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How to Diagnose an Overheating Dell Desktop Computer

written by: John Garger•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 5/25/2011

There are several reasons why your Dell desktop computer may be overheating. Learn how to check the temperature inside your Dell desktop to diagnose the cause of overheating.

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    Overheating Computers

    As home and office computers became granular, more and more parts had to work together to produce a reliable computing experience for users. More parts that are independent means more heat generated by the computer as a whole and, consequently, the possibility of overheating computers is a real problem.

    Dell is the number one computer manufacturer in the world making them most capable of taking advantage of economies of scale to produce low-cost computers that undercut the competition. However, sometimes in its mission to gain those economies of scale, a few problems slip through the cracks and result in unreliable or moderately reliable products. Coupled with the conditions an end user may put his/her computer through, the threat of overheating is very real.

    There are three main reasons your Dell computer may be overheating. The first two deal with the hardware that shipped with your computer. The third deals with the environment in which you use your computer. Read on to learn the source of overheating problems in your Dell computer and how you may be able to fix them yourself.

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    Heatsink is Improperly Seated in Your Dell Desktop Causing Overheating

    Before your Dell computer ends up on your desktop it may have made quite a long trip and been subjected to all the thing that go with time spent in a truck or in an airplane. Bumps, drops, and other things not conducive to computer health may have dislodged or slightly moved your heatsink.

    Most home-computer CPUs are cooled by a heatsink/fan combination. With temperatures of the surface of a CPU capable of reaching over 90 degrees Celsius (194 degree Fahrenheit), you can imagine how important proper cooling of the CPU is to computer reliability. At about the 85 to 90 degree Celsius mark, your computer is likely to shut down, restart, or even begin to melt important parts of the CPU and surrounding components causing irreparable damage.

    There is a simple enough fix. Just be sure your heatsink is properly seated on the CPU and that the fan is spinning. If not, learn how to reseat the heatsink or have a professional computer technician do it for you.

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    Dell Computer Heatsink is Not Adequate to Cool CPU

    Sometimes in its haste to produce low-cost computers, Dell does not test its machines for maximum reliability. One problem this creates is the shipping of computers with heatsinks and fans that are inadequate to provide proper cooling to the CPU.

    This may not be Dell’s fault entirely. Manufacturers like Intel and AMD release new processors and whole classes of processors each year. There just is not enough time to test every combination of CPU, cooling unit, and environmental conditions. The result is a CPU paired with a cooling unit that is inadequate or borderline adequate.

    Once you have determined that the heatsink/fan combination is seated properly, monitor your CPU’s temperature using a free temperature application such as Abit’s Microguru or Asus’ PC Probe. Turn your Dell computer off and let it sit for about ten minutes to ensure that the CPU is at room temperature. Turn on your computer and when Windows loads, immediately turn on your temperature monitor and watch to see if the temperature rises sharply.

    If everything is OK, then start opening up programs that are not CPU intensive such as word processors or an Internet browser. Continue to open programs and do things with your Dell computer such as watching a DVD or playing games. If the temperature continues to rise until the CPU causes your Dell desktop to overheat and restart, then your heatsink/fan may be inadequate to handle the heat generated by the CPU at high loads.

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    Fixing the Overheating Problem

    Fixing this problem is a matter of replacing your heatsink with a higher quality cooling solution. Rarely is someone with an overheating Dell forced to move to something like water-cooling. Normally, a better heatsink is the answer.

    However, before you buy anything, check with Dell in case the heatsink is covered under warranty or if there was a recall on your desktop’s cooling unit. It may cost you nothing to fix your overheating Dell computer.

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    Not Enough Air Flow is Causing Overheating of the CPU

    The heatsink and fan combination is responsible for cooling the CPU but they cannot do their job if there is not enough cool, ambient-temperature air to draw heat from between the fins of the heatsink through a heat transfer method called convection.

    Heat from the processor passes through the heatsink and into the many fins or arms at the end of the heatsink. The heat then transfers into the air between the fins and the fresh air from the fan pushes the heat out from between the fins. The more cool air the fans can push through the fins of the heatsink, the better the heat transfer process.

    Assuming that the heatsink and fan are adequate to cool your Dell computer’s processor, the culprit for the lack of fresh air may be the environment in which you use your computer. First, be sure that the computer’s insides are not caked with dust bunnies and other obstructions. Second, make sure that the case fans (assuming your Dell desktop has any) can blow air freely into the case. Third, be sure that any case fans in the front of the computer blow in and any at the back of the computer blow out. It is very easy to switch the fan around accidentally so it blows in the wrong direction. If all these conditions are met, then you will want to consider again that the either the heatsink is not properly seated or that the heatsink and fan combination are incapable of providing enough hest dissipation away from the processor.

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    Symptoms of an overheating Dell desktop computer include unexpected shutdowns, unexpected restarts, and even a refusal to boot up at all. Using the advice above you can begin to diagnose, troubleshoot, and fix your overheating Dell computer. Keep in mind, though, that unless you have expert experience working with electronics, putting your hands inside of a computer can be dangerous. If you are unsure, consult with a computer technician or contact Dell support for help.

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