How to Monitor the CPU Temp

By Ben Richard

According to the National Science Foundation, "heat can ruin modern electronics by potentially damaging the stuff that makes them work." Today's more powerful processors generate a lot of heat, and a way to monitor the CPU temperature is fast becoming a necessity for any computer system. Most (though not all) modern CPUs have temperature sensors, but accessing them can be problematic.

Find Your Processor Type

Step 1

Restart your computer and enter the BIOS (basic input/output system) to find your processor type. If your system does not show the key to access BIOS while the computer starts up, try either the F2 or Delete keys. (If you already know your processor type, see Section 2.)

Step 2

Look for the processor information. It will usually be the first frame in the BIOS menu. It should show something like: AMD Athlon(tm) 64 3200+ (Orleans).

Step 3

Jot down the information and exit the BIOS without making any changes. After this, your computer should restart or continue booting up, depending on the BIOS.

Get Freeware or Software

Step 1

With your processor information in hand, check the chip manufacturer website for a monitoring tool. Some manufacturers, like Intel, offer free diagnostic software for CPU monitoring.

Step 2

Browse to your graphics card manufacturer's website. Some graphics cards have free monitoring software that will also poll your CPU temperature (such as nVidia's NVMonitor program).

Step 3

Search for your specific CPU and monitoring software, or check the ones listed in Resources. CoreTemp and SpeedFan are both popular freeware choices that identify and read most CPU sensors.

If All Else Fails

Step 1

Check the resource "Processor Electrical Specifications" and find your processor in the list to get some idea of the maximum safe temperature for your system.

Step 2

Install an infrared thermometer if you don't already have one on your CPU or motherboard. These thermometers allow you to open the case and check the temperature without much work, though the readings will be less accurate than with a built-in sensor.

Step 3

Read a guide for cleaning your fans and heatsink. The FAQ section of The Heatsink Guide (in References) has some tips.

Tips & Warnings

  • Random shutdowns (when power is uninterrupted) are usually a sign of CPU overheating. Give the computer about 15 minutes to cool down before starting up again.
  • Not all CPU sensors are supported by various programs.
  • Not all CPUs have built-in temperature sensors.
  • Changing settings within the BIOS can be harmful to your computer, especially those that control your CPU frequency and power settings.