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Heat – that old antagonist of the computing enthusiast. The rules of the universe being what they are, power comes with the cost of heat, which in turn causes problems with stability. The more performance your PC can output, the more heat it will generate. That’s the overall rule, although it’s somewhat mitigated now by ever more efficient technologies. Both CPUs and GPUs keep shrinking in size while growing in performance, but they still get hot.

So keeping a close eye on heat is definitely advisable for anyone into PCs, especially if you’re an overclocker, or even just a serious gamer. Heat build up can easily bring about issues like system freezes, crashes, and visual artifacting, none of which are particularly desirable.

Cool blue P8Z68 Deluxe, but it can still get toasty

As a broad guideline, temperatures obviously vary from PC to PC and from location to location. Seasonal changes also play a part in this. However, modern components can take quite a lot of heat. For example, most contemporary CPUs can work just fine up to the 60′s (centigrade), although prolonged exposure to those temps is not good: you should try to keep your CPU at around 40 degrees if possible. GPUs can take on even more heat, usually tested to over 100 degrees. But that’s an extreme range, your GPU shouldn’t go over 85 degrees even in the heat of gaming.

Typically, all motherboards come with temperature sensors built-in. However, there are usually just a few of those, covering some of the essentials, like the CPU, RAM, and hard drive. Most motherboards don’t have that many sensors reporting temperatures in real time.

So what are the ways to check on heat?

Hardware

Probably the easiest is the BIOS, which is sort of a software-hardware combination. By the time you enter the BIOS screen, the temperatures shown by the listed sensors may not be in real time, as by necessity the system will cool down some between the end of the task you’re measuring for and BIOS entry.  Thus the temperatures you’re seeing aren’t actually 100% timely.

You can also get some hardware temperature sensors, like this one. These can be attached using an adhesive strip to pretty much anything inside your PC, and hooked up to a thermal reader. Of course the caveat here is that they can get messy, and require your case remains open while you’re measuring temps. They in fact stop the flow of computing, as you can’t get much done while measuring temperatures this way, and manual reading takes quite long.

Software

Temp detection in software has been around for years now, and has become a common fixture among PC enthusiasts. Software detection has the advantage of being fast and not requiring an open case. The software does the reading for you, getting the data f rom those built-in sensors we were talking about before.

Some of the more famous software suites that do this are SpeedFan, HWMonitor, and PassMark. They are typically available either for free or as trial versions, so check for current details.

Image copyright and courtesy of CPUID

The problem with software reading is accuracy. The program may not be able to access all of the motherboard’s sensors, readings may be delayed, or simply inaccurate. The same issue exists for voltages, where the only surefire way to get an accurate figure is to use a voltmeter on contact points and plugs, but that takes a lot more time and expertise than loading up a software utility.

Hybrid designs

You can consider getting one of the ASUS TUF Series SABERTOOTH boards, which come with Thermal Radar technology. These are basically a network of sensors that combine hardware detection with software reporting. The SABERTOOTH boards ship with many more sensors than mainstream models, embedded in different parts of the board. They effectively integrate hardware temp readers that report directly to the BIOS, which allows the PC to adjust case and CPU fan speeds automatically based on predetermined temperature thresholds. The Thermal Radar package also comes with a software user interface that allows you to observe temps from within the operating system. These readings are more real time than third party software offerings, although of course not as fast as actual direct measurements. Having said that, the sheer number of sensors/reading points on SABERTOOTH boards makes them a worthy investment for the heat-conscious PC builder, plus their software side offers you the ability to manually adjust fan speeds, overriding any auto settings.

ASUS TUF SABERTOOTH P67 board

We can expect heat to remain a factor in computing for a while to come, even with continued miniaturisation and increased efficiency. If you know of any other ways to check heat levels, let us know in the comment section below. Stay cool…

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