Signs of CPU Failure

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CPUs hardly fail prematurely during standard operation, if ever. At the very least, they are among the last components to finally hit the bucket in a steadily aging system. In rare cases when dead CPU symptoms occur, they can result in weird errors and unintended responses, making diagnosis very difficult in the absence of absolute elimination.

Thankfully, there are still a few methods we can use to identify the signs of CPU failure. These may not completely rule out other components, but the probability of the CPU being the culprit is relatively higher for these events than anything else. This article contains 8 signs of CPU failure, along with symptoms of a failed processor.

Signs of CPU Failure Overview

  • Booting Issues
  • PC Frequently Freezes
  • Randomly Shuts Down Often
  • Frequent Blue Screens of Death (BSOD)
  • Post Failure
  • External Physical Damage
  • Intermittent Down-Throttling
  • System Failure During Full CPU Workload

Signs of CPU Failure

Booting Issues

A clear sign of a CPU failure is when you boot it up and only see a blank screen, but the motherboard LEDs are on. In addition, the keyboard and mouse are also unresponsive. You may also hear/see the fans running. These signs strongly suggest a CPU failure.

PC Frequently Freezes

As with random shutdowns, the diagnosis and preliminary remedy are the same, the only issue being that the PC completely freezes. A computer will freeze during bootup, or shortly after. If the first aid method fails, there is either permanent CPU damage or another malfunctioning component.

Randomly Shuts Down Often

When CPUs are exposed to temperatures beyond their thermally stable range, they just throttle down. The faulty component may be unable to slow down, causing the system to fail or shut down. If heat buildup is the issue, the first remedy is to prevent it by following these simple steps:

  • Remove dust from coolers and fans.
  • Make sure the fans are working. Inspect fan headers and replace them if necessary.
  • Check whether the thermal paste is in contact with both the cooler base plate and the processor heat sink and if the pressure is sufficient to maintain such contact without crushing the motherboard below.

If none of these approaches work, then another factor might be causing the intermittent shutdowns. Another possibility is that the CPU is permanently damaged somehow.

Frequent Blue Screens of Death (BSOD)

A BSOD is an indicator of an operation error that your computer couldn’t immediately fix that can severely hamper its use. This then prompts the system to just restart. If the BSOD error appears with a code 0x00000, you can be more or less certain that it is a CPU issue. It is not necessarily a sign of a dead CPU, but you may want to do a few connection checks first before testing the CPU on another system to re-confirm.

Post Failure (Beep Alerts)

Power-on self-test (POST) is a set diagnostic test sequence that a computer runs each time it is turned on to ensure that all its hardware is working properly before loading the operating system. Therefore, if a system failure is a CPU-related issue, the motherboard’s BIOS sends 5-7 codded beeps and/or an error code (on fancier motherboards) that indicates a CPU issue.

External Physical Damage

Physical signs of CPU damage:

  • Burnt spots – Burn spots are marks found on the CPU and/or around its socket.  The presence of these spots usually indicates overheating. When a processor is exposed to high temperatures for a long time, it may become irreversibly damaged.
  • Bent pins – Any misaligned pin, either completely broken or significantly bent can cause CPU issues. For AMD AM4 systems, check the CPU’s PGA (pin grid array). For Intel sockets, check the LGA (Land grid array). Even weird smudges on the contact points (therefore preventing proper connection) can cause issues with a CPU.
  • Too-much thermal paste – Excessive amounts of thermal paste can start oozing down to the CPU socket and start causing various electric mishaps to the system. Minor smudging can lead to malfunction, but more direct contact with other parts surrounding the socket may lead to permanent damage.

Intermittent Down-Throttling

Despite having a robust cooling solution for both the processor and motherboard VRMs, one possible sign of a bad CPU is when the CPU occasionally slows down. A faulty circuit board inside the CPU can cause this, or if the heat spreader (integrated heat sink) is misaligned or damaged, it prevents the actual die from efficiently transferring heat to it.

Depending on when the CPU was decided, the liquid metal may have been compromised and needed to be reapplied or readjusted. The user might also have to perform other tests related to the CPU to ensure that it is indeed the CPU and not something else.

System Failure During Full CPU Workload

Throttling-down of the PC is just a step behind total system failure resulting from the CPU being forced to operate at maximum capacity. Let’s assume that in this case, both the processor and motherboard VRMs are properly cooling the other components.

This issue could already mean that the CPU is nearing the end of its life, so it would be best for the user to consider replacing (or even upgrading) it as soon as possible.

Final Thoughts

For most potential software-related issues, while the CPU may be the culprit, the likelihood of another hardware or even software being the problem is simply much higher. CPUs don’t have moving parts, are essentially locked hard onto the most secure part of the entire system, and are designed to handle a very good level of temperature extremes.

So the next time you feel like you are witnessing signs of a CPU failure, keep in mind that it is often much better to narrow things down first before immediately running into any of the symptoms listed in this article.

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