Knowing when and how to check your PC’s CPU temperature is one of the less glamorous aspects of PC ownership, but it’s worthwhile – especially if you’ve got a brand new system, or have just built a rig yourself. Excess heat is the PC’s natural enemy, and if you’ve gone too far with an overclock or haven’t installed the cooler correctly, you can expect overheating, automatic shutdowns and even permanent damage to your processor.
Annoyingly, Microsoft has never built a proper CPU temperature monitor into Windows, but there are options for both free software and premium hardware that will do the job. Read all about the best ones below, and for reference, you should be aiming for CPU core temperatures of 70-80°c while running games. Anything up to 90°c is safe but not strictly optimal for health and performance, and if you’re running closer to 100°c, you're in "uh oh" territory. Tone down any overclocking, or replace/refit your cooler.
Honestly, you can just use Core Temp. It’s easily readable, updates in real time, is compatible with every CPU under the sun and shows you the temperatures of all your processor’s individual cores, so in a worst-case scenario you can see which ones specifically are getting too toasty.
Installing it is dead easy too. Simply click the big blue “Download” on the Core Temp site, then run the executable file once it’s downloaded. While clicking through the installation wizard you will need to uncheck some boxes to avoid adding some bloatware, but otherwise you can keep hitting “Next” until Core Temp is installed.
In the app itself, the temperatures of all your CPU’s cores are listed at the bottom. Another cool aspect of Core Temp – if don’t mind painfully stretching the definition of cool – is that it also lists the lowest and highest temperatures that each core has recorded during the current session. That might be handy if, say, you want to know how high your core temperatures peak during sustained play, but you can’t be bothered with constantly alt-tabbing out to monitor it.
If you fancy more of a complete system-monitoring suite, NZXT Cam is a good bet. I wasn’t initially impressed when, several years ago, it launched in support of some broadly overpriced NZXT cases (even though you don’t actually need any NZXT hardware to install it). Nowadays, though, it’s a nicely comprehensive set of tools for monitoring temps, speeds and loads, not to mention tinkering with compatible lighting and even overclocking.
For simply checking your PC’s CPU temperature, though, you can just take a peek at the default “PC Monitoring” tab, which appears as default whenever you open CAM. To install, simply hit “Download CAM” on the NZXT CAM site and run the executable once it downloads.
Just put your CPU temperature on your cooler, I guess
Modern PC cases have largely abandoned 5.25in drive bays: the front-facing slots that most often housed CD/DVD drives or, as is pertinent here, hardware monitoring displays. However, if you still want a more physical CPU temperature readout, there are some AIO watercoolers that can display current core temps on their own pumps.
The likes of the NZXT Kraken Z63 (which I’ve tried and is excellent), the Asus ROG Ryujin II 360 and the Gigabyte Aorus Waterforce X 360 all feature little onboard displays. Through their respective companion software, you can customise what appears on them, from custom images and animated GIFs to- yes - system monitoring info.
The downside is that you’ll have to look inside your PC whenever you want to check the temperature, which might not be ideal if your rig sits on the floor, angled away or doesn’t even have a side window to begin with. Still, bonus points for having the CPU temperature glowing just a couple of inches away from the CPU itself.