Low frame rate because of high CPU temperature.

Are you experiencing low frame rates on games that your PC was able to handle in the past? If so, read on, because your CPU temperature could be too high!

The other day, I decided to play a PC game for the first time in months. However, for some strange reason, the frame rate was extremely low and the graphics had been automatically scaled down. The game in question was Arma 2. My machine, which has an Intel i5 CPU and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 graphics card, had been able to run the game on high settings in the past, so what was causing the issue? Why was my PC no longer able to run certain games?

At first, I thought that a buildup of dust was the culprit, so I opened up the case and used some compressed air. I clean the case from top to bottom, making sure that I blew compressed air into every nook and cranny. Unfortunately, despite being dust-free, the issue didn’t go away. My frames were still unbearable and I found it impossible to play games such as Arma and Day-Z.

Then, I fired up Speccy, which is a program that provides you with a list of your PC specs (CPU type, graphics card information, etc). It also provides you with a live temperature reading of your CPU, your graphics card, your hard drive, your SSD and your motherboard.

The first thing that caught my eye was my CPU temperature, which was reaching 80 degrees celsius on idle. From past experience, I knew that this couldn’t be right! In the past, I had been able to play games on full power, with the temperature staying at around 50-70 degrees celsius. However, it was now hitting 80 degrees celcius on idle, and it quickly climbed up to around 90 degrees celsius as soon as I started Chrome!

I got annoyed with myself for not grasping the issue sooner, as the signs had been as clear as day. A few weeks back, when I was playing a less powerful game, I blatantly ignored the fact that my CPU fan was spinning like crazy and that it had been making a lot of noise. I had also forgotten about a similar issue that had occurred three years prior, when I accidentally removed some of the thermal paste on my CPU. The result had been the same – High CPU temperatures and ridiculously low frame rates.

So I opened up my case and took out my i5. Sure enough – the three-year-old thermal paste on my CPU was looking pretty worn and outdated. So I took the following steps:

  1. I used a lint-free cloth and some rubbing alcohol to remove the old thermal paste from my CPU and my CPU fan. I lightly dampened the cloth with the rubbing alcohol and carefully rubbed away the old thermal compound. Note that is extremely important that you remove the old thermal paste. i.e. Do NOT place a layer of new thermal paste on top of the old thermal paste. It will only make matters worse.
  2. After removing the old thermal paste from my CPU and CPU fan, I placed a pea-sized blob of Artic SIlver 5 on my CPU, before gently “painting” it across the surface using an old plastic gift card (it was shaped like a credit card).
  3. Once the new thermal paste was in place, I placed the fan back on and closed my PC case.

After restarting my computer, I checked my CPU temperature and discovered that it was now running at about 35 degrees celsius. This meant that replacing my old thermal paste had resulted in a drop of about 45 degrees celsius! Next, I started Day-Z, which had been unplayable for me. The change was obvious as the game ran smoothly, with a healthy frame rate.

Lesson learned! Keep an eye on your CPU temperature, and don’t make the mistake of using old thermal paste!