6 Tools to Monitor Heat in Your System

Alan Fackler

In a personal computer, heat is poison. It hurts performance, causes instability, and makes parts degrade faster. There are ways to reduce the heat in your system, but how do you know when you've got a problem with too much heat?

You could wait until your hardware dies, but that's expensive. You could stick your hand inside the case, but that's imprecise. Or, you could use a dedicated software or hardware heat monitor. Now we're talking, but which one's the best? In this article, we'll explain the pros and cons of 6 heat-monitoring solutions; 2 programs and 4 hardware monitors.

Read on to find out how to tell if your computer's getting too hot.

Software Options

SensorsView

This baby does it all. If you’re looking for the long range forecast inside your PC, STV Software (www.stvsoft.com) has what you need. The company’s SensorsView software provides more than a temperature snapshot, it’s a utility that can monitor the temperature of your motherboard, CPU, northbridge, VGA and internal hard drives.  And in case you’re wondering, the software doesn’t neglect your voltages and fan speeds (as long as your motherboard supports it).


You may be thinking, “So what? I can stick a dollar-store thermometer inside the case and survive just as well.” While this may be true, dollar-store thermometers can’t tell you when temperatures reach critical levels or give you a complete overview of temperature measurements. They also can’t generate log files, shut your PC down if it gets too hot, play a sound when the temperature reaches a certain level, or email you to let you know things are heating up.

SensorsView can show you other non-heat-related usage statistics as well, but the software will cost you a non-dollar-store price of $19.95 for home or non-commercial use.

Hardware Sensors Monitor

If you have a “smart” motherboard with sensor chips, Hardware Sensors Monitor can keep track of the temperature of your system and CPU cores. Sure, it can monitor your voltages and cooling fan parameters, but it also goes the extra mile to save your PC when it catches it in an overheated state. It does this a number of ways—not the least of which is by sounding an audio alarm.

Hardware Sensors Monitor can also shut your PC down, or execute any application of your choice (including applications that can automatically send you an email alert message). It can also log information by the minute, and lets you configure "yellow zone" and "red zone" temperatures for the motherboard and CPU.

A plethora of motherboards and laptops are supported, so visit their website at www.hmonitor.com to see if yours is on the list. If it’s not listed, alert the company and they’ll look into adding your model. And yes, Windows 7 is officially supported. It isn't a resource hog and sits quietly in the system tray (just like a good application should). If price is an issue, not to fret - the program is shareware and has free evaluation period of two weeks.

Hardware Options

Aerocool FP-01 LCD Fan Monitor/Card Reader

This device impressed the heck out of me. The Aerocool FP-01 is a car stereo style, flip-up screen, single-bay device that monitors the temperature in your PC. It includes a media card reader, a USB hub, and has an eSATA port to boot−and fits easily into any 5.25” expansion bay. The FP-01’s temperature component detects three sets of temperature and fan speeds and has three different types of alarm settings to tell you when your PC is hot or not.

The FP-01 also has a Copy button on the upper right. When you press this button, your data is conveniently copied (via the Smart Copy feature) from the inserted flash card to a folder on your desktop using a name consistent with the card you are copying from. The FP-01 includes slots for multiple types of memory cards including CF, MS, SD, and SM memory cards and comes with all the necessary cables; all for about $50.

Sure, its overkill if you’re looking for just a heat monitor but it’s the slickest overkill I’ve come across lately. It’s not just cool, it’s Aerocool.

Fan Commander 7-Channel Fan Controller

This isn’t your typical fan control unit. It’s not primarily a temperature gauge, but it’s so cool that we had to take a look. This unit controls the temperature inside your PC by controlling fan speeds, based on internal heat levels. Overclockers, set your web browsers to http://www.overclockersonline.net/reviews/5000293/ for a detailed rundown of how this device can give you peace of mind while you’re in frenzied gaming mode. This ultimate fan commander offers control for up to seven fans, includes three thermal sensors, and individual temperature alarms.

If the inside of your PC exceeds a default heat limit, the Fan Commander’s auto control setting feature kicks in with an alarm that activates the fans in the PC to run at full warp speed to cool things down to a safe, acceptable level. Everything is brought together by a nice LCD display on the front of the unit, which fits nicely into a 5 1/4–inch drive bay. The unit monitors CPU, hard drive, and system temperature from the same location.

Other Tools

Quality Thermistor’s USB thermometer
If you’re one of those people who insists upon accuracy, you might want to get your hands on the mightily-named Quality Thermistor’s Precision USB Temperature Acquisition System. Otherwise known as a precision USB thermometer, it’s essentially a combination of a precision thermistor and a USB interface. A thermistor is a resistor that changes resistance in response to changes in temperature.

This thermometer is so accurate, it can tell you the temperature to +/-0.1°C from freezing to boiling. There are two different versions of the thermometer: one is a HID (plug and play) version that includes data logging and graphing software; the other is a virtual serial version that integrates with custom third party applications (and includes free Windows demo software).

Quality Thermistor’s USB thermometer senses the temperature and logs the information in real-time directly to your PC. When the temperature track exceeds custom set control limits (either high or low), the software sends alerts in the form of an audio signal, a popup window, or an email. If you’re really picky about cables, you're in luck: the device comes with different cable options. You can choose between a coiled cable or a high-temperature cable (multiple lengths are available).

Micro Temp Digital Infrared Thermometer Mt-100

Micro Temp USA was clearly thinking of the PC-building enthusiast when they designed the Mt-100 digital infrared thermometer. The concept is a bit different from what we’ve seen so far, but this keychain-sized infrared-based thermometer can instantly measure a spot or surface temperature. If you want to find out how hot your PC is running (before and after you add a cooling fan, for example), just point the device, press the button, and presto.

This thermometer works without contact by measuring the temperature using a d:s (distance-to-sight) ratio of 1:1 (which means that it measures a spot as big as the distance of the thermometer from the object you are pointing it at). The Mt-100 measures in both Fahrenheit (-27°F to 230°F measure range) and Celsius modes (-32°C to 110°C measure range). It’s also powered by 2 lr44 batteries that come with the device. A mere $29.99 will put you in the market for this thrifty temperature gauge.

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