Over the past couple weeks, I’ve barely played any games at all. I got back into F.E.A.R. and have almost finished it, but my system has not being running so hot lately – actually, it’s been running very hot, which brings me to the topic of this post.

Over the past year I’ve replaced just about every piece of hardware. I started with the motherboard and worked my way out. Most recently replacing my 266MHz memory with a pair of 512MB, 400MHz Corsair XMS ProSeries RAM. Since my CPU has a front side bus of 800MHz, I was looking forward to a pretty significant performance increase. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case at all. After installing the RAM, I noticed no increase at all. Still the same hiccups and lags remained. It was time to do some serious troubleshooting – having dropped so much cash on my machine over the past year, I wasn’t ready to give up on it just yet. I knew there had to be a cause for the slowdowns and poor performance I’m seeing.

First, I ran some benchmarks. I used some standalone apps like 3dMark05, Sandra and Fraps. The results were upsetting to say the least. After a fresh reboot, I fired up Counter Strike Source and ran the video stress test. First run was 113 FPS – sweet! I ran it again immediately which returned an abysmal 57 FPS. Once more… 48 FPS. This continued until I reached around 30 FPS. At this point, I wasn’t really sure what to do. I’ve never seen a performance loss like that.

case - beforeAfter starting some threads on a couple tech message boards, people started asking questions about my CPU temperatures and what I’m using for cooling. I’m completely embarrassed to say that I hadn’t given much thought to either. It turns out my CPU was running at around 55* celcius while idling. I don’t even want to know how hot it was under load. As far as cooling and circulation goes – I had a 120mm case fan in the back and the factory Intel CPU cooler. Nothing to pull cold air in and as you can see from the photo to the right – a mess of cables to trap the hot air. I was confident the dudes were onto something and decided to drop some cash into a better cooling solution.

case - after$100 later, I returned home from the local shop with a 120mm Vantec Stealth case fan and a heavy duty, pure copper 92mm Zalman CPU cooler. Just as I was about to dive into my case and started yanking the old shit out, my friend Justin stopped by to save the day. As you might have already figured, I’m not exactly the most savvy guy when it comes to building computers. Otherwise, I would have never been in this mess in the first place. After about an hour, Justin had it all up and running. On first boot, my CPU was running at 21*. w00t! But it was time to put it to the test. We fired up Counter Strike Source once again… the result – 118 FPS! Ok, that’s great… but let’s see how it does the second time. With fingers tightly crossed, we waiting nervously for the benchmark to finish. 117 FPS! Success! I ran it a third time, just to be safe – 118 FPS once again. That was it – my poor air circulation and insufficient cooling was causing my CPU (and everything else, for that matter) to run too hot, resulting in throttling, which in turn causes everything to run under it’s ability.

As some said on the message boards, I’m really lucky I didn’t damage anything! I could have fried the CPU or the motherboard. And I’m sure if I kept pushing it, I would have.

At the end of all of this, I feel like a total idiot for not having thought of this earlier. But I wanted to share my story in hopes that I might clue others before it’s too late. If you work your machine hard at all, you should make sure you have proper circulation and adequate cooling. And this doesn’t just apply to gaming, but graphic designers, video editors, 3d animators – all of these people use applications that are very demanding. If you fall into any of these categories, you might want to take a look inside your case and check up on your temperatures to make sure you’re a-ok.

19 Comments

Hey there, Yeah I know about pc cooling the hard way, I didn’t know it affected your gaming performance. I had a power suppy get to hot and blow up after installing a new video card and Battlefield 2 this summer, and i had all my fans facing out and nothing bringing in cool air and my system kept running at about 958F. But then I took one of the fans and directed it so it brought cold air in and it runs in the mid 80’s. I’m going to look into that more, test and see what my FPS are at diff. temps. Thanks for the heads up.

I have spent a bit of money upgrading my machine of late but I would have to confess that I struggled to find somewhere handy to mount my themometers. Maybe I will go back and take a look tonight although I am reluctant to go back into my machine after spending most of the weekend trying to get my new SATA drive recognised by windows….

I am stopping smoking in the new year and plan to buy myself new computer bits as a reward each month so maybe a nice cooling system can be part of that scheme… Thanks for the advice!

@ Koray: Yikes, that sucks! After talking to some friends, I found out that if I had an AMD processor I probably wouldn’t have been so lucky. Apparently, they don’t do so well under extreme heat and tend to explode.

@ Alan: Isn’t installing Windows on a S-ATA drive fun? When I first got my S-ATA HD, I didn’t have a floppy drive in my machine. So I had to jack my wife’s. What a pain in the ass. I ended up picking one up just a few months ago when it was time to do a fresh install of XP.

I use Motherboard Monitor to keep an eye on my temps. It’s just a small app that runs in your taskbar, displaying your CPU and case temps. It uses the censors on your mobo, so no need for themometers.

Uh oh, I really better monitor the heat in my case then, cuz I have an AMD. I’d hate for it to explode.

Yeah I went through pretty much every possible combination of drivers etc i.e Promise & VIA… I ended up slipstreaming sp2 and then ripping a floppy out of an old machine to try again with the via drivers and it finally worked. What a hassle though…

Roll on stable 64bit operating systems that I can play games on (err and just install a damn hard drive)… I am happy enough coding with my bare hands so I could live without some of my favourite development apps and move to suse 10 or something. The downside being that I too like games but I also have a family that would hate not having windows…. bummer!

P.S. Sorry for the long comments, don’t mean to hog space 😉

Yeah… but then you come into the ever-so-fun world of the howling computer before you know it. That’s my major problem right now, I’ve got an 80mm blowing in and a 120mm blowing out. It sounds more like a wind tunnel in my room than a computer… I’ll have to look into ways of quieting it down.

BTW, are you sure that 21* was your CPU? That seems awfully, awfully low. Looks a lot more like system temp than CPU. Also keep in mind, your processor depends on your temp. AMD’s can run a lot hotter without damage or performance decrease than Intels, and they’re designed to.

That’s really interesting. I really never knew overheating issues actually affected system performance. I always thought it would just lock up (best case) or fry in case of serious overheating.

I guess that throttling is a pretty good thing. Without it you probably would have had a full meltdown 😉

In the meanwhile I’m patting my water-cooled G5 😀

@Kyle: Yeah, it was 21* (celious, btw) the first time I started up. It sits around 30-33* on idle now.

Also, in regards to your wind tunnel situation. The Stealth Vantec fans are pretty quiet. I’ve got two 120mm Stealth fans and they’re way quieter than I had assumed they would be. I’ve also got the Antec Sonata case – which is subtitled "The quitest case available." Might have something to do with it. 😉

@Marco: Oh man, I love water cooling! The next time I build a new machine, it’ll definitely be water cooled. I just saw this new water cooling system that came with transparent tubes and colouring so the water is ‘toxic’ green. Awesome!

Nice dude.

I have a very similar setup, and have been experiencing poor perfomance on a lot of applications.

Through some extensive research, I found out that when I had pulled the fan off my CPU to to give it the ol’ stare-down, I displaced some of the thermal paste that conducts the heat to the heatsink.

Apparently, if you ever take your CPU fan off, you should apply more thermal paste to the CPU before putting the fan back on. A product called "Arctic Silver" has been highly recommended.

10 degree variances are not uncommon if proper thermal paste has not been applied. That figure is made up, as I can’t recall the exact numbers indicated in the article, but that should be enough to scare people.

Perhaps I’ll get around to this one day and report back. If anyone is familiar with Arctic Silver, please share your knowledge.

I got 2 x http://www.chillpak.com for my laptop, and hope to avoid the issues you had when running WoW, or other CPU intensive tasks.

Normally it is rare to see laptop cooling methods out there.

I can also say I used arctic silver for my desktop cpu, chipset heatsink AND gpu fan/heatsink. It really helps.

I have that cooler (the 120mm version I think), its fantastic!

My case does have a front intake fan, but I don’t turn it on to reduce the noise (it only has an 80mm fan), I find if you have a decent rear fan, and a reasonably clear case then you shouldn’t have any problems with temperature. My overclocked Athlon 64 only gets to about 55C at load.

I’m curious how hot you got the processor though, I once ran an Athlon at 110C for 30 minutes by accident, but two years later its still working! I’m pretty sure the clock throttling saved your processor, it would’ve shut down otherwise.

Excellent post Matt.

I’ve burnt 1 laptop ($1,200), and 1($600) computer because of heating issues.

You may want to check into Thermal Grease ($5) for maximum performance. The stuff works wonders, it’s lowered my current CPU’s temp by 5c. :O

PS:

Great site, nice content. 🙂

Ok first time on this site, anyone ever heard of a mystical bird called a phoenix, that got to close to the sun and burned up? well heat kills, its a fact.

Artic silver 5 is what you need, it will drop your ave. temp @ 10c, but you need to follow the directions. You also need to allow a burn in time, @ 48hr of run time for optimal conductivity.

cooling fans, running 2 120’s top blow holes, 2 80’s blowing from rear across 120mm zalmann cpu cooler, 2 80’s blowing in from the front over 4 raid discs, had 1 80 on side blowing across 7800gt w/ zalmann gpu cooler, went sli all temps in case went up @ 10c, changed to 2 120’s on side of case blowing directly onto both cards,

cpu temps 31c idle, 45 cfull load

gpu temps 36c idle, 48-51c load

you can check your temps with MBM, motherboardmonitor, google it.

gpu temps use rivatuner with the hardware monitor under low level tuning tab.

just remember heat kills.

oh yeah forgot something, clean your heat sinks with compressed air at least once every six months, and for you smokers out there once amonth, nicotine is like a magnet for dust and will clog your fans and heatsinks super fast.

Thermal grease – I forgot to mention that in my post. My buddy said I might have had too much on my CPU. Which could actually have the reverse effect and trap the heat instead of extracting it. Yikes!

@JAKAZZ: Great comment, thanks for your insight. Your machine has got to be wicked loud with all those fans. Hopefully you’re running all wifi and wireless gear and have it in a separate room. 😉

actually they are all thermal takes and the 120’s are on a zalman fanmates, its actually very quite, plus when temps do get up when gaming it doesnt really matter the 5.1 surround is so loud it shakes the house

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