How to diagnose and fix problems with your processor
Out of all the components to fail in your computer, the processor is the least likely today. That’s not to say it isn’t possible, as it very much is. There are some generally rare situations that could cause a processor to fail, but it’s important to troubleshoot with a careful eye. Since processors are so unlikely to die, it’s very possible that something else is causing you computer problems. But, at the same time, it’s important to not overlook the CPU as well.
We’re going to go over some of the warning signs of a dying processor as well as show you how to troubleshoot for problems. Be sure to follow along below!
Below are some of the signs that you could have a bad or failing processor. Once again, troubleshoot with a careful eye, as many other components in the system share similar warning signs.
- Overheating: In most cases, a processor isn’t going to overheat. If the processor is getting too hot, there’s hardware built into the CPU to try and reduce the load/clock speed to keep it cool. Unfortunately, if the processor isn’t being cooled properly or the computer is in a room with a high room temperature, it can still overheat quite badly. Even then, it’s probably not the processor. In some cases, a motherboard will actually “sacrifice” itself to keep the CPU alive in the event of overheating or other weird “freak” problems.
- Overclocking: Overclocking can cause a processor to have issues. However, if you return it to its normal state, the issues will, in most cases, disappear. It’s very important to implement safe and proper overclocking practices in order to not damage the CPU or overheat components.
- Age: As with all things, components can just die because of age. Generally, your computer case will be the only thing that outlasts your processor. In other words, you don’t have to worry about your processor dying of age. It’s highly unlikely, but if old enough and used enough, it’s certainly not something to leave out of the equation.
- Electrical Problems: A myriad of electrical problems can cause problems with your processor (and computer as a whole) as well. For example, if you go through a black out, brown out, or some sort of weird power surge, either of those can easily fry your components. In some really good scenarios, it’s only the Power Supply Unit that dies, but once again, that’s your best case scenario and not necessarily likely to happen.
Just to reiterate: you’ll want to check and check again to make sure other components aren’t the problem. For example, all components can die because of age. Most components can die because of overheating or improper overclocking practices (e.g. such as with a graphics card), too. You’ll just want to make sure you rule everything else out before deeming that it is indeed your processor.
The only thing you can really troubleshoot with your processor is heat and overclocking problems. Starting with heat problems, you can check your processor’s temperature using a free program like Speccy or CPU-Z. These will give you a fairly accurate view of the ranges your CPU is hitting. You can find a list of other temperature-monitoring software here. If your temps are quite high, there could be a few issues at play here:
- High room temperature
- Dust/clogged heatsink
- Faulty heatsink
- Software problem
Putting your computer in a location with a high room temperature is a never good idea. While components can handle heat to an extent, putting them in already hot room isn’t giving them a good start. If you have your computer in a hot room, relocate it if you can or take measures to make the room cooler (e.g. oscillating fans, a window AC unit, etc).
As they always say, dust is the enemy of electronics. And it’s true, largely because they get inside cooling fans, clog them up and ultimately stop them from executing their full cooling potential. The same goes for the processor’s heatsink. It can get caked with dust easily. If you feel comfortable with it, take the heatsink off and clean it. You’ll also need to reapply thermal paste when you do that. When you do, remember to not put too much on — it’s recommended that you apply a small dab. It should be a little smaller than a BB, around the size of a grain of rice. Much more than that and you could end up with thermal paste on your motherboard.
It’s also entirely possible that you have a faulty heatsink. Some motherboards won’t even start the boot-up process without detecting that the processor’s heatsink is running. Of course, there are a myriad of other reasons as to why a motherboard won’t begin the start-up process, so you’ll need to eliminate those possibilities first. Be sure to check out our motherboard troubleshooting guide for the detailed process.
Lastly, if your computer is running fine, but getting a little hot, you could have a software issue somewhere, possibly with a recently installed program. Head into Task Manager and see what’s taking a fairly hefty CPU load and go from there (e.g. restarting the program or uninstalling it to fix the issue).
POST error checking
Another way to check for processor issues is through beep codes. While you generally won’t know what’s exactly wrong with a component, these beep codes do give you a place to start looking. On most setups, you’ll hear 5 quick beeps to warn that there’s something wrong with the processor. It won’t tell you what’s wrong, but it will tell you which component is acting flaky.
Sometimes, you’ll also here a two-tone siren. This indicates low voltage, but can also be an identifier for a low processor fan speed, meaning you could be having trouble with your heatsink. You can learn more about beep codes over in our motherboard failure article.
It’s also worth noting that you’ll need a pair of speakers hooked up to your computer to hear any beeps.
Steps to take if your computer is sluggish
If the problem you presume you’re having is because of a computer slowing down, that could be a different problem entirely. While it would make sense that someone with this problem would guess the processor, symptoms like these can be a range of different issues.
If you’re reaching maximum capacity on your hard drive and SSD, that could be cause for a computer slowing down. Free up some space by deleting what you don’t need or moving files to the cloud. You could also buy a larger hard drive (or even an external one if you don’t have room for another or don’t want to bother with replacing your current one).
Your hard drive could also be full of temp files and junk you don’t need anymore. Download a free program called CCleaner. Once installed, run a scan with it on your computer. This should tell you how many extra junk files that are on your computer as well as how much space they’re taking up. Once the scan is complete, run the cleaner. Depending on how many old and leftover files are on your computer, this could take some time. But, once the scan is complete, make sure to reboot your computer. Once you’re back into it, you should notice a rather significant performance increase. For a full hard drive diagnosis guide, click here.
Malware can also prove to be a massive problem to system sluggishness. Run your anti-virus program and see if it picks up any infections. If so, get rid of them by having the anti-virus software quarantine them or remove them entirely. It’s also worth noting that your anti-virus may not pick up on infections if they’re at a system-level. For that, you’ll need to download some bootable anti-virus and either burn it to a CD or mount on a USB (Bitdefender has some great software for this). Once you’ve done that, you’ll want to boot off of that anti-virus software and have it search for a virus from there. Be sure to check out the different types of malware that can infect your computer as well as how to keep yourself safe from future infections.
Problems with a new CPU?
There are, of course, some problems that can arise after installing a new processor. Replacing your processor can cause a myriad of issues if you don’t install it right. Below, we’re going to over many of the most comment problems.
First, did you remember to plug in the power connector to the processor? Depending on your motherboard and power supply unit setup, this could be a 4- or 8-pin connector. If it isn’t plugged in, make sure to connect it firmly. If you have an 8-pin power connector, but a 4-pin connector on your power supply, you’ll need to use a 4-pin connector. In most cases, you’ll need to plug the connector into the four closest pins to your processor, and then, of course, the other side into the power supply.
Keep in mind that if you don’t have that plugged in, your computer will never boot up. That is the processor’s power connector, after all.
Next, when installing your new processor, did you remove the plastic shroud from it? This is simply packaging material to keep the processor safe in transit, so it isn’t needed beyond that. If you try to install it with the plastic shroud on, you risk bending or damaging some of the pins on the processor. If you bend pins by trying to install it wrong (or even in the wrong direction) you could risk breaking your processor.
With that said, make sure you install your CPU in the correct direction. There is an arrow on the CPU itself as well as an arrow on the motherboard’s processor housing. You will need to line those two arrows up in order to insert the processor properly. Be sure to refer to your motherboard’s manual or the instructions that came with your CPU for specific direction.
As you probably guessed, bent pins can cause the processor from seating normally as well as potentially cause hardware issues immediately or down the road. You can try and unbend a pin with tweezers, a credit card or even a needle, but you’ll need to be extremely careful in order to not accidentally bend other pins. After that, you can try and re-seat the CPU (don’t force it, as you’ll just break more pins). And once it’s in place, don’t forget to apply the correct amount of thermal paste.
And that wraps up our guide to troubleshooting your processor. When it comes down to it, it’s quite a difficult component to troubleshoot specifically. This is largely because many of the symptoms you might see with a failing processor are all very similar to other components. The other thing is, much like the power supply unit, it’s generally a scenario where the processor is working or it isn’t.
That said, and in most cases, your processor isn’t going to be the problem. As we mentioned at the beginning of this guide, the processor is able to easily outlast all of your other components and then some. We’re not saying it isn’t a problem, as it has just as much potential to be, but just make ensure you’re making an educated guess after some thorough troubleshooting. You don’t want to replace components for absolutely no reason, only to load the PC back up and find out it’s going through the same exact problem as before.
We hope this guide helped you get to the bottom of your problem. But if you’re still stuck, be sure to head on over to the PCMech forum and post your problem to get some additional help from the PCMech community!