Laptop’s CPU Reaching 80-90+ Degrees: Safe?

Here’s whether it’s safe for your laptop’s CPU to reach temperatures of 80-90 degrees.

On average, operating a consumer-grade CPU between 80 and 90 degrees Celsius is pushing the limits of safe temperatures. 

The exact safe temperature threshold depends on the model of processor and setup of the whole computer. 

As a rule of thumb, temperatures below 85 degrees Celsius are safe and sustainable.

So if you want to learn all about your CPU’s temperatures, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s jump right in!

Laptop's CPU Reaching 80-90+ Degrees: Safe? (It Depends)

Are We Talking Fahrenheit or Celsius in Regards to Your Laptop’s CPU Temperature?

Before getting too deep into this conversation, it’s important to separate the Americans from the rest of the world. This question takes on a completely different meaning depending on the scale used to measure the temperature.

So, let’s keep it simple. If your CPU is between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s perfectly fine. This is well within safe operating temperatures for CPUs, and it’s probably fine to leave the discussion at that.

However, if we’re talking about Celsius, things are a lot more interesting. The short answer above already covers that 80 to 90 degrees Celsius is pushing the threshold of safe operating temperatures. 

As we get deeper into the topic and explain what exactly is happening, you can assume for the rest of this conversation that all temperatures are only in Celsius.

How Hot Is Too Hot For Your Laptop’s CPU?

Installing of processor in CPU socket

Now that the temperature scale is settled let’s get into the nuts and bolts of it all. Is 90 degrees too hot? 

Well, it can be, but it won’t always be. That’s not a solid answer, and it’s because a lot of factors are at play here. 

The safe operating temperature for a CPU (central processing unit) depends on how it is manufactured and its intended use cases. Some CPUs are built to run hotter than others, and that does matter.

On average, you want to keep consumer-grade processors below 95 degrees. 

Above that temperature, you’re likely to start seeing glitches and behavioral problems. 

Temperatures that are too high can also damage the processor. 

Unless you have something designed for high-end server use, extreme environments, or other abnormal use cases, you can think of 95 as a reasonable maximum safe temperature.

If you’re really curious, your best bet is to look up the manufacturer’s information for the specific processor in question. 

You might have to dig through dense literature, but you can usually find a recommended operating temperature range, and often the top temperature listed will be between 85 and 95 degrees. 

As long as your computer is operating below the safe threshold, you don’t have to worry about overheating.

Why Not Put Your Laptop in the Freezer to Cool Down?

Hand opening freezer door

Because.

Putting a laptop in the freezer is a bad idea. No matter why you might be tempted to do this, the freezer is capable of destroying any laptop. 

The result will vary based on how long it stays in the freezer, but it voids warranties and destroys laptops.

Learn all about what happens when you put your laptop in a freezer here.

What Does Heat Do to a Laptop’s CPU?

Modern electric fan on table next to the laptop in office

This might make more sense if you have a stronger idea of why the temperature matters so much. 

On the surface, it seems reasonable that temperatures can mess with electronics. Lots of things stop working when they get too hot, but what specifically happens to a processor?

Well, you’re not really worried about things melting. Processors are made from conductive and semi-conductive materials. They can take pretty high temperatures without sustaining damage.

For the most part, there are two specific problems that arise when your CPU gets too hot: thermal expansion and resistivity.

Thermal Expansion

Happy female freelancer working on computer.

Let’s talk about thermal expansion first. This is a scientific term that explains how things literally get bigger as they get hotter. 

Thermal expansion is why they put cracks in sidewalks, for example. It’s also how old mercury thermometers work. 

The mercury inside the thermometer expands when it gets hotter. Depending on how much it has expanded, you can read the temperature.

When it comes to a CPU, thermal expansion is a major concern. CPUs are made up of microscopic transistors. These are essentially tiny switches that respond to currents in order to perform the logic that makes a computer work. Tiny is the operative word here.

If a system is made of closely-knit microscopic pieces, how much thermal expansion do you think is necessary before that system no longer functions? Even a small amount of expansion can warp and damage the CPU (and this applies to other computer components too).

Now, the CPU is designed to handle a fair amount of heat. These things regularly operate at temperatures hotter than you can safely touch with your hand. They use a bunch of engineering features like heat sinks and radiators to manage the heat on the CPU. 

To skip a bunch of technical explanations, computers are designed well, so thermal expansion isn’t a problem until things get much hotter than what is deemed normal for a computer.

But, when you get above 95 degrees, the risk of thermal expansion starts to set in.

Resistivity

woman with glasses using laptop on sofa

The thing about thermal expansion is that it is less commonly the problem that arises when a computer gets too hot. Resistivity is a more frequent issue, and it also bears a heavy impact on how the computer functions.

In a circuit, resistance is kind of like friction. It’s a force that literally makes it harder for the electrons to flow through the system. 

Computers work by carefully controlling the flow of electrons through complicated circuits, so this is an important concept.

Here’s the thing with temperature and resistivity. As a conductor gets hotter, the resistance through that conductor goes up. 

So, as your CPU gets hotter, it gets harder and harder to push electrons through the microscopic circuits inside of the CPU. Once the CPU gets hot enough, the currents get too hard to control, and this is where things get weird.

When you see visual glitches or other problems with an overheating CPU, it’s usually because the increased resistivity inside of the CPU is preventing the circuits from functioning the way they were designed. 

You can see all kinds of random errors, and the computer isn’t really usable in this state.

What’s more, is that resistance is the primary source of heat in a computer. When the resistance increases, the computer generates more heat. 

That leads to more resistance, which increases the heat further. It’s a feedback loop, and once you get above a critical threshold, the CPU can literally burn itself out.

Once again, the average temperature for this is in the ballpark of 95 degrees, but it can be lower for some systems.

Overheating Failsafes

Displeased woman sitting in front of the laptop.

There’s an additional mechanism to consider when it comes to hot CPUs. Most of them are designed to prevent overheating. 

They have fail-safes that throttle the CPU usage when temperatures get too high. This is great in that it protects the CPU from damaging itself, but it comes with a potentially frustrating side effect.

When a CPU is throttled, it can dramatically impact your computer’s performance. So, you might not see the glitches that often come from overheating. 

The computer might not be able to keep up with the tasks you assign to it. In this case, the CPU isn’t overheating in the sense that it is sustaining damage, but your experience won’t improve unless the CPU can cool down.

What Is Making the Computer’s CPU So Hot?

Female manager typing code html css cyber company at work place station indoors

This was touched on briefly in the previous section, but it merits a little more attention. When you understand what causes a computer to get hot, you have a little more ability to deal with the heat and make informed decisions about how you use your computer.

In general, CPU activity is what generates heat. That comes from electrical resistance, and we’ll get into the mechanics of it in a bit. For now, suffice it to say that the more you use your CPU, the hotter it gets.

So, if operating temperatures are a problem, your best bet is to reduce the computer’s workload. You can additionally consider environmental factors that will also be covered in greater detail in a bit.

Electrical Resistance

A CPU is effectively a combination of very large numbers of circuits and switches. Those circuits work via a flow of electricity. In essence, every logical decision a CPU has to make generates some amount of electrical resistance as it pushes electrons through the switch.

When you consider the sheer number of times an electron goes through a switch in a processor, you can see how a lot of heat is generated.

Let’s put this in perspective. The Ryzen 7 3700X is a popular high-end computer processor. It’s consumer-grade, but it outperforms your average PC processor. 

It has 3.8 million transistors. That’s 3.8 million switches that can direct electrons. If you’re using all of those transistors at the fastest rate possible, you’re generating a lot of heat.

But, such a powerful processor doesn’t have to run at full throttle for most consumer tasks. In fact, PC users can pull up their Task Manager and look at the Performance tab right now. 

If the only thing you’re doing is browsing the internet, you’re probably only using a fraction of your CPUs total power. So, you’re not generating nearly as much heat as you could.

This is why giving the processor a break is so important to controlling CPU temperature. The cooling system attached to the processor can handle all of the heat the CPU generates unless you push it pretty hard (assuming everything is working normally).

Environmental Factors

Beautiful young businesswoman driving car and using laptop.

CPU usage isn’t the whole story, though. The truth is that the external environment can and will impact how much heat your computer can handle, and this is especially true for a laptop. This makes sense when you think about how a CPU gets rid of excess heat.

Ultimately, this boils down to heat exchanges. If something is hot, the only way to cool it down is to let it radiate the heat or exchange it with something cooler. For most laptops, this means running air across the processor.

This is why the majority of laptops have air vents. They use a fan that blows air across the processor that is then vented out of the device. This allows the CPU to shed a lot of heat while it goes about its work.

But, if the air used for cooling is too hot, the heat exchange doesn’t work as well. To skip a lot of physics, you ideally want room temperature air to help your computer cool itself off better. 

A computer in a hot car or near a kitchen that is producing a lot of heat is a little more prone to overheating than one in a cooler environment.

There are a few other environmental factors to consider. Direct sunlight can heat up the laptop’s shell and add to the total heat bothering the computer. 

So can hot surfaces. If you’re using the laptop on a park table that’s hot in the sunlight, it might impact temperature controls.

Let’s be really clear about this. You don’t need to use your laptop inside of a walk-in freezer. Environmental temperatures don’t need to be uncomfortably cold for everything to work normally. 

You just want to avoid excessive environmental heat that might hurt the laptop’s cooling efficiency, especially if you’re working the computer as hard as you can.

Your Laptop Fan Gets Loud All of a Sudden?

Computer repairman holding computer fan

High CPU temperatures can be one reason for a noisy laptop fan.

The more work your laptop is under, the more calculations it needs to do, and the hotter the laptop’s components get.

If it’s persistent:

  • Software issues
  • Blocked vents and dirty fan
  • Hard disk failure
  • Malware
  • Outdated drivers

You can fix it by:

  • Kill background processes
  • Clean your fan
  • Cool your laptop

Learn all about the reasons for a suddenly loud laptop fan and how to fix it here.