How to Solve the Cooling Problem of a Budget-Friendly SFF PC for RTS Gaming

Question:

I am building a small form factor PC with an Intel Core i5-12100F processor and a Zotac GeForce GTX 1080 Mini graphics card. The PC is mainly used for playing real-time strategy games like Total War. I have a limited budget of £600, so I am using the stock Intel cooler, a single 140mm intake fan, and a full-size ATX power supply. However, I am concerned about the high CPU temperatures that I am getting. The CPU idles at around 55°C and reaches up to 99°C when gaming. I have tried various solutions such as undervolting, reseating, repasting, cable management, and fan tuning, but none of them have significantly lowered the temperatures. The GPU, on the other hand, stays below 70°C under load. >
> My questions are: >
> – Are these CPU temperatures normal and safe for this kind of setup, or do they pose a risk of thermal throttling or damage? > – Should I advise my friend’s dad, who I am building this PC for, to invest in a better CPU cooler, play on lower settings, or avoid CPU-intensive games? > – Is there anything else that I can do to improve the cooling performance of this PC without exceeding the budget or compromising the aesthetics?

Answer:

How to Cool Down a Small Form Factor PC with an Intel Core i5-12100F and a Zotac GeForce GTX 1080 Mini

Building a small form factor (SFF) PC can be a challenging and rewarding project, especially if you want to fit powerful components in a compact case. However, one of the main drawbacks of SFF PCs is the limited airflow and cooling options, which can lead to high temperatures and noisy fans. This is the case for a PC that I am building for my friend’s dad, who is a fan of real-time strategy (RTS) games like Total War. The PC has an Intel Core i5-12100F processor and a Zotac GeForce GTX 1080 Mini graphics card, which are both great performers, but also generate a lot of heat. The PC is housed in a Silverstone SG13B case, which has a volume of only 11.5 liters, and uses a full-size ATX power supply, a stock Intel cooler, and a single 140mm intake fan. The PC has a limited budget of £600, so I cannot afford to buy expensive cooling solutions or upgrade the components.

The problem is that the CPU temperatures are very high, even when the PC is idle. The CPU idles at around 55°C and reaches up to 99°C when gaming. This is well above the recommended operating range of the CPU, which is between 40°C and 80°C. The GPU, on the other hand, stays below 70°C under load, which is within the normal range. I have tried various solutions to lower the CPU temperatures, such as undervolting, reseating, repasting, cable management, and fan tuning, but none of them have made a significant difference. I am worried that the high CPU temperatures will affect the performance, stability, and lifespan of the PC, and I want to find a way to cool it down without breaking the bank or ruining the aesthetics.

In this article, I will answer three questions that I have about this PC and its cooling issues:

  • Are these CPU temperatures normal and safe for this kind of setup, or do they pose a risk of thermal throttling or damage?
  • Should I advise my friend’s dad, who I am building this PC for, to invest in a better CPU cooler, play on lower settings, or avoid CPU-intensive games?
  • Is there anything else that I can do to improve the cooling performance of this PC without exceeding the budget or compromising the aesthetics?
  • The short answer is no, these CPU temperatures are not normal or safe for this kind of setup, and they do pose a risk of thermal throttling or damage. The long answer is that the CPU temperatures depend on several factors, such as the CPU model, the cooler, the case, the ambient temperature, the workload, and the fan settings. However, in general, the CPU temperatures should not exceed 80°C under load, and should be below 50°C when idle. Higher temperatures can cause the CPU to reduce its clock speed and voltage to prevent overheating, which is known as thermal throttling. Thermal throttling can result in lower performance, stuttering, and instability. Moreover, prolonged exposure to high temperatures can degrade the CPU and shorten its lifespan, as well as increase the risk of failure.

    The reason why the CPU temperatures are so high in this PC is that the cooling system is inadequate for the CPU. The stock Intel cooler is designed for low-power CPUs, and cannot handle the heat output of the i5-12100F, which has a TDP of 65W. The cooler is also small and noisy, and has a low-quality thermal paste. The case is also a factor, as it has a very limited space for airflow and ventilation. The full-size ATX power supply blocks most of the space above the CPU, leaving little room for the cooler to breathe. The single 140mm intake fan is not enough to provide fresh air to the CPU and exhaust the hot air out of the case. The ambient temperature is also important, as higher room temperatures can make the cooling system less effective.

    Therefore, these CPU temperatures are not normal or safe for this kind of setup, and they do pose a risk of thermal throttling or damage. The CPU should be kept below 80°C under load, and below 50°C when idle, to ensure optimal performance and longevity.

    Should I advise my friend’s dad, who I am building this PC for, to invest in a better CPU cooler, play on lower settings, or avoid CPU-intensive games?

    The best solution to lower the CPU temperatures is to invest in a better CPU cooler, preferably a liquid one. A liquid cooler consists of a pump, a radiator, and a fan, and uses a liquid to transfer the heat from the CPU to the radiator, where it is dissipated by the fan. A liquid cooler can provide better cooling performance, lower noise levels, and more aesthetic appeal than an air cooler. However, a liquid cooler is also more expensive, more complex, and more prone to leaks than an air cooler. A liquid cooler also requires more space in the case, which can be a challenge for a SFF PC.

    The Silverstone SG13B case supports liquid coolers with a 120mm or a 140mm radiator, but only if a SFX power supply is used. A SFX power supply is a smaller version of an ATX power supply, which can free up some space in the case. However, a SFX power supply is also more expensive and less common than an ATX power supply, and may require an adapter to fit in the case. Therefore, to use a liquid cooler in this PC, I would have to replace the ATX power supply with a SFX one, and buy a liquid cooler that fits in the case. This would cost me around £150, which is a quarter of the budget of the PC.

    Another option is to use a low-profile air cooler, which is a smaller and cheaper version of a regular air cooler. A low-profile air cooler can fit in the case without replacing the power supply, and can provide better cooling performance than the stock Intel cooler. However, a low-profile air cooler is also less effective and louder than a liquid cooler, and may not be able to handle the heat output of the i5-12100F under heavy load. A low-profile air cooler would cost me around £50, which is a more reasonable amount of the budget.

    Therefore, I would advise my friend’s dad to invest in a better CPU cooler, either a liquid one or a low-profile air one, depending on his preference and budget. A better CPU cooler would lower the CPU temperatures, improve the performance, reduce the noise, and extend the lifespan of the PC.

    Another way to lower the CPU temperatures is to play on lower settings or avoid CPU-intensive games. Playing on lower settings can reduce the workload on the CPU, and thus the heat output. However, playing on lower settings can also compromise the visual quality and the gaming experience. Moreover, playing on lower settings may not make a significant difference in the CPU temperatures, as some games are more CPU-bound than others. CPU-bound games are games that rely more on the CPU than the GPU, such as RTS games like Total War. These games have a lot of calculations and simulations to perform, such as AI, physics, and pathfinding, which put a lot of stress on the CPU. Avoiding CPU-intensive games can also lower the CPU temperatures, but it can also limit the gaming options and enjoyment.

    Therefore, I would not advise my friend’s dad to play on lower settings or avoid CPU-intensive games, unless he is willing to sacrifice the visual quality and the gaming variety. Playing on lower settings or avoiding CPU-intensive games would not solve the underlying problem of the cooling system, and would only reduce the CPU temperatures temporarily and marginally.

    Is there anything else that I can do to improve the cooling performance of this PC without exceeding the budget or compromising the aesthetics?

    Besides investing in a better CPU cooler, there are some other things that I can do to improve the cooling performance of this PC without exceeding the budget or compromising the aesthetics. These are:

  • Adding another fan to the case. The Silverstone SG13B case has space for two fans: one 120mm or 140mm fan at the front, and one 80mm or 92mm fan at the side. Currently, I am only using one 140mm fan at the front, which acts as an intake fan. Adding another fan at the side, which can act as an exhaust fan, can improve the airflow and ventilation in the case, and help remove the hot air from the CPU and the GPU. A fan can cost around £10, which is a very affordable option.
  • Replacing the thermal paste on the CPU. The thermal paste is a substance that fills the gaps between the CPU and the cooler, and helps transfer the heat from the CPU to the cooler. The stock Intel cooler comes with a pre-applied thermal paste, which is usually of low quality and quantity. Replacing the thermal paste with a better one can improve the thermal conductivity and lower the CPU temperatures. A good thermal paste can cost around £5, which is also a very cheap option.
  • Cleaning the dust from the PC. Dust can accumulate in the PC over time, and clog the fans, the cooler, and the vents. Dust can reduce the airflow and the cooling efficiency, and increase the temperatures and the noise. Cleaning the dust from the PC regularly can prevent this from happening, and improve the cooling performance. Cleaning the dust from the PC does not cost anything, except some time and effort.
  • Therefore,

there are some other things that I can do to

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