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Best free CPU temperature monitors - and why you need one

About CPU temperature monitors

A CPU temperature monitor is a piece of software that reads information from one or more sensors inside your computer that track how much heat your central processing unit (CPU) is producing. This utility is helpful for computer builders to confirm that they've gone through the process correctly. If a CPU cooler isn't installed correctly, the computer won't run well and may shut itself down to avoid heat damage.

  • Intel CPU on motherboard

CPU temperature monitor FAQ

Dealing with temperature sensors inside your PC can get complicated, leaving you with a pile of questions. Let us demystify a few of the common issues you might encounter.

  • Which temperature monitor is best?

    HWMonitor is arguably the best bet for Windows users, because it's free, updated frequently, and works with both AMD and Intel CPUs. For 20 Euro (or approximately $22), the Pro version adds remote monitoring, graph generation, and the ability to leave the program running in your Windows system tray instead of taking up space on the taskbar.

    Mac users can use a program simply called Temperature Monitor.

  • What temperature is considered safe for my CPU?

    Intel CPUs can usually go to about 85 degrees Celsius (about 185 degrees Fahrenheit) before they start experiencing glitches or automatic shutdowns. If your CPU is getting this hot when your computer isn't doing anything, however, that indicates that the cooling may have been installed incorrectly; in this scenario, the CPU won't stay in a safe range if you give it an intense task like playing a game. Assuming a room temperature of 21 degrees Celsius (about 73 degrees Fahrenheit), normal Intel CPU operation shouldn't exceed 80 degrees Celsius.

    An AMD FX CPU should be fine up to 60 C (140 F), but it's better to keep it at 55 C or lower.

  • Why does monitoring software use the Celsius (aka centigrade) temperature scale by default, instead of Fahrenheit?
    Intel and AMD sell CPUs internationally, where the Celsius scale is more commonly used than Fahrenheit. Therefore they use Celsius to describe the safe operating temperatures of their chips. As a result, temperature monitor software defaults to Celsius, but there's usually a setting to change that.
  • If I upgrade to a new CPU, do I need to change anything in my temperature monitor software?
    Every time you open HWMonitor, it will automatically check for an available update and offer to download it for you. This software gets updated throughout the year as new CPUs come out -- often before these CPUs arrive in stores. So unless your computer has gone without an Internet connection for many months, it should automatically recognize your new CPU the next time you open the program.

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Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.