How To Tell If Your CPU Is Dying [Bad Failure Signs & Symptoms]

Every time we use our computer, every time we open an application, browse the web or play a video game, the piece of hardware that will be used the most is the CPU.

It is its job to execute all the instructions given by the user. Most of the time, only a small fraction of the CPU power (5%) will be used in a system.

However, this may quickly change every time a more demanding process is required to run, forcing the CPU usage to spike for a certain amount of time, only to drop to a lower level once the process is complete.

i5 CPU laying upwards

As you will understand, this continuous change of state will put your CPU under stress more often than any other hardware in your computer. Luckily, the processor is one of the most durable components in a PC, and it won’t die without putting on a good fight.

Computer processors are designed to handle intensive and multiple tasks at any time. Built-in technologies will monitor stress loads and temperatures, assuring that its working conditions are optimal and within specified ranges.

However, with time, the constant load, stress, variation in temperatures and other variables will inevitably “mark” the hardware, and, eventually, after hundreds of hours of usage, your system will begin to function differently. It’s at this point where you may ask yourself “Is my CPU dying”.

So, how to tell if your CPU is dying? The most common errors observed in a malfunctioning system are the following:

  • Random shutdowns
  • Frequent system crashes
  • System errors during POST
  • System freezing
  • The computer will not turn on
  • Fans spinning but no display on the screen
  • Infinite boot loops

However, these are not to be exclusively attributed to CPU faults. Issues originating in a series of other components such as RAM, power supply, and GPU may also be the cause of such errors.

We will discuss these common symptoms in the following sections in order to give you a better understanding and the tools to determine whether or not your CPU is dying.

The Computer Automatically Shuts Off

A computer that automatically shuts off is one of the most frustrating things for every user and is one of the possible signs of a bad CPU.

In this case, it is important to be able to understand which part of your system is not functioning properly by testing and diagnosing other components such as power supply and/or GPU until the faulty hardware is detected.

High working CPU temperatures are a common cause of automatic shutdowns. The issue will usually present with one or a few automatic shutdowns to start with, and will eventually become more severe with time.

If this happens, it is good to check your CPU temperatures and change the thermal compound or cooling system.

System Bootup Issues

When you turn on your computer, the first thing that you will see is the BIOS POST (Power-On Self-Test).

A power-on self-test is a system diagnostic test that will determine if there is something wrong with your hardware. If no issues are found during the POST, the computer should boot as usual.

On the contrary, if a fault is detected, the system won’t boot and an error message will be displayed giving information on the issue. Usually, if one component is already damaged, POST will treat this as missing hardware.

windows PC prompting to restart due to booting issues

In other instances, the BIOS POST may not be able to detect and diagnose all problems currently affecting a computer. Your system may boot up normally and then suddenly freeze or automatically restart.

Although this may be caused by a series of other defective hardware and/or corrupt system files, it may also be a symptom of a dying CPU.

Computer Will Not Turn On

Another symptom of a dead CPU may be a system that won’t turn on. This can come in different forms. You may press the power button, and observe that your computer doesn’t respond. In other cases, the fans will spin for a couple of seconds and then go off.

As previously said, although other components may be responsible for this behavior, in this article we’re treating the issue from a CPU’s point of view, trying to give an explanation on why a defective processor may cause such issues and eventually, tips on how to diagnose, troubleshoot and fix them. These last ones can be found later in this article.

System Freezes

System freezes is an annoying problem and occurs when the system stops responding and is one of the most common CPU failure symptoms.

You will wonder why the computer won’t function or why your mouse cursor has stopped moving. A system freeze can happen randomly. It can occur during bootup, when the system is under heavy use, or even when the computer is in an idle state.

In this scenario, there may be something wrong with your hardware or software. It may be safe to assume that a bad CPU may be one of the factors why your computer suffers from random freezes. Proper troubleshooting steps may fix this issue.

Blue Screen of Death

BSOD or the blue screen of death is a system error or fatal error found in Microsoft Windows operating systems. BSOD happens typically when the operating system stops functioning as usual. Several reasons can cause BSOD’s, one of which may be faulty hardware.

Windows computer showing error screen commonly known as blue screen of death

When your PC suffers from BSOD’s, your screen will turn blue, hence blue screen, and an error code will be displayed including information on why your system has reached a condition where it can no longer operate safely.

Beeping

Have you ever heard of the Morse code? This code is simply a type of telecommunication method used in the early days. It works by a series or combination of short and long beeps.

Similarly, your motherboard is also capable of producing beep codes. These codes work just like the Morse code, where they also consist of short and long beeps.

Each series of beep codes refer to a particular issue in your system hardware. Consult your motherboard’s user’s manual for further information on each code.

For instance, in some Asus motherboards that use an American Megatrends firmware, five short beeps indicate that there is something wrong with either the CPU or motherboard itself.

Not all motherboards, however, are capable of “beeping.” If that is the case, a cheap internal speaker that can be attached to a header on your motherboard may be of use.

Eliminate False Positives

It is easy to get ourselves mistaken when in the process of diagnosing a system. After all, the CPU is not the only hardware in a computer. This is what makes computer troubleshooting a very complex task.

Computer troubleshooting can be difficult and requires a certain amount of work. However, with the appropriate tools and knowledge, identifying the root cause of a system failure could be a relatively simple task.

So how do you look, diagnose, and troubleshoot your PC? Here we have listed a few simple steps for you to follow:

  • Reset everything, including your CPU, RAM, GPU (if you have one), and the CPU heat sink. Sometimes, the reason behind your computer not being able to boot may be one or more of these components not correctly installed.
  • Tighten the cables. Loose wiring will prevent you from using your computer correctly. Sometimes, your system might not even turn on.
  • Remove hardware one by one and test. This is by far the most effective way of troubleshooting a computer. Identifying which specific component out of the several installed in your system may be a difficult task. Removing your hardware one by one and testing your system after each change may be the most effective way to narrow down the issue to a single, specific element.
  • Remove the graphics card. If you have a dedicated graphics card installed on your PC, try removing it and connect the display cable directly into your motherboard’s I/O panel located at the rear of your system. Depending on your hardware, this could be an HDMI, VGA, or DVI port.
  • Reapply thermal paste. Another reason why your PC is not functioning well may be attributed to overheating. Reapplying thermal paste may help to fix this issue. And while you’re at it, you may also want to clear the dust trapped in the CPU heatsink in order to improve the airflow.
  • Replace each part. If the above steps have not repaired the issue and you have spare parts lying around, you can try to swap and install these in your system. If replacing a particular component resulted in fixing the issue, it is most likely that this particular component was defective.

Although we listed, out of our best knowledge, the most common issues that may present as a result of a faulty CPU, there may still be other indicators that were not mentioned in this article. Following the above troubleshooting steps should help you diagnose and troubleshoot your PC.

Now that you know some of the possible bad CPU symptoms, let’s discuss some of the reasons that may cause a fried CPU.

Reasons a CPU May Die

Finding out the reason why your CPU is dying can be tricky, as you have to account for several factors.

Incorrect power load, high temperatures, misuse, and negligent use of the system itself can trigger a series of events that can result in CPUs being irreversibly damaged. By knowing some of the potential causes can give us potential solutions.

Talking about false beliefs, there’s an idea, too often used in the effort to explain what’s not correctly understood, that viruses may cause hardware to die.

Although the vast majority of computer viruses are designed to specifically target system files and computer data, a virus may, in certain cases, instruct your PC to turn off its fans, resulting in certain components overheating and being damaged.

This is, however, a very rare event and the following variables may most likely be the true reason explaining why a CPU may fail.

Heat

For experienced users and enthusiasts, keeping the CPU at low working temperatures is crucial. High temperatures are known to result in the decreased lifespan of the CPU.

Although modern processors are designed to withstand and operate at high temperatures, prolonged exposure may cause permanent damage to the CPU and is therefore not recommended.

burnt AMD processor destroyed due to over heating

High CPU working temperatures are usually the result of cheap heatsinks being used and/or poor ventilation.

Overclocking

Overclocking your CPU may provide benefits such as an increased core speed by forcing the processor to perform beyond its stock speed designed by the manufacturer. However, doing so can also permanently damage the chip.

One of the requirements for overclocking your CPU is to apply additional voltage in order to keep the juice flowing.

The overvoltage is necessary to provide power for the extra speed you’re trying to pull off your processor. Overvoltage is, however, a common reason for a short lifespan of the CPU.

Electrical Power Surge

An electrical power surge is dangerous not only to the CPU but to other components as well. It may cause permanent damage to the whole system as the electric current would spike at very high rates and beyond your PSU’s and CPU’s built-in protection mechanisms. In some cases, a power surge can also damage other appliances.

A power line strike by lightning or a power outage are common reasons for an electric power surge.

Unstable Voltage

Just like an electrical power surge, an unstable voltage can also harm your CPU. Several factors may be responsible for this. A cheap PSU can cause irregular voltage running through your system.

multimeter measuring voltage

It may also not be able to protect your other components from an eventual power surge, resulting, again, in permanent damage. No experienced PC builder would ever recommend going cheap on the PSU.

Bad Motherboard

One of the main jobs of the motherboard is to connect all your components so that they can communicate. It regulates current and voltage going through all your components, including the CPU. As you can understand, a bad motherboard can, in certain instances cause other hardware to fail.

How To Prevent Your CPU From Dying

Up to this point, we have mentioned a few of the common factors that can lead to CPU failure. Let’s discuss, however, on how you can prevent this from happening and how you can properly take care of your CPU.

Monitor CPU Heat Levels

We have already discussed how overheating can decrease the lifespan of a CPU. Luckily, we can avoid this by monitoring the overall CPU temperatures. To do this, we can use a third-party app designed to check and monitor CPU temperatures.

There are several applications on the web that can help monitor the CPU temperatures. Most of these are free to download. My personal favorite app for this task is CPUID HWMonitor.

It is a very lightweight tool. Make sure to download it from the official website which can be found from the following link: https://www.cpuid.com/downloads/hwmonitor/hwmonitor_1.41.exe.

The application is easy to use. Once the app is running it should tell you right away your current CPU temperatures. Check the screenshot attached below for reference.

Cpuid temprature screen for Intel core i5 4670

One advantage of using this app is that it will also help monitor the temperatures of your other hardware, such as the motherboard, GPU, and hard drives.

Use Good CPU Heatsink

Most stock coolers should be able to do the job when it comes to maintaining low working temperatures for your CPU. In a few instances, however, you may need a little more than that. You can use an aftermarket cooler if the stock one is not good enough for your needs.

There is a wide choice of high quality and affordable air-coolers on the market that will help you not break the bank.

AMD heatsink fan for cooling CPU

If you’re after a more efficient and aesthetically pleasant way of cooling your CPU, you can also try AIO (All In One) or custom water cooling kits. These coolers have the advantage of being able to transfer heat more efficiently than air coolers. They come in all forms and sizes but at a higher price tag.

Clean Tower Regularly

A lot of fans in your computer chassis mean more air is being moved in and out of it. This also results, inevitably, in dust entering your PC. Dust will usually find its way into those tight spaces usually found in your heatsinks and dust filters.

Once it builds up, it will result in a restricted airflow which will lead to poor ventilation. It is essential to clear this dust regularly in order to maintain good airflow in and out of your system.

Invest in Cases With Good Airflow

Most modern cases and high-performance gaming cases are engineered to maximize airflow.

They are designed to have wider internal spaces where air can move freely. They also come with multiple slots for intake and exhaust fans, helping decrease the overall ambient temperature.

Computer case with RGB cooling fans

It is important to take the time, do the necessary research, and find a case that allows for the air to move efficiently through your system.

Cool Surroundings if Possible

The overall external ambient temperature also plays a huge factor. Always remember that your intake fans will absorb the air available in your room.

No matter how good your fans are, if the surrounding is hot, this will affect the overall temperature of your computer.

User Power Strips With Surge Protectors

In the previous section, we have mentioned that electrical surge can cause serious damage to your CPU. To prevent this from happening, you can invest in a power strip with a built-in surge protector from reputable brands.

A combination of an anti-surge power strip and a UPS is also an excellent option to ensure maximum protection for your PC.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What temperatures will damage the CPU?

While recommended temperatures for the CPU range from 30-40°C on idle to 60-85°C at full load, these could safely hit as high as 90°C if overclocking.

Both Intel and AMD list the maximum temperatures supported by their processors as 105-110°C.

These are, however, only supported for a very limited amount of time before your system’s “brain” starts showing a significant loss in performance followed by irreversible damage.

How do I know when to replace my CPU?

It may be surprising to know that although your CPU is your system’s core, its potential is hardly ever pushed to the limit.

While normally performing at 2-5% load on idle, and from 10-30% when playing less demanding games, most modern and demanding titles never get to use more than 70% of its raw power.

In the previous paragraphs, we have discussed how high temperatures and other factors may cause a loss in performance or damage your CPU.

Now we’d like to talk about age. Age is not lenient to anyone though, including PC components. Sooner or later you will start noticing an unusual usage when running your favorite games. It may be the time for an upgrade.

What should I do if my CPU is not working?

Who wouldn’t want to hear that there’s a fix to everything? After all, “Hope springs eternal” right? Not exactly.

Unfortunately, If you already went through all the troubleshooting steps we suggested without any luck, it may be time to start looking for a replacement.

Check your motherboard’s user’s manual for information regarding CPU compatibility and make sure to get it right when it comes to choosing your next CPU.

Want to know more on how to choose the right one for your needs? Stay tuned for more articles.

I hope that this article on how to tell if a CPU is dead or dying has been on some help. I have also written an article about some of the factors that affect CPU performance that I think you may like.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply