How To Check and Monitor Your CPU Temperature [The Easy Way]

CG Director Author Christopher Harperby Christopher Harper   /  Published 

Ever wondered how to check and monitor CPU temperature, what makes it so important, or what to do if your temps are too high? You’ve come to the right place!

Today, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about checking and monitoring your CPU temperatures, as well as what to do if your readings are a cause for concern.

Let’s dive right in!

Why Checking CPU Temperature Is Important

First, a quick disclaimer: the thing that makes checking and monitoring CPU temperature important is mainly the prevention of overheating.

When your CPU overheats, it will also thermal throttle, which reduces performance. Severe enough overheating can also damage hardware in the long run, but generally, CPUs will shut themselves off before they enter these dangerous temperature ranges.

What is Thermal Throttling

Before you get to check your CPU temperatures, I think it’s fair to start with some temperature expectations.

A regular, air-cooled CPU should have operating temperatures as follows:

  • No more than ~45°C or +20°C above ambient temperature at idle
  • No more than 90-95°C under heavy load

How to Check and Monitor CPU Temperature

Step 1: Pick a Hardware Monitor

Recommended Hardware Monitors:

Unfortunately, Windows does not come with a built-in CPU hardware monitor or even a built-in reader for CPU temperatures.

It’s an especially odd decision considering Microsoft recently added the feature to discrete GPUs alongside other usage information in Task Manager, but at the moment, you’re required to bring your own CPU hardware monitor.

So to check and monitor your CPU temperatures, you’ll need to download and install a hardware monitor of your choice. They all basically work the same, but my personal favorite is SpeedFan for its super lightweight footprint and intuitive interface.

Step 2: Install and Run Your Hardware Monitor of Choice

Once you’ve downloaded and installed your Hardware Monitor, launch it!

I’ll be following along with SpeedFan for this guide, but other hardware monitors should also support per-core CPU temperatures perfectly fine.

SpeedFan Readings

When you first launch SpeedFan, you get an immediate reading of your current CPU specs and usage, as well as a list of temperature readings across your devices.

For the juicy readings, though, you’ll want to head to the “Exotics” tab and click “Show the magic”.

SpeedFan Exotics Tab

In the Exotics tab, you get an extremely detailed reading of your current system utilization and temperatures.

If you ever notice that one of your CPU cores seems to get considerably hotter than the others, even when they’re all under load, that may be a sign of poorly-applied thermal paste.

Otherwise, you pretty much get the idea! This is the easiest way to check your CPU temperatures, and you can safely run SpeedFan in the background for quick temperature checks while you’re doing other things on your PC.

But what if you’re doing other things that you can’t reasonably click out of? Like, for example, playing games? Let’s talk about an option for real-time CPU temperature monitoring in-game.

How To Monitor CPU Temperatures In-Game

Step 1: Install MSI Afterburner and RivaTuner Statistics Server

If you want to monitor your CPU temperatures without Alt-Tabbing out of your game, the best way to do so is with MSI Afterburner and its bundled companion, RivaTuner Statistics Server.

Don’t worry— although MSI Afterburner is primarily billed as a GPU overclocking tool, you don’t need to be overclocking your GPU to use it. You don’t even need an MSI GPU to use it!

What we’re using MSI Afterburner for in this equation is its hardware monitoring capabilities, including CPU usage and temperature monitoring.

RivaTuner Statistics Server is being used for its customizable overlay, which will display the readings we configure inside MSI Afterburner to show in-game for us.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed both applications, proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Run and Configure MSI Afterburner Monitoring Settings

First, go ahead and launch MSI Afterburner. You can do this by typing “Afterburner” in the Start Menu if you didn’t make a shortcut before.

Inside Afterburner, you’ll want to click the Settings cog on the left-hand side.

MSI Afterburner Settings

Now you’ve opened MSI Afterburner’s properties.

Most of these settings shouldn’t matter to you yet, but make sure you check “Enable hardware control and monitoring”, and click “Apply”.

MSI Afterburner Properties

Now, it’s time to click over to the Monitoring tab.

You’ll want to match my settings shown in the screenshot below:

MSI Afterburner Monitoring Properties

You’ll need to do some scrolling and manual checking to enable the temperature and usage readings you’re looking for.

To keep it simple, I’ve only enabled “CPU temperature” and “CPU usage” for this demonstration, but you can enable these metrics on a per-core basis as well.

Click “Apply” once you’ve made these settings changes, and minimize MSI Afterburner without closing it.

Step 3: Enable and Configure RivaTuner’s Overlay

Now, it’s time to launch RivaTuner Statistics Server.

By default, you’ll be making all these changes to the “Global” profile, but you can also add per-game profiles in RivaTuner.

For this demonstration, I’m using Team Fortress 2 (hl2.exe).

Besides the overlay we’re using RivaTuner for in this guide, you may also notice that it offers a built-in Framerate Limiter— that might come in handy later if you notice you have very high FPS and very high CPU temps in your game of choice.

For now, your goal is to match the settings I’ve placed in the below screenshot:

RivaTuner Settings

Required Settings:

  • Show On-Screen Display
  • On-Screen Display Support: On
  • Show own statistics: On
  • On-Screen Display zoom and other OSD settings: Set to preference/visibility

Now, minimize RivaTuner and launch your game of choice.

By default, the overlay should be in the top-left corner of your screen, like in my screenshot below:

RivaTuner’s Overlay in TF2 monitoring my CPU usage, CPU temp, and in-game FPS

Screenshot of RivaTuner’s Overlay in TF2 monitoring my CPU usage, CPU temp, and in-game FPS

Not bad, right? If you pay close attention, you may notice that I’m dropping below my 120 FPS target, but my CPU is neither overheating nor overly stressed.

If you notice something like that on your own PC or in your own games, it might be time to expand your enabled metrics a little bit:

RivaTuner’s Overlay in TF2 monitoring CPU usage per-core alongside CPU temp and FPS

Screenshot of RivaTuner’s Overlay in TF2 monitoring CPU usage per-core alongside CPU temp and FPS

Now, with all of my CPU usage information added to the basic readings, we have a better understanding of what exactly is happening here.

Team Fortress 2 is an older, CPU-bound game that isn’t well-optimized for modern CPUs with a lot of threads.

As a result, you’ll notice that the first four cores of my CPU, especially Core 4, are being put hard at work here, while most of the others are barely doing anything at all.

While there aren’t any temperature issues being identified here— rather, performance issues with a specific game released in 2007 are— this still demonstrates what kind of things you should be looking for when running real-time benchmarking and monitoring software like this.

How To Improve High CPU Temperatures

So, what happens if you discover that your CPU temperatures are too high?

Don’t start sweating just yet— let’s discuss some options that might help.

Enable Balanced or Power Saver Windows Power Plan

Power Saver Mode

Enabling one of the lower-power Windows power plans, especially Power Saver, can go a long way in quickly and easily reducing your temperatures.

While Power Saver reduces performance, Power Saver reducing power consumption also results in less heat being exhausted as a direct outcome of that power use.

Improve Case Airflow

Intake vs Exhaust Fans

If you don’t want to reduce your PC’s performance and don’t mind spending a small amount of money to improve your experience, it may be time to improve your case’s airflow.

The best way to improve airflow is by adding more case fans, but you’ll want to be mindful of whether you have a positive pressure or negative pressure configuration.

I recommend positive pressure, which means there is always at least one more intake fan than an exhaust fan.

Replace Your CPU Thermal Paste

Thermal paste between Heatsink and CPU Heatspreader

Thermal paste fills in the gaps between the cooler’s heatsink and the CPU’s heat spreader

Another inexpensive, but somewhat tedious option, is replacing your CPU’s thermal paste. Depending on how long you’ve owned your PC or how the thermal paste was applied during the initial building process, you may need to replace your thermal paste.

Thermal paste serves the ever-important purpose of transferring heat from your CPU to your CPU cooler.

Without a properly-applied layer of non-dried thermal paste, your CPU wouldn’t be able to cool itself properly.

Improperly applied or particularly aged thermal paste will raise your temperatures, so it’s always good to replace your thermal paste if you notice any CPU cooling issues.

Those are my main starting recommendations if you’re worried about your CPU overheating.

If you want more pointers on what to do when your CPU OR your GPU are experiencing thermal issues, consider checking out my Thermal Throttling Guide.


Should I Replace My CPU Cooler For Better CPU Temperatures?

If you’ve taken the steps outlined above and aren’t noticing any improvement, yes, it may be time to consider replacing your CPU cooler.

Be sure to double-check the specifications of your case and motherboard before making any CPU cooler purchases, as you don’t want to encounter any compatibility issues.

Since I don’t know your exact PC, I’ll have to generalize my advice a little bit. If you’re looking for a great CPU cooler, I recommend sticking to the best CPU cooler brands.

My top recommendations are Noctua and be Quiet! for air cooling; and EVGA, EKWB, or Corsair for liquid cooling.

Do Other Parts Of My PC Impact CPU Temperatures?


As discussed prior, case airflow can have a considerable impact on your CPU temperatures. But another likely culprit to higher CPU temperatures can actually be found in your GPU, depending on the cooler design of your GPU.

Blower style vs open-air GPU

Basically, most GPUs use an open-air cooling design with two or more fans. This is great for general cooling, but will also exhaust hot air into the rest of your PC, especially if you’re using a small form factor machine.

If you want to wholly prevent your GPU temperatures from impacting your CPU temperatures, especially in a small case, consider getting a GPU with a blower-style cooler instead.

Parting Words

And we’re good!

I hope this article got you started on checking and monitoring your CPU temperatures properly. Feel free to leave a comment below or head to our Forums if you have any other questions about CPU temperatures or PC hardware in general.

Until then or until next time, stay warm! (Or cold, if it’s Summer whenever you read this.) And don’t forget: if you’re gonna slap in more case fans to lower temps, make sure it’s a positive pressure configuration!

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Christopher Harper

I have been a passionate devotee to technology since the age of 3, and to writing since before I even finished high school.

These passions have since combined into a living in my adulthood and have made writing about PC Hardware very satisfying.

If you need any assistance, leave a comment below: it’s what I’m here for.


Also check out our Forum for feedback from our Expert Community.

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