The world of PC gaming has more rules than a religion that is more than 2,000 years old. Each editor chooses his own beliefs and works in tune with it. Luckily, as with every area that goes into engineering and the laws of physics, there are things that are unquestionable.
The first thing we have to know is that an RTX 4090 will always perform better than an RTX 4080, since the higher the number, the higher the performance (consumption and price go hand in hand). And the second is that there are temperatures at which electronic components work best.
As with electric car batteries, too cold or too hot affects the performance of our CPU, our GPU, the SSD and the RAM memories. The ideal is to be in a pleasant range of temperatures where all the equipment is in its optimal range of operation.
But all this has changed a lot. With the power limits of CPUs and graphics cards getting higher and higher it seems now is as good a time as any to ask a simple question: How much is too hot for today’s PC components?
Below we are going to give you a benchmark for the maximum temperatures your PC hardware should reach, but answering this question properly is not as easy as you might think.
Why do PC components get hot?
All computer chips: CPU, GPU, DRAM, NAND flash, and more are made of a variety of materials: semiconductors (such as silicon), metals (such as copper), ceramics, and plastic. The flow and storage of electrical charge through the layers of semiconductors and metals is what makes chips work as intended.
Unfortunately, these materials resist this flow or lose their stored charge, and the energy carried by the charge is dissipated as heat. And since today’s chips contain billions of components, all connected via a dizzying number of traces, the amount of energy lost as heat is quite prolific.
Different materials will absorb this heat and rise in temperature, but to what extent will depend on the material itself. Pure silicon requires less heat energy to increase its temperature than the equivalent amount of pure copper.
Letting the chip temperature rise can lead to a number of problems. Metals, for example, increase their resistance as they heat up, while semiconductors tend to decrease it.
In general, the electrical behavior of the device will be altered, but engineers test their designs at different temperatures to find out their operating range. That is why it heats up too much or too little, the chip may break.
A major reason for keeping the temperature below a certain limit on CPUs and GPUs is leaks. The processors that run inside your PC contain billions of FinFET transistors, and because of their microscopic dimensions, electrical charge ends up going places where it shouldn’t.
When switches are in the “off” state, no current is supposed to flow, but leakage causes a small amount to creep through. Multiply that by several billion times, and the end result is that the processor consumes much more power than it should. And unfortunately, the higher the temperature, the more the problem worsens.
That is why there is a clearly defined maximum temperature limit. Stay away from temperatures that cause major leaks, aggravate other ongoing problems (electromigration), or cause physical problems (contact expansion or package damage).
What is the maximum temperature of the CPUs?
When it comes to CPUs, there are a few things to keep in mind when looking at the maximum temperatures they are limited to…
Intel has applied two temperature limits to its CPUs, for each model, for at least 10 years. The first is called Tjunction or Tj max. It is the maximum thermal junction temperature that a processor will support before thermal management systems act to re-manage the heat. To do this, the clock speeds are reduced and, in some cases, the voltages as well.
This temperature is measured in the very center of the chip.but modern processors have several sensors scattered throughout the matrix to record it.
The second, Tcase, is more of a target than a hard limit, as it is the maximum temperature that the CPU case (the surface of the metal heat sink) should reach when used with a suitable heatsink. The CPU will not change anything when running at this temperature.
Measuring this temperature can be tricky, so lMotherboard manufacturers include one or two sensors in the CPU socket to try to estimate how hot the casing is.
If we look at some example CPUs, we can see a clear pattern: despite increases in core counts, clock speeds, and power usage, Intel continues to specify a Tcase of 72°C and a maximum Tjunction of 100°C.
AMD uses a similar system for its processors, although the maximum is usually a little higher, 105°C.
The maximum temperature for the GPU
Like central processors, graphics cards have a series of sensors scattered throughout the chip, and the indicated temperature is usually an average of the recorded values: The sensor that indicates the highest value, sometimes 15 degrees or more than the rest of the chip, is considered a hot spot.
Depending on the manufacturer and model, thermal throttling (reducing clock speeds and voltages) will normally be based on the values of all temperature sensorsinstead of the highest value.
Since graphics chips typically have much higher power levels than most CPUs, the temperature limits are lower accordingly. The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090, with its 450 W TDP, has a maximum temperature of 88 °C, For example. But in general, GPUs are mostly in an 80 to 90 degree window.
AMD GPUs tend to have better heat tolerance than NVIDIA’s; the newly released Radeon RX 7900 XTX and some of their older models have limits of 110°C. There is no specific reason for this, rather it is that this is how engineers have designed the chips.
What temperature should other components of the PC reach?
Let’s take a look at other common PC components. DRAM modules in DIMMs and graphics cards have maximum temperatures similar to those of CPUs: for DDR4 and DDR5 and GDDR6 GDDR6X the limits are between 85 and 100 °C.
The chips used for system memory consume much less power than the massive mainframe and graphics processors, so you’d think they could handle much higher temperatures. However, the tiny memory chips are always wrapped in a protective material, so heat transfer is not as easy.
Fortunately, the DRAM used for system memory is highly unlikely to get that hot, while specialized modules for Graphics card VRAM can get very hot.: it is not uncommon for them to reach 80°C or higher under load.
But, like CPUs, they will still work perfectly at high temperatures, as long as the limit is not continuously exceeded. At that time the PC can be turned off voluntarily for safety.
Hard drives (HDDs) are the opposite of silicon chips. They are much less resistant to temperature, due to the need to maintain very precise physical tolerances, and often have maximum operating temperatures of about 60 °C.
Solid State Drives (SSDs) They have no moving parts, so their limits are similar to those of other semiconductor devices: 85 °C is the usual maximum. Hence, they usually have heatsinks as standard in the most premium and fastest models, since it is not uncommon for them to get hot.