My Obsession With CPU Cooling Is Becoming A Problem

Above: Just a few of my old fans and coolers, none of which I can bring myself to throw out.

Everyone chases some kind of low-key but elusive white whale, a casual desire or goal that remains forever out of reach. For some, it’s finding the best possible cup of coffee, or the perfect pair of jeans. For me, it’s getting my PC CPU to run below 70 degrees Celsius while under load.

This goal has eluded me for years. It has eluded me through four or five different cooling solutions, and through at least three separate PC builds. I have used liquid and air cooling. I have overclocked my CPU and removed the overclock from my CPU. I have air conditioned my office so that it remains around 24 degrees in the summer. Still, my CPU temperatures remain unfortunately high.

It’s become an incessant annoyance, like a mosquito bite I can’t stop scratching. My current CPU is an Intel Core i7 7700k. I’ll go months at a time without checking my CPU temperatures, safe in the knowledge that it’s basically “fine” if my CPU runs a little hot, or occasionally gets into the 80s.

Then I’ll make the mistake of checking one of the many CPU temperature apps I have installed, and I’ll fall down the rabbit hole again.

The obsession reared its head once again over the last couple weeks, when I was playing an early copy of Monster Hunter: World. The game crashed a few times, which caused me to check to see if an overheating CPU might have been the culprit.

Turns out it wasn’t—the crashes were patched out of the game in a pre-release update last week, though the new Nvidia driver causes my game to crash in a different way. However, MH:W was pushing my CPU into the mid-90s, which is the kind of temperature that necessitates action, since it can really damage your chip over time.

I opened up my PC and began moving things around. I unscrewed fans, and screwed them back in. I scraped off and reapplied my thermal paste. I hopped into my BIOS and began making tweaks. I was unable to find a solution, which made me all the more fixated.

I’d be having dinner with friends, when all at once a thought would jump into my head. What if I attached a second set of fans to the back of the radiator, in a push/pull configuration? No, wait, there’s no room for that in my case. But what if I put it in the front of the case? Wait, what was everyone talking about?

If it seems like it was just a few months ago that I was writing about how I changed out my case fans and reworked the airflow in my PC, that’s because it was. Here’s how I had my fans arrayed at the time:

The fan arrangement I was using for the first part of 2018. It was fine, until it wasn’t. (I know all about positive/negative air pressure, and clean my case regularly enough that I decided airflow was most important.)

I’m still loving the quieter fans I swapped in, but my temperatures are yet again less than ideal. I don’t know what happened in the time between then and now, but my bet is that my all-in-one liquid cooler, a Corsair H100i V2, has stopped working as efficiently as it used to.

Some cursory Googling led me to believe that could be for a variety of reasons, from blockage in the coolant flow to a straight-up pump malfunction. However, Googling problems with your CPU cooling is a lot like googling medical issues; the more I Google, the more convinced I become that something is direly wrong.

I’ve spent the last week experimenting with an increasingly chaotic set of variables including removing my CPU overclock entirely, buying and applying new thermal paste (I finally ran out of the old Cooler Master stuff I had, and bought a tube of Arctic MX-4 that seems fine), and repositioning my fans.

I have watched so many YouTube videos, including this one that found that mounting your radiator in the front of the case, with the fans on the outside blowing fresh air across the radiator, is actually the best for cooling, particularly if you have an open-fan graphics card, as I do.

Unfortunately, my massive PC case, a Cooler Master Storm Trooper, does not have the option of front-mounting a 240mm radiator at the front of the case. I don’t know why, either! It just doesn’t.

I tried propping the radiator up near the front, but in the end couldn’t commit to such a shoddy solution. I eventually landed here:

After trying literally every possible combination of fan configuration and airflow arrangement, this is the one that works best. It still isn’t great, but that could be for a lot of reasons.

It works… fine? It works more or less like it always has. My temperatures get into the 70s during gaming, which isn’t great, and occasionally up to the 80s.

My CPU is running at its stock 4.2Ghz with a turbo boost up to 4.5, with variable power topping off at around 1.2V. I’m once again left feeling envy every time someone in a comments section talks about how their liquid or air cooler keeps their overclocked CPU running in the 60s with a full load. One day, I think to myself. One day I’ll get there.

I’m actually about ready to throw in the towel on all-in-one liquid CPU coolers. They just seem so prone to malfunction, and several of their key components can deteriorate over time. The one Cooler Master sent me a few years back was fine at first but eventually became annoyingly loud, and if I turned it down it wouldn’t keep the CPU cool.

This Corsair one I bought last year seemed fine at first, but these days my temperatures tell me it’s just not working like it should. I’ve actually ordered a big honkin’ Noctua air cooler to see how that goes, since air coolers are so much more straightforward and everyone seems to swear by this one in particular. Maybe this way, I’ll finally be able to get my CPU running at a reasonable temperature and get on with my life. Maybe.

Over the weekend, I realised that I was reading and putting a lot of stock in the findings and opinions of random YouTube commenters and Tom’s Hardware forumgoers, when I write for a major video game publication and have access to a large and diverse community of readers.

So, I would love to turn this one over to you: If you play games on your PC, what cooling solution do you use for your CPU? How does it work for you, and what are your average temperatures? Help me find peace.


Comments

    Buy a case thats actually built with air cooling in mind and stop throwing money dealing with inefficient designs.

    Silverstone's FT02 and FT05 for example come to mind - and with such on air with a 1950X and Noctua UH-12S, I've been able to keep it around 65c under load.

      @Camm
      I fully agree air is the better way to go, but telling him to upgrade case is slightly overkill.
      I have a storm trooper(somewhere in the shed now) and it's really not that bad airflow wise(not that great either, but enough)

      1x $1 5.25" bay to fan adapter and a decent cooler is all that's needed.. I ran my 4.8ghz 4790k in that thing for a couple years with a $70 dual tower and never exceeded 70c on the hottest core(with no aircon in summer or de-lid)

      So yeah as someone who has owned the case I'd 100% it's overkill switching it out... Unless he is already planning on doing so, in which case why the heck not? :D

        Most cases are what, $150-$200. A high end closed loop or air cooler is going to set you back at least a $100, so not exactly too different :P.

          Well he already ordered the cooler.

          I donno I guess I'm not one to spend $150-$200 without a purpose I guess...
          Hell the only reason I changed from the storm trooper was because I went to ITX, if not I'd still probably be using it.
          I'd personally much rather spend money on things that are going increase my performance.

            If you're throttling because your RGB tempered glass case has an inefficient airflow design, I think its money worth it :P. Or at least, worth more than spending endless money on cooling, lol.

              The SS cases you listed are no doubt better (my server is in the FT02) but is <10C temp difference worth over $100?.... subjective

              Now that he has ordered a decent air cooler he shouldn't need to spend any more money on cooling ever until either fans need replacing or it isn't supported by a future socket.

              It's not RGB or tempered..it was pretty much the most understated case widely available with a carry handle at it's point of release.

    Or just commit and buy yourself a water cooling solution.
    There are too many factors you can't really control when it comes to air cooling.

    Even if you get it working, you've got filters to clean and ambient temperatures to worry about.
    You'll never come close to what a quality water cooling solution can offer.

      He's already using water cooling, albeit simple closed loop ones. Unless he's overclocking a lot there's not really a need for serious watercooling. I have (had) a Noctua NH-D14 on my old setup and it was a beast. The newer ones are as good or better.

      You're right about the filters though, they tend to wind up blocked by dust, and the fans wind up with their blades being coated in dust (which reduces their efficiency and creates noise).

      Back to the article, I'd be concerned placing the radiator at the front (or top) and blowing cool air over it. You're basically then trying to force that hot air through the rest of the case increasing the overall internal temp. I'd always be trying to pull cool air through the case and having the hot air exhaust directly from the case.

      I dunno whether they're still popular but it used to be possible to buy flexible ducting for PCs that you could hook to internal fans. Stuff like this: https://www.coolerguys.com/products/coolerguys-92mm-120mm-flexible-vent-duct-tubing-fan-end-caps It might be worth trying something similar to route hot air directly out of the case.

      It's also worth considering where the case is positioned. Is it in a spot where it creates an eddy of warm air? ie: It's in a corner of the room, close to the wall, maybe behind a desk where there's little outside airflow? If that's the case even though the ambient room temperature may be 24 degrees it could easily be higher in that corner, so the fans are sucking in warm air.

      @quietwulf
      Serious water cooling is rather expensive(pump alone is worth more than a top grade air cooler) and CLC units are mostly noisy trash.

      But even with water you need to clean filters AND unscrew your fans and clean out your radiators! every 12 months or so... and drain your loop every few months.

      From how you say it's almost as if you are saying water is the lesser of two evils when it comes to maintenance, which is 110% not true. I have my main rig custom cooled... but it's honestly not worth it for most people, especially if they are only cooling the CPU and not the GPU/GPUs too.

    Ahh yes, down the rabbit hole you went. We have all been there with pc cooling. Best advice would be to go to PC part picker and look for system builds with your PC case and your CPU (or similar). Some people usually mention the temps they are achieving.

    I did this for my notoriously difficult case the Phanteks evolv Shift mini ITX.
    As someone has already commented, if you aren't happy with the temps after trying to do so much, then change up the case to something with better airflow. It worth it to put your mind at ease.

    While I've not done this myself and I'm no pro, it sounds like you're entering the world of voiding the warranty and delidding the CPU. Take a look at this video for delidding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZxmufdBdE8

    Which air cooler are you referring to? Here's some Noctua heatsinks compared (U9S vs D9L) (using a delidded i7-8700K @ 5.0GHz in an SFFPC): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZxmufdBdE8

    Depending on the model the Noctua fans some are better at particular tasks. Example, the NF-S12A is good for case cooling, and the NF-F12 is better for radiators. Read more here: https://noctua.at/en/which_fan_is_right_for_me. Edit: Take a look at the Noctua Chromax; they look a lot nicer and perform just as well.

    I wish you luck as you journey further down the rabbit hole.

    Last edited 07/08/18 11:37 am

    use a decent cooler then? how is below 70 some unobtainable goal?

    Out of all the things you've done in the article, going to stock clocks is the one that would have reduced your temperature the most

    Your current setup doesn't appear to be pulling heat away from the CPU quicker than it can be created.

    I would strongly suggest de-lidding the IHS and replacing the stock Intel TIM with something much better between the die and the IHS. I've used thermal grizzly's liquid metal both above and below the IHS on my 4770k, I'm still using a pretty old Corsair H80 AIO push/pulling cold air in from the rear. Overclocked to 4.5g I barely hit 45deg under load! PM me if you want more info.

    Rule 1: Follow the advice of Camm, above.
    Rule 2: Stick with air cooling, use a radiator cpu cooler: and
    Rule 3: Fans 'in line' are necessary to move a lot of air in and out of your rig, and air exiting your rig is what does the cooling.
    'In line' means in a line, not doglegged, not offset, but in a damn straight line. Which means, in your case, mounting a floor fan opposite your upper fans, and mounting a mid level front fan opposing a rear mid-level fan, or, and this is the best option for you - mounting a fan in front at the top, blowing straight onto the cpu radiator, which in turn is blowing straight onto a rear fan which is blowing all that hot air out the back.

    If you doubt me, dig in the maths/physics textbooks and do the math yourself. Liquid cooling is great, to a point, but then it is outclassed by a decent and cheaper air cooling set up, which doesn't have the positive reinforcement heat-feedback effect that liquid coolers have.

    I'll also add that maintenance of cleaning fans and filters also applies to liquid radiator fans, as well as the other fans/filters in such a rig, so it is something of a moot point. If you are serious about a high performing rig, cleaning it out is simply part of the requirements...and for the cost of a small tech blower vac, it's simply a matter of taking it outside, opening the case, and blowing the guts out of it.

    Last edited 08/08/18 4:12 pm

    I live in the NT so things get pretty hot up here and cooling is pretty important. I don't always have the aircon on and I have my (now old) i7 x99 processor overclocked by about 32~40% (100mhz base clock with standard ratio at 30, so out of box it runs at 3.0ghz. I run it with a 103mhz base clock and 40~43 core ratio, producing about 4.2~4.3 on all 8 cores). I use a pretty simple custom water cooling loop for both the CPU and GPU (Titan X) and the temperatures on both never make it above 60 under load. Whilst stress testing and blender rendering they can sometimes peak up to 70, but then the pump kicks in at 100% and things come down again. At idle, they run a smidgen above the ambient room temperature.
    For the actual setup, it's an EKWB joint pump/resovoir, hardline system (purely asthetic so to keep the cost down, soft tubing would be a killer) and dual 240mm radiators (one each for CPU and GPU, but because it's just your CPU, you'd be good with one). The radiators are configured so that the GPU one is pulling in fresh air whilst the CPU radiator pushes out. I am thinking of changing this to both pulling in to see if it brings down the CPU temps a bit more. Both GPU and CPU water block are EKWB.
    Water cooling can be quite expensive as you probably already know, but sticking to soft tubing, joint resovoir and pump configuration and by just cooling the CPU, you would be able to keep the cost down.
    Hope that is of some help

    Is it just that the 7700k is bad? I have an 8700k, didn't do anything particularly special, and have a basically silent system that averages 65C in a 24C room under 100% load (on all 12 cores).

    The system is an 8700k (no overclocking, no delidding), with a Noctua NH-U12S CPU cooler in an In Win 303RGB case. I used the In Win Aurora RGB fans, and there are 6 in total. 3 are where the radiator would go if I had one (pushing air out of the case), one is at the bottom of the case (bringing air into the case), one is on the back inline with the CPU cooler (pushing air out of the case) and I swapped the one that came with the CPU cooler with the last of the In Win Auroras. No fancy thermal paste beyond what came with the CPU cooler.

    All 5 case fans run at the same RPM (controlled by the motherboard). I tuned the fan profiles such that the case fans (under load) run at 400 RPM and the CPU fan runs at about 850 RPM (under load). These drop to 220 and 550 RPM respectively under idle.

    Other than this I only have a GTX1060 and an M.2 SSD along with a Silverstone Strider Platinum PSU (1000W so that it runs silent at the expected load of 400W).

    I wonder if something else in your case (other than your CPU) is adding more heat than you expect and reducing the efficiency of the CPU cooler?

    Delid? Replace the goop between the CPU cover and die with some better goop.

    Strongly agree with the delidded option. The 7700k are know to run hot, and a delidded makes a massive difference. I had my 7700 decided, and added a H100i v2, now it is very cool, even when under 100% load.

      Delidding is not nessesary. If you can justify voiding your warranty then go for it. It will improve temps. However because the 7700k is a hot CPU you have to ignore temperature spikes. That CPU will output so much heat so quickly that it is difficult for any cooling solution to deal with. Focus on sustained or average temperatures.
      I think you are suffering from poor air flow through the case. The end result is your cpu fan is sucking hot air off the video card and then the video card is pulling it back in ad infinitum. The computer gets hot.
      A PC Case should be a wind tunnel sucking in clean air on one side and pushing it out the other. Taking a side panel off should decrease it's efficiency, all that cool air escapes out the side of the case not cooling the things it should. So if you remove the side panel and your temps drop then you know that bad things are happening. Add some brute force from a box fan to see what's possible. Then buy a case that suits.

      Also there were threats of a class action against Intel from how hot the 7700k got. You might just be unlucky to have a bad example.

      Your motherboard may also have 'multicore enhancement' on. Turn that off if you have cooling problems.

    Noctua NH-U14S user here. Works well, air cooling with quality towers FTW

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