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How to Know If Your CPU is Failing (Or Dead)

Wondering how to tell if your CPU is failing or if it’s completely dead and the root cause of your total system collapse? This guide will tell you everything you need to know!

CPUs, like everything else, have a lifespan. There is a reason you’d have a hard time firing up your Macintosh from 1999 these days and that is because the CPU eventually gets to a point where it is either failing or straight up dead.

So, what happens then, when your expensive investment is on the fritz? Is it time to break the bank on a brand-new system or is there a way to save it?

Let’s dive into the details and learn how to decipher whether your CPU is failing or beyond the point of no return.

Symptoms of CPU Failure

Generally, a CPU will either operate mostly normally or not operate at all. This means that there are usually not many signs of a failing CPU and that total failure is something that happens suddenly and without warning. More often than not, the root of PC problems are non-CPU related and instead related to a hard drive, a GPU, etc.

However, there are some cases in which signs will start appearing to alert you to CPU failure.

In the event that your CPU has completely died, you’ll get nothing when you turn on your system. If it’s failing but still hanging on, you can sometimes expect signs such as the fan running at very high speeds for no reason or the power-on self-test not working.

When working with a Windows PC, leaving a PC at idle for a few minutes will do no harm. With a failing CPU though, you’re going to have an occasionally frozen screen, even when you leave it alone.

Overheating can be a problem with a failing CPU, so make sure you understand how hot your CPU can safely run.

The worst of the symptoms is the infamous blue screen of death in which your entire screen will be replaced with a blue screen telling you there is a system halt taking place.

We also have a separate guide to determining if you should first upgrade your CPU or if your GPU may actually be the weak link.

Reasons Why Your CPU May Have Failed

Dust & Dried Thermal Paste on CPU

There are obvious reasons why your PC is having issues and then there are the hidden ones that might not be as obvious to people who aren’t well versed in the innards of PCs. Instead of spending your hard-earned money to get a diagnosis from a shop, we can hopefully help you figure things out.

One of the first things to consider when your system has gone bad is the age of the system. If you are trying to run modern programs on a system that’s almost a decade old, you should know that it will struggle regardless of whether the other parts of the computer are working well.

When a computer gets to be five years plus in age, that is when you are likely to start to see things slow down considerably and it should be about then when you’re thinking of making a change.

Heat can also play a big part in whether or not your CPU is failing as well. If you happen to have your computer in a room that is hot at all times, this can cause the system to overheat and the GPU will suffer because of it. Having the computer on during particularly hot days with no cooling system in place can cause this to happen.

We recommend using third-party software to monitor your PC’s internal temperatures. For free, easy to use options, check out our software comparison of Core Temp and Real Temp.

The other way that overheating can happen is from Overclocking. Many gamers want to push their systems as far as they can go and one way to do this is by Overclocking.

While you can Overclock the GPU to get increased game performance, Overclocking the CPU pushes the system even further. The issue with this, is if you aren’t careful, you can heat your system up beyond repair and once that thing is fried, it is goodbye CPU.

While Overclocking can be done perfectly fine under careful alterations, if you start pushing things such as GPU volage and other operations that shouldn’t be tampered with, you could end up with a completely cooked computer.

Even small extra precautions (like a higher-performance thermal paste) are often worthwhile when heating your system to its limits.

If you’re gaming and the game in question needs a particular operating system to run it and you don’t have it, do not Overclock your CPU just to run the game. The stress of this will cause overheating too and even if you’re careful here, you’re inherently pushing the system far past its capabilities and that will never result in good things.

How to Prevent CPU Failure

Cleaning Inside PC Case with Vacuum

You’ve got a solid 5-year window to make sure things don’t go up in flames. Here are some ways you can prolong the life of your CPU:

1. Keep the system clean– Dust is a major culprit for overheating CPUs and if you’re not the cleaning your space for it semi regularly, it could sneak into the vents and caused all kinds of issues inside your system.

2. Use a cooler- CPU coolers are sold in many forms and with good reason. This tool can help reduce CPU temperature by almost 10 C and when you’re running high power games and programs, your CPU will always get hot, so the faster you can keep the temperature down in your system, the safer it will be.

3. Add a supplemental case fan- If you’ve tinkered with your system, its possible the case you have won’t be sufficient to handle the increased heat that might result from those alterations. If that’s the case, a supplemental fan could help keep things cool on the inside as well as reducing temperatures inside as well.

4. Get a better case- While you can get all the fans in the world to make your case cooler, sometimes the case itself can contribute to the heat buildup. If you think this is causing your issue, then you can get another case. Some of these cases provide a duct that releases the heat that causes your system issues and this way, it’s filtered out harmlessly. Using cases like this, you can lower the CPU temperature an addition 10 C.

5. Change the position of your PC- As crazy as it is, you can change the result of your CPUs fate by simply changing the place in which you have your desktop tower. If you have your system pointed to a heater for example, then during winter months, you might see your system run hotter. During the summer, you’ll likely have air condition on and the resulting room temperature will likely be the result.

All that said, a CPU can fail even if you take all the steps needed to make it safe. That’s just the nature of the machine. The above tips should help you identify problems as (or before) they happen.

Understanding How a CPU Works

Although it is just one of many parts, a CPU is the main piece of any computing device. The CPU is a chip that is located in the main circuit board on the inside of your device. It is located separately from your memory and it is separate from your GPU which determines how your computer looks visually with all video and 3D graphics.

In modern devices, laptops and desktops all have a dedicated CPU that performs many functions for these systems. Phones and tablets also utilize a CPU as well although it is contained in a slightly different way.

CPUs, at their most basic function, take instructions from a program or application that you’re using and performs a calculation. The calculation goes down in three phases: the fetch phase, the decode phase and the execute phase. The RAM fetches the instruction to the CPU and from there, decodes the instruction and then executes it using the CPU. After that process is done, whatever happens on screen is a result of what the CPU just went through.

The Importance of a CPU

In past tech, CPUs were almost the sole determinant of how a system would perform. While that’s not the case anymore, they are still the core of your system. The faster the CPU, the better your system will run overall.

If you’re running graphically intensive programs or games, your CPU still matters, but much of the heavy lifting is being performed by your GPU. This is especially true if you are running a game that requires top of the line graphics to play. If that is the case, the GPU, hard drive and the RAM take over from there.

The CPU is essentially responsible for every single process your computer goes through. From gaming, to watching videos, to recording music- it all happens from the CPU taking and interpreting instructions.

Long story short: If your CPU is failing, everything will be affected.

Final Thoughts

Computing issues can take on many forms. Sometimes, functions might not work, operations could shut down for no apparent reason and things can even begin overheating when seemingly nothing is happening. When these processes start shutting down, that is when CPU failure is likely the culprit.

It’s not always as cut and dry though as we’d all like. There are tons of different parts of PC that might be failing you. It could be your GPU, the fans, the power supply- the list is nearly endless.

When trying to determine the health of your computer, it’s never a bad idea begin with troubleshooting your CPU, as its the brain in your computer and the starting point for all processes.

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