The Explorer: None Like It Hot - InformationWeek

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Commentary
7/22/2003
11:18 AM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Commentary
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The Explorer: None Like It Hot

Excessive heat is a CPU's worst enemy. Here are software utilities that can help.

But there's a ton of software on the Web, if you know where to look. Some of this software is specific to one brand or type of motherboard; other programs support many brands and models. For a taste of what's available -- much of it free, thanks to the overclocker community (bless 'em) -- poke around in Tweakfiles.

I've tried some of that software myself. For example:

Motherboard and CPU Monitors
Perhaps the best-known and most widely-used freeware thermal monitoring tool is called simply Motherboard Monitor (or MBM).  When you run it on a PC equipped with the appropriate thermal and fan sensors, it will show you the information it collects in the Windows system tray. It also can sound alarms or launch corrective actions (e.g. shutting down) in the event it detects an out-of-spec reading.

The MBM site will give you all the info you need, including whether or not your system can use it. But it's not highly polished, and you can expect to have to do some digging to find out what options you have.

(The MBM site is also a good place to find out the maximum recommended temperatures for your particular CPU. If your specific brand, type and model of CPU isn't listed there, you can try the HeatSink Guide, or go to the home pages of your CPU vendor and search their technical literature.)

While MBM is good, I've come to prefer the look and feel of a slightly different freeware tool called MBProbe. According to the site, it

"...monitors voltages, temperatures and fan speeds using hardware monitoring chip(s) available on many modern motherboards. Its features include:

  • Up to 9 voltage, 4 temperature and 3 fan speed readings (subject to the limitations of hardware monitoring chip(s) present).
  • Automatic detection of monitoring chips.
  • Small memory footprint.
  • Setting of nominal voltage and fan speeds with warning thresholds.
  • Setting of temperature warning limits and offset readings.
  • Setting of sensor used for each temperature reading.
  • Temperature display in Celsius or Fahrenheit.
  • Customisable task when critical temperature is exceeded for more than 30 seconds continuously.
  • Ignores fan warnings for 10 seconds after system comes out of suspend.
  • Swappable temperature display in status icon on taskbar.
  • Event and history logs."

I have it running in my system tray. The display alternates between showing my CPU temperature and the motherboard temperature, and I have it set to sound an alarm if the temperatures, voltages, or fan speeds drift outside safe ranges.

Like MBM, MBProbe is a little awkward to set up correctly. But once it's running, it's unobtrusive and kinda cool. Right now, for example, I know that my CPU and motherboard fans are both spinning within a few RPM of their rated speeds; the motherboard is well-cooled and running just a couple degrees above room temperature; the CPU also is well-cooled, running almost 60 degrees C (or about 100 degrees F) below its rated "safe maximum" temperature; and the power supply is delivering nominal voltages.

If I stress my PC -- say, if I start a long download while burning a CD and also doing routine office tasks -- I'll see the CPU and motherboard temperatures climb modestly, although never even remotely close to danger levels. (Another sign of good cooling.) What's more, when the workload goes down, the CPU temperature falls almost immediately, which also is an indication that my system's heatsink, fans and airflow are all properly sized and working as they should.

So this simple kind of system monitoring can show you very quickly whether your system has a serious thermal problem or not. And beyond that basic, initial OK/Not-OK assessment, I also feel better knowing that the software is keeping an eye on things on an ongoing basis. If a fan dies, or the airflow becomes obstructed, or if my power supply starts to drift out of spec, I'll know about it and can take action before any damage can occur.

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