The central processing unit or CPU is the heart of all computing devices.
PUs are found in everything from computers and laptops to cell phones and smart watches.
With so many devices dependent on CPUs, you may be wondering how a CPU lasts.
How Long Does A CPU Last?
CPU’s should last at least 8 years without failure.
The general consensus from CPU manufacturers is that a CPU is expected to last for 100,000 hours, which is more than 11 years of continuous running.
The truth is CPUs are extremely stable functionally and rarely fail or die.
There are, however, some bad CPUs that will functionally fail within a very short time, but these are considered to be dead-on-arrival failures and not failures from usage.
When it comes to CPUs, since they are so functionally sound, the major determinate of a CPU’s lifespan is its usability.
CPUs are likely to become obsolete and incompatible with newer technologies as they age.
In other words, you are more likely to outgrow the CPU than for the CPU to physically fail.
The average lifespan of a CPU when its usability is taken into consideration is between three and five years.
What Causes CPU Failure?
A CPU under ideal circumstances can last for decades.
CPUs, unlike SSDs and other computer components, will not “wear out” from usage.
If a CPU fails, it is most likely due to a defect in the device (which will typically show up very early in the CPUs lifespan) or due to outside influences.
Heat is one factor that can reduce the lifespan of your CPU.
Modern CPUs are rated to process at full utilization up to 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once a CPU’s temperature exceeds this threshold, it will thermal throttle its utilization percentage to reduce its heat generation which results in reduced processing power.
If a CPU is exposed continuously to extreme heat, it can physically fail.
The clock rate is the measure of how many clock cycles, or pulses, a CPU can generate in a second and is measured in MHz or GHz.
One or more instructions are processed during a clock cycle so the more clock cycles a CPU can run, the faster the processing speed.
CPUs come with a set clock rate programmed into the device.
However, this is not the CPU’s maximum clock speed.
A CPU can be pushed to perform more processes by overclocking.
Overclocking is the process of increasing the number of clock cycles a CPU runs in a second.
This process can damage the CPU by increasing its temperature.
Without adequate cooling, the excess heat generated by the overclocking process can damage the CPU and reduce its lifespan.
Overvolting goes hand-in-hand with overclocking.
A CPU is simply a set of transistors that turn voltage signals into 1s and 0s.
In theory, a 0 is represented by no voltage, and a 1 is represented by a higher number which is dependent upon the specifications of the CPU.
To be computed as a 1, the voltage sent to the transistors must be within a certain percentage, usually 1–10% of the set high value or it will read as a 0.
When an input is sent into the CPU for processing, the CPU turns the input into a voltage pulse.
When the voltage changes, there is a transition period between the high and low voltages.
As the CPU is pushed to perform more and more cycles per second, the transition time decreases.
As the transition time decreases, the voltage it can reach in transitions decreases, which can lead to a CPU processing a signal as the low 0 rather than the intended high 1.
To combat this loss in voltage due to overclocking, a CPU can be overvolted.
Overvolting is the process of increasing the voltage amount sent to the CPU.
The voltage amount needed to process a voltage signal as a high 1 remains the same, but the amount of voltage fed into the CPU is higher.
This means that when this higher voltage loses voltage due to a short transition period, the remaining voltage is still high enough to process as a high 1.
This increased voltage will increase heat production and can damage the CPU and reduce its lifespan.
4. Power Supply
The power supply unit, or PSU, is the internal component that supplies power to the internal components of a computer.
A lifespan of a CPU can be affected by the PSU if the PSU is not powerful enough to run all its attached components.
A weak PSU may not be able to run all of the components at once, such as fans, which can increase heat generation and reduce the lifespan of the CPU.
Do CPUs Wear Out?
Technically speaking, yes, a CPU is like any other component, and it can, in theory, wear out.
However, practically speaking, a CPU will not wear out.
The CPU is arguably the most stable component in a computer and, under optimal circumstances, can last easily for 10 plus years.
A CPUs processing system, unlike an SSD, will not degrade over time due to usage.
It is more likely to fail from structural or connection issues rather than wear on the processing components.
Also, an older CPU is more likely to need replacement due to its lack of compatibility with emerging technologies rather than its functionality.
How Often Should You Replace A CPU?
Depending on your particular needs, a CPU will probably need to be replaced every four to six years due to lack of capability rather than lack of functionality.
As technology continues to advance, older CPUs may not be capable of handling the demands of upgraded equipment and should be replaced when it can no longer optimally run the components that depend on it.
How Can I Test My CPU?
If you suspect that your CPU might be failing, there are ways you can check and test your CPU.
1. Visual Inspection
If you think your CPU might be damaged, you can visually inspect the CPU.
Look for charred marks on or around the CPU
You can also remove the CPU and look for damaged or bent pins.
2. Stress Test
A CPU’s performance can be checked using stress test software.
This test is designed to test your CPU at full speed using all cores up to the maximum temperature and is used to determine whether your CPU can maintain a certain level of effectiveness under extreme circumstances.
A stress test can alert you to potential problems and run errors in your CPU.
Numerous resources can be used to perform a stress test on your CPU.
- Prime95: Prime95 was not originally intended to be a stress testing tool. Prime95’s original purpose was to find Mersenne prime numbers. This algebraic process relies heavily on the CPUs integer and floating points units, which leads to maximum CPU utilization.
Once Prime95 is started, it will run indefinitely until it is either manually stopped or it encounters an error, in which case it will terminate testing. For a stress test, it is recommended that you run Prime95 for 24 hours. If a CPU has a problem, it will typically show up within the first 24 hours of testing.
- HeavyLoad: HeavyLoad was specifically designed to test computer components by consuming CPU resources by writing a large temporary test file, which allocates memory and performs complex calculations. HeavyLoad’s testing method is more in line with standard CPU usage, unlike Prime95 which is a torture test for CPUs.
- AIDA64: AIDA64 is a systems information, diagnostic, and auditing program. Like other stress test software, AIDA64 places the CPU under maximum strain to observe its functionality. AIDA64 provides real-time feeds of temperatures, voltages, and fan speed during the testing process.
- CoreTemp: CoreTemp is diagnostic testing software that provides real-time temperature readings of each individual core within the CPU. CoreTemp also provides clock speed and general CPU information.
How Can I Check My CPU Performance?
To check your CPU performance levels, you can use the built-in monitors on your device, Windows and Mac operating systems both provide a method for checking the CPU usage data, or you can use a third-party tool.
Use Task Manager On A Windows Machine
- Click on the Search Bar next to the Windows icon in the left-hand bottom corner of the screen. Type in Task Manager. The Task Manager icon will appear. Click on Task Manager.
- When the Task Manager box appears, it may only show the programs which are currently actively running on your device. To see the other options in Task Manager, click on the drop-down arrow at the bottom of the window next to More Details. This will open the expanded Task Manager dialogue box.
- When the dialogue box opens, the Processes tab will be selected. Next to the Processes tab will be Performance. Click on the Performance tab.
- A series of graphs will be displayed in the left-hand column along with specifics about the chosen graph. If it is not already selected, click on CPU to see usage details.
- Displayed in the CPU box will be data on your current CPU utilization, speed, processes, threads, handles, and uptime as well as basic data about your CPU such as base speed, how many cores you have, and how many logical processors you have.
- The uptime is displayed in days, hours, minutes, and seconds. This number is the basis for the 100,000 hours of projected CPU viability that CPU lifespan is based on. (Personally, I utilize my computer quite a bit, and I am currently at 1,257 hours of CPU usage. I have had my computer for two years if that gives you any indication of how long it would take to run 100,000 hours of CPU clock time.)
- If you would like to see a more detailed breakdown of your CPU usage, at the bottom of the Performance window, click on Resource Monitor. This will open a new window containing the Resource Monitor.
- Resource Monitor provides you with an overview of your system as well as the option to dive deeper into specific items in your system including CPU, memory, disk, and network.
Use Activity Monitor On Your Mac
- To check CPU usage data on your Mac product, click on the Spotlight icon, which is the little magnifying glass at the top of the window, type in Activity Monitor, and press return.
- The Activity Monitor application will open to the processes page much like a Windows machine. The CPU usage information will be displayed in the pane at the bottom of the window and includes information such as CPU usage by the system, the user, and idle as well as the total CPU load, threads, and processes.
- You can also choose to view more detailed information on memory, energy, disk, and network by clicking on the associated tabs at the top next to the CPU.
Third-party applications can also be used to evaluate and track your CPU usage and may be both free or paid software programs available for both Windows and Mac products.
How Do You Know If Your CPU Is Dying?
You may be able to detect a dying CPU by looking for the signs and symptoms of a dying CPU.
1. Booting Problems
If your computer will not boot up, your CPU may be dying.
One key indicator is if you attempt to turn on your computer, the fans begin to turn, but you do not hear any beeps and the screen remains blank.
You can press all of the buttons you want and still get no response.
This is an indicator that the computer is not able to run the POST test which indicates a CPU failure.
2. Beep Codes
If your computer can run the POST test but gives you a series of beeps during the test, this could be an indication of a CPU issue depending on how many beeps are heard.
Count the beeps and consult the following table to discern the issue.
- 1 Beep: Refresh Failure
- 2 Beeps: Parity Error
- 3 Beeps: Memory Error
- 4 Beeps: Timer Failure
- 5 Beeps: Processor Failure
- 6 Beeps: Keyboard Controller Failure
- 7 Beeps: Virtual Mode Exception Error
- 8 Beeps: Display Memory Failure
- 9 Beeps: ROM BIOS Checksum Failure
- 10 Beeps: CMOS Shutdown Register Failure
- 11 Beeps: L2 Cache Failure
- Continuous Beeps: Memory or Video Failure
3. Physical Damage
Another thing you may do to determine if your CPU is in danger is to manually view the CPU where it sits.
Look for signs of damage such as charring, scorching, discoloration, or even signs of melting.
All of these can be indicators of excessive heat and should be addressed immediately.
A computer may randomly freeze up if the CPU is dying.
Typically, if a freeze happens due to CPU failure, the computer will not respond to any input at all and will not be able to restart.
5. The Blue Screen Of Death
Yes, the blue screen of death is really a thing.
The blue screen of death usually appears when there is a major malfunction in the computer that it can not recover from
The blue screen of death is kind enough to provide error codes, however, which can be looked up to pinpoint the issue.
For a dying CPU, the blue screen of death will display the code 0x00000.
6. High Temperature
The temperature of your CPU should not exceed 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
If the temperature is too high, it can affect and ultimately kill your CPU.
You can monitor the temperature with software programs designed to minutely calculate the core temperature of your computer components.
If you do not have temperature monitoring available, you can manually view the CPU where it sits to look for signs or potential triggers of excess heat such as dust accumulation, improperly spinning fans, lack of thermal paste, or a clogged heat sink.
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“Core Temp.” Core Temp, https://www.alcpu.com/CoreTemp/. Accessed 7 Apr. 2022.
Free Stress Test Tool HeavyLoad | JAM Software. https://www.jam-software.com/heavyload. Accessed 7 Apr. 2022.
GIMPS – Free Prime95 Software Downloads – PrimeNet. https://www.mersenne.org/download/. Accessed 7 Apr. 2022.
“How To Run a CPU Stress Test Using Prime95.” Appuals.Com, 10 Dec. 2015, https://appuals.com/how-to-run-a-cpu-stress-test-using-prime95/.
“Impact of Temperature on Intel CPU Performance.” Puget Systems, https://www.pugetsystems.com/labs/articles/Impact-of-Temperature-on-Intel-CPU-Performance-606/. Accessed 7 Apr. 2022.
Upping Vcore, CPU Overvolting Explained – It’s All About Tolerance. http://www.hardwareanalysis.com/content/article/1482.3/. Accessed 7 Apr. 2022.
“View CPU Activity in Activity Monitor on Mac.” Apple Support, https://support.apple.com/guide/activity-monitor/view-cpu-activity-actmntr43452/mac. Accessed 9 Apr. 2022.
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