PC overheating is an ever-present issue when it comes to gaming or intensive workload. But is it normal or a potential fire hazard? If you try to run Crysis at max graphics, will your PC explode as the memes suggest?
In case you were wondering whether you should keep a fire extinguisher handy, you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s dive into this article to know exactly what would happen when your PC starts to overheat.
Can an Overheated Computer/CPU Catch on Fire?
No, a computer can’t catch on fire if the CPU overheats or runs at a very high temperature for a prolonged period. Never in my 20 years of PC expertise have I seen a computer becoming a fire hazard when things start to heat up during intensive workloads.
To be honest, an electronic device can catch on fire but that’s mostly due to defective components like malfunctioning laptop batteries, dust/debris buildup, or a sudden power surge. But a PC catching on fire due to overheating is extremely small (that’s what she said).
The built-in protection system will shut down the processor long before it can damage itself, let alone cause any fire hazard. Whether due to dust accumulation or an improperly seated cooling fan, CPU catching on fire due to overheating is highly unlikely.
Although it’s an incorrect term, some people refer to the whole PC case as CPU. If you’re one of those people and wondering whether it can cause fire when the whole PC overheats, don’t worry.
Even if the whole system overheats including the processor, graphics card, and PSU, it still won’t catch on fire. With today’s technology, there’s little to no chance of your system catching on fire when the entire system overheats.
There are many videos of people cooking meat on the CPU IHS, and it still didn’t ignite any fire. So you shouldn’t worry about your desktop bursting into flames when it overheats.
Testing to See What Happens When CPU Overheats
Instead of just relying on words, let’s simulate a situation where a computer can overheat and run a torture test to see what happens. Does the system burst into flames? Or does it remain unruffled? Let’s find out.
For this, I will use my pre-built Corsair One desktop with i9 9900k, 16GB DDR4 RAM, RTX 2080 Ti, and Asus ROG Thor 1200 Watts platinum PSU.
First, let’s unmount the CPU fan and remove all the case fans. Then disabling the GPU fan curve from the MSI Afterburner should do the trick. Now let’s seal off the PSU fan intake to maximize the temperature within our PC case.
Time to run a stress test. I fired up AIDA64 & MSI Combustor so both the CPU and GPU are completely bombarded by peak power input & run at 100% usage. This will ensure that the system is under extreme torture test & generates as much heat as possible.
As expected, the system immediately started to overheat without any active cooling. Just after 1 minute, I noticed the CPU reaching 100 degrees Celsius on all cores really fast and dropped its core clock from 4.7GHz to 3.6GHz.
For GPU, the temperature reached 87-88 degrees Celsius, which is the highest temperature limit. At this point, the GPU starts thermal throttling to save itself from overheating. As a result, the GPU frequency dropped from 1830MHz to 1350MHz.
Both SSD and hard drive were super hot as well, running at around 94 degrees Celsius.
Meanwhile, the power supply unit started to draw more watts, increasing from 335W to 342W.This happens because the PSU starts to lose its efficiency as the temperature rises. Hence, it will draw more power from the wall outlet.
After around 20 minutes, the system finally showed BSoD and shut itself down.I ran the stress test again when the computer booted up. The second time, the system just shut down without any warning. But still no sign of any smoke or fire.
I lowered the CPU temperature properly and ran the test a few more times. The results were the same every time.
So, if the system is still intact after this unrealistic+extreme torture test, I highly doubt it will catch on fire due to overheating from general workloads. Unless any electrical component short circuits or experiences any power surge, there’s no fire hazard for your computer.
Chances of a Laptop Catching on Fire Due to Overheating
Laptops are much more prone to overheating while playing AAA games or doing resource-heavy work such as video editing. Since laptops are much more congested, they usually don’t have enough headroom to implement a proper cooling system.
So, one might start to wonder if a laptop can catch fire due to overheating, especially in a hot environment.
Similar to a desktop, the laptop CPU & GPUs are also built on the same architecture and feature the same built-in protection that prevents any damage from overheating.
Laptop CPUs/GPUs will start throttling down their frequency and power consumption in order to generate less heat. If the system fails to bring the temperature down to a safe threshold, it will shut down to save its components from heat damage.
Let’s run a stress test and create an extreme overheating scenario to check if the laptop catches on fire. Spoiler alert! It won’t.
Anyway, I will use my Asus ROG Strix gaming laptop with an i9 12900HK, 64GB RAM, and an RTX 3080Ti. Let’s disable the CPU and GPU fan curve from the Armoury Crate software & put electrical tapes over its cooling vents to block off air circulation.
Now let’s run the CPU Stress Test & GPU Stress Test on AIDA64 to put the system under maximum processing load. As we can see, the laptop immediately starts to thermal throttle as the CPU hits 97 degrees and the GPU hits 90 degrees.
The keyboard deck becomes extremely hot to touch as the CPU and GPU are directly below it.
After around 7 minutes mark, the laptop suddenly shuts down. When the laptop cools off a few minutes later, it turns back on and functions as intended. But still no fire!
Today’s computer hardware has advanced so much & made by talented engineers who know what they’re doing. So there’s no chance of fire ignition inside a computer from CPU overheating. Nada!
Will CPU Overheating Cause Damage?
Running your computer at a very high temperature for a prolonged period can decrease the overall lifespan of your device. Silicon degradation due to overheating isn’t uncommon. It can even cause permanent damage to critical components such as VRM or power IC.
A computer running at high temperatures while playing video games is common and doesn’t call for an alarm. That being said, if your system overheats even in an idle state & you keep using it for heavy workloads, there’s a chance of hardware failure due to overheating.
First, you’d need to determine whether your PC is overheating or just running at a high temperature during resource-heavy loads. Because overheating and high temperature is not the same. Use HWMonitor or CPU-Z to check how hot the CPU temperature is.
If your system reports 80-85 degrees Celsius during gaming/workload and 40-50 degrees in idle, it’s not overheating and there’s no need to worry.
But if the temp reaches above 70 degrees in idle and thermal throttles during workload, your PC is overheating which can cause permanent damage. You also refer to this detailed guide on CPU temperature to know the safe limit.
Previously, I owned an Acer Nitro 5(i5 7300HQ, GTX 1050 Ti) which ran a bit hot. I didn’t care much about the heating issue and used to run all sorts of heavy tasks including gaming for an extended duration.
Just after a year, my laptop wasn’t turning on anymore. So I took it to Acer customer care. They told me that the VRM module has been damaged due to overheating. So I would highly recommend fixing any overheating issues on your computer ASAP.
Check for CPU throttling and regularly clean the internal of the PC case. Don’t run your computer for a prolonged period when the CPU temperature is above 90 degrees Celsius.
What happens if a CPU overheats?
If a CPU overheats, first it will lower the clock speed and power consumption to lower the temperature. If the temperature still doesn’t return to a safer threshold, the CPU will shut down and prevent itself from getting damaged by excessive heat.
Is it OK if your PC overheats?
It is totally normal if your PC gets pretty toasty during a prolonged gaming session or a heavy workload. But it’s not normal if your computer starts to overheat and runs at the maximum temperature limit for a long period.
Will PC shut down if the CPU overheats?
Yes. Your PC will shut down during CPU overheating to save its parts from being damaged. It’s a good thing as it is a lot cheaper to swap out a malfunctioning fan than buy a new CPU and motherboard.
In conclusion, no need to keep a fire extinguisher next to your gaming PC when it starts to overheat. Your computer will either slow down or completely shut down long before it can catch on fire due to overheating.
In such cases, just clean your PC, re-apply thermal paste & keep it in a well-ventilated area and you’ll be good to go.
Hopefully, you’ve got your answer. But if you still have some confusion on this query, feel free to let us know in the comment section below.
Have a nice day!