Your GPU is likely one of, if not the, most expensive parts in your computer. High temperatures while gaming or performing high-performance tasks can mean a shorter lifespan and reduced performance, so keeping it under control is a worthy endeavor. High temperatures can even lead to thermal throttling and cause sudden FPS drops in games. Most GPUs can safely operate at high temperatures – some even as high as 90°C – but reducing heat as much as possible is still a good idea.
Common wisdom says that graphics card temperatures are optimal around 50 – 60°C under load, and ideally do not reach above 70°C. You can check your graphics card’s user manual for specifics if you are interested. Remember, temperatures are always going to be higher while doing more intense tasks or playing more graphically intense games.
There are plenty of ways to check how hot your GPU is getting while gaming. Some modern games include in-game live statistics that overlay over gameplay so you can easily track everything. Otherwise, you will have to rely on a third-party application like MSI’s Afterburner or Open Hardware Monitor to see operating temperatures. These often have the added benefit of increased tracking statistics, too.
Let’s explore some of the common reasons why your GPU may be facing increased temperatures and how to fix them.
Why Do GPU Temperatures Rise?
When computer parts draw power, they generate heat. The more intense the program, the more power is drawn, increasing the heat. Computer parts and cases are designed with this in mind, and with proper cooling in place, heat is not an issue. However, when cooling in the GPU or case fails, temperatures raise much quicker.
Some of the most common reasons why GPU temperatures rise unnecessarily include:
- Dried thermal paste
- Dust-filled fans
- Poor airflow
- Unclean graphics card
Some of these reasons overlap with general heat issues in a computer, while others – like dried out thermal paste and a dirt graphics card – are more specific to GPUs. In this article, we will focus on GPU specific fixes. If you want more information on some general heat tips for your computer or CPU, including a focus on improving airflow, you can check out this article here.
For a quick overview, however, here are some basic tips:
- Clean your computer and maximize airflow
- Keep your computer case closed and efficient
- Use enough fans in a proper configuration
If improving the general airflow and cooling of your case does not produce your desired results, try the following to reduce GPU temperatures directly.
Tip #1: Clean Your Graphics Card
A quick clean of your graphics card, especially its fans and heatsink, can be a great way to improve your GPU temperatures. If you are experiencing only mildly high temperatures, there is no need to take apart your graphics card, making this a great first step.
GPU fans are meant to push away hot air from the card, while the heatsink brings up heat from the chip. In modern cards, the fans are often situated directly above the heatsink to make this a more efficient workflow. As time goes on, dust and grime naturally build up and cause hot air to get trapped.
A quick cleaning of your card is easy. Safely remove the card from your computer and disconnect any wires. You may already notice some dust build up on the back of the card and fans. If it is visible already, cleaning is almost certainly going to help.
With the card removed, it is time to clean away the dust. You can use a number of different methods to help with this. Cans of compressed air are common, but a clean and soft microfiber cloth is another popular choice. Whatever, the method, it is important to use it safely. Do not tilt compressed air cans upside down and follow all manufacturer directions. Otherwise, you could accidentally spray liquid onto your card and ruin it.
People opting for a soft paintbrush or cloth should be particularly gentle while cleaning. Too much pressure could break or warp something, resulting in costly repairs. For the plastic parts like the outer shell and fan blades, you can also use baby wipes for more effective cleaning. We do not recommend using them on the actual electronics, however.
A quick clean this way takes only a few minutes and can cause drastic improvements in performance. However, if you test after this and do not notice any changes, it is time to move to the next tip. This requires taking apart the GPU for deeper work.
Taking Apart Your Graphics Card
Taking apart your graphics card is required for many other steps to reduce GPU temperatures, including replacing the thermal paste and deep cleaning the card. To reach the chip and hidden areas, you will have to unscrew the heatsink from the card. Many newer, high-end graphics cards also include a backplate on the card that may need to be removed first. Before continuing, it is worthwhile to check your card’s warranty. Removing the heatsink may void the warranty, depending on the manufacturer.
With that said, most heatsinks can be removed without voiding the warranty so long as the card is not damaged in the process. This is also useful if you plan on replacing the stock cooler with a water-cooled option.
After unscrewing the heatsink, gently remove the cooler. There will be a wire connecting the heatsink to the board, so do not pull hard! The goal is to remove the heatsink from the board enough to disconnect the wire. Most commonly, it is in a bottom corner.
With the heatsink gently removed and the wire disconnected, your card should now be in two pieces. This will also expose the GPU’s chip and old thermal paste, with some on the chip and heatsink at the point of connection. You will also likely notice dust build-up which can be cleaned.
Tip #2: Replacing the Thermal Paste
With the chip exposed and the old thermal paste visible, you can now replace it. As heat is transferred through thermal paste and age sets in, thermal paste can dry up and become less effective. While it requires a bit more work to replace, this is one of the most sure-fire ways to reduce GPU temperatures.
To start, wipe the old thermal paste off the chip and heatsink. This is best done with a soft cloth and some rubbing alcohol. If the thermal paste is truly dry, you made need to apply some pressure. Remember to be gentle, however – this is the most delicate part of a graphics card.
Avoid cloth or paper that breaks apart easily or leaves fibers behind, as these can influence heat transfer. A fresh microfiber cloth once again is likely the best option. When it comes to rubbing alcohol, the higher the concentration, the better.
Take the cloth and wipe away as much thermal paste as you can. With most of the larger chunks removed, apply the rubbing alcohol directly to the cloth and begin working on the details. Do not overload the cloth; it is important that no extra liquid hits the rest of the board or heatsink. After just a bit of work, it will look shiny and new – a perfect receptacle for fresh thermal paste.
When you are ready to replace the heatsink and close up the card, apply fresh thermal paste. Only a small dot is necessary; it is often more common to overload the paste than not put enough. Most people recommend using about the size of a dime. The pressure from the heatsink will spread the paste around evenly on the chip.
Tip #3: Deep Cleaning the Inside Of The Graphics Card
Once you have removed the heatsink put before putting on fresh thermal paste, you can deep clean the rest of the graphics card. In most respects, this is the same as the quick cleaning done early. A microfiber cloth and a can of compressed air are helpful for cleaning. Some Q-tips or a soft, clean paintbrush may also be helpful for getting in hard-to-reach areas.
Clean out everything you can with the GPU taken apart. Thanks to the disconnected heatsink, you can move it around and reach new angles and areas where dust has built up. This is the most useful part, but do not neglect the card itself. For all areas that are not electronic, you can use clean baby wipes for extra cleaning. Otherwise, stick to the air and cloth.
With everything cleaned, you can start the process of putting it all back together. If you used baby wipes, wait for the non-electronic parts to fully dry before putting them back together. This is also the time to apply fresh thermal paste as outlined above in tip #2.
Connect the wire from the heatsink back to the card and carefully screw everything back together. Take a final look over the card to make sure that no spots were missed, and everything is fit and tight, and you are good to reinstall it!
There are plenty of ways to improve your GPU temperatures, including making improvements to your general case. While those are important and should be your first step, they may not be enough if problems are long-lasting or severe. Deep cleaning your GPU specifically and replacing its thermal paste are two great options to bring cooling back to respectable levels.
Remember that high temperatures can cause hiccups and slowdowns, reduce the lifespan of the graphics card, and potentially cause other issues throughout the computer. While most cards remain safe until high temperatures – some even going above 90°C – it is best to keep parts below 70°C under load. The more you push the computer with intense tasks like gaming and 3D modeling, the higher temperatures will go.