The CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is every bit as important to your system as it sounds. It is the central processor that processes commands and instructions for the rest of your system to follow. With the wide range of uses for modern computers, this processor goes through a multitude of stresses for every application you run.
With such frequent, drastic changes in load, stress, and temperatures happening every time you use your computer, it will slowly decrease in performance over time. CPUs are designed to counterbalance this decay, but it is inevitable. Even using your computer for light tasks like browsing will, over time, cause your CPU to die.
You can tell if your CPU is dying if you experience random shutdowns, bootup issues, the Blue Screen of Death, high idle temperatures, and beeping from your motherboard. If your system exhibits multiple of these symptoms, it’s likely that your CPU is failing or has failed. Diagnose your exact issue and replace the part or replace the CPU altogether.
By knowing what to look for, you can anticipate when your CPU is nearing the end of its life. In this article, I’ll explain the symptoms of a dying CPU.
What Causes a CPU to Die?
Every CPU on the market has a finite lifespan, which can either be prolonged to reduced based on how you care for your processor. You can keep your CPU working longer if you keep it at safe temperatures and clean regularly. Alternatively, overclocking your CPU constantly will overheat it, causing accelerated deterioration over long periods of time.
However, the most common cause of CPU death is simply old age. You can keep the processor at a frosty 50°C for years of usage, but it will eventually lose functionality regardless. There are also certain factors, known as the “silicone lottery”, that determine how long a CPU can last based on the quality of its manufacturing.
Suffice it to say that no CPU is eternal but taking good care of it can help you squeeze every potential ounce of life out of it.
Common Signs of a Dying CPU
It is possible, though, to detect when your CPU begins to fail, or “die”. As it nears the end of its life, it will cause other issues with your system to let you know it’s almost time to replace it. I’ll detail the most common symptoms of a dying CPU below.
It’s important to note that some of these symptoms can be caused by issues other than the CPU. However, it’s safe to assume that the presence of more than one of these symptoms at the same time is almost certainly a result of a dying CPU.
System Automatically Shuts Down
If your system is shutting down immediately after powering on, it could be that your CPU is dying. If this happens to you, you should test your other major components, such as your GPU or PSU, to make sure that it’s the CPU that the issue is caused by.
If your other components are working properly, then your CPU is the problem. Usually, this problem is caused by the CPU overheating immediately after booting up.
A quick solution to this would be to reapply a thermal compound, which will deteriorate over time and cause your CPU to overheat easily. This is one way to extend the life of your CPU if it’s been manufactured in the last five years or so.
If the thermal compound is still thick and working, you could try replacing your cooling system with a more powerful one. This will keep the CPU from overheating immediately, but if your CPU is old as it is, it might make more sense just to replace it.
Issues with Booting Up
Every time you boot up your system, your BIOS runs a POST (Power-On Self-Test). The purpose of this diagnostic is to determine if there is any faulty hardware in your system.
Sometimes, if a component is already damaged or otherwise non-functional, it won’t show up on the POST. This could mean that either the CPU is dying or that a different component in your system is malfunctioning.
At this point, run tests on your other components to isolate the cause of the problem. If the POST passes but your system shuts down immediately after anyways, it could very well mean that your CPU needs to be replaced.
System Won’t Turn On
If your CPU is dead or dying, the computer might not even turn on. This could manifest as nothing happening when you press the power button, or sometimes the fans will spin for a few seconds and then turn back off.
If this is happening to you, test your PSU to make sure it’s functional. If the PSU is working fine, then your CPU could be close to dying, or dead already.
System Keeps Freezing
With a faulty CPU, your system can’t run properly. A common symptom of this is the computer turning on, but freezing to where you can’t move the mouse on the screen and the display doesn’t change.
This can happen when idling, running applications, or even during bootup. This isn’t exclusively a symptom of a dying CPU, but it’s certainly a strong possibility. In any case, if your system is freezing, something is faulty in your system and needs either fixing or replacing.
Blue Screen of Death
The Blue Screen of Death, or BSOD, will appear when your PC is incapable of operating safely. It’s a type of self-preservation that can be caused by a dying CPU, as well as other faulty components that are generally associated with the CPU.
If you get the BSOD on your screen, chances are that either your CPU or CPU fans are not functioning properly. You’ll want to check that everything is installed properly and clean. If you can’t see anything wrong with your system, the CPU is likely dying and overheating too quickly to function.
Idle CPU Temperature Too High
If your CPU temperature is above 90°C when idling, or under minimal stress, your PC is in critical condition. This temperature influx can be caused by several things: faulty CPU fans, degraded thermal paste, or a dying CPU that can’t regulate fan speeds anymore.
You can check CPU temperatures through a variety of software, such as Core Temp or NZXT Cam, to verify that the CPU is too hot when idling. You can also tell pretty easily by listening to your fans while no applications are running. If they are abnormally loud, your CPU is close to overheating on idle.
Beeping Sounds From Your Motherboard
Many motherboards these days come equipped with an internal speaker, which the motherboard uses to notify users of faulty hardware. If your motherboard doesn’t have this, cheap speaker attachments can be purchased.
Motherboards have different beep codes for different issues, so consult your manual to determine what the beeping means. For example, Asus motherboards with American Megatrends firmware indicate CPU or motherboard issues with a series of five short beeps.
When you decipher what the beeps mean, you can narrow down whether the symptoms you’re experiencing are from a dying CPU or a different component entirely.
Our Final Take
There are a variety of ways to tell if your CPU is dying, but not all of these symptoms are exclusive to a faulty CPU. Cross-examine various parts of your computer to isolate the problem and diagnose accordingly. Just because your system is malfunctioning doesn’t necessarily mean that the CPU is the culprit.
How Do I Know When to Replace My CPU?
If you’re experiencing several of the symptoms detailed above, it’s likely time to replace your old CPU. It’s also a good idea to keep your CPU updated to within a couple of generations of your other major components, like GPU, to maximize performance.
Can a CPU Just Die?
If you overheat it for extended periods of time, the CPU can die sooner than it should. Your system will likely shut down before this happens, though, so it’s unlikely that your CPU will die without exhibiting symptoms beforehand.