called Dynamic Tuning. This process uses AI to predict workload, and can increase or decrease CPU performance as needed to keep up with that workflow. This is all done automatically by the computer, with no manual adjustments required by the user.
Users have full control over processor performance, through overclocking1 or underclocking. By changing the voltage available to your CPU, either through the BIOS or with overclocking software, you can increase or decrease the speed of the processor, and as a result, increase or decrease the amount of heat generated. Overclocking is usually done to increase performance, but if lower power consumption or lower temperatures are a priority, underclocking can also be tried.
How to Keep the Processor Cool
There are many ways to keep a CPU cool, from mineral oil to passive cooling, but by far the most popular solutions are air or liquid CPU coolers. This cooler offers a variety of features and options for any use case, from desktop to portable systems. Laptops typically use advanced air cooling systems specifically designed for smaller chassis and are usually not designed to be upgraded or replaced.
Properly applied thermal paste is also a key part of the cooling solution, as it acts as a bridge between the CPU and the cooling plate of the CPU cooler.
To ensure operation within the ideal CPU temperature range, open this page, view your specific processor, open Package Specifications, and check the processor’s “Tjunction”. If your CPU is near that temperature (which can be determined with temperature monitoring software such as Intel® Extreme Tuning Utility (Intel® XTU)), it’s time to diagnose a possible problem. Start by making sure that the thermal paste is properly applied, your CPU cooler is properly installed, and your system has adequate airflow.
If you’re looking for the ideal temperature for your CPU, but don’t know which one is in the system, there are several ways to find out. The first step is to open System Information in Windows* 10 (WINDOWS KEY+i). Then, go to the “System” section, then select the “About” tab on the left. Your processor information will be displayed in the “Device Specifications” section. If you prefer more detailed information such as live performance metrics, open the Task Manager (CTRL+SHIFT+ESC). Next, select the “Performance” tab, then the “CPU” tab.
It’s not just the CPU that needs temperature management. The GPU (graphics processing unit) is another important component in a gaming PC and also needs to be adequately cooled. GPU cooling solutions are pre-installed and usually consist of a fan mounted in an enclosure around the graphics processor. In addition, there are aftermarket solutions such as liquid cooling blocks as well as dedicated air coolers for advanced builders who are happy to remove the graphics card for more customized cooling options.
GPU and CPU temperatures should take priority, as these are the main processing centers of gaming PCs. But these considerations are not the only ones.
All components that use electricity — meaning everything in a PC — create heat when used. Most have an integrated cooling system. RAM is usually equipped with a metal heatsink designed to disperse heat, and the power supply usually has a fan designed for this purpose. Even motherboards have heatsinks for components that get hot, and modern options sometimes include heat shields for M.2 storage to prevent potential slowdown caused by overheating.
However, keeping the heat away from the components is only half the battle. If all the components spread heat over a small area, such as the inside of a PC case, the surrounding temperature can quickly increase. If not properly ventilated, hot air can cause the system to overheat, and performance can also be compromised.