Laptop Overheating Due to Turbo Boost? Here’s What You Can Do.

I’ve never actually touched a computer with a physical turbo button, but once upon a time it was common for computers to have a physical switch that would allow a processor to run at a higher speed, at the cost of increased heat and power usage. Intel’s Turbo Boost technology (or AMD’s Turbo Core) works on the same principle, but it’s all automatic. If you’ve got a modern computer and you’re running Windows, the odds are that you can pull up the performance tab of Task Manager and see that your processor’s frequency is changing dynamically—sometimes jumping far above the base clock speed. Automatic boosts are nice, but perhaps having a button you can control isn’t such a bad idea …

SPOILER ALERT: If you have a modern laptop that causes third-degree burns if you actually dare to rest it on your lap, it probably has a cooling system that isn’t sufficient, and Turbo Boost IS NOT helping the matter. Disabling it will make your PC run cooler and quieter. Your laptop’s battery will also last longer!

Note that some higher-end computers are built to sustain the Turbo Boost and have higher performing cooling systems to compensate.

The Good

In perfect conditions, Turbo Boost is never something you have to even think about. It’s something that just happens and keeps your PC running at maximum speed, without you having to do any overclocking of your own. This is a real godsend for people like me! I used to spend days tweaking my BIOS settings and running torture tests to make sure my CPU was running flawlessly and at maximum capacity.

Here’s the exact description from Intel’s site:

“Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.01 accelerates processor and graphics performance for peak loads, automatically allowing processor cores to run faster than the rated operating frequency if they’re operating below power, current, and temperature specification limits. Whether the processor enters into Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 and the amount of time the processor spends in that state depends on the workload and operating environment.”

The Bad

For over a year now I have been running into PCs on a regular basis that run extremely hot while completely idle. Take my parent’s laptop, for example: a humble, consumer-grade ASUS laptop that has needed to be propped up on silverware since day one because the cooling system simply wasn’t powerful enough to keep it at a manageable temperature while idle. The CPU would easily hit temperatures in the range of 65-80 Celsius while completely idle. The BIOS offered no option to disable Turbo Boost, and the old trick of setting the maximum processor frequency to 99% within Control Panel > Power Options > Advanced Power Settings > Processor Power Management also didn’t do the trick.

We’ve had plenty of enterprise-grade laptops show the exact same behavior with no option to disable Turbo Boost. The CPU idles at a crazy high temperature while also showing an extremely high frequency due to Turbo Mode. Again, there’s often no option in the BIOS to turn off the feature and no traditional method is working within Windows either. What do you do when you have an awesome i7 processor that is running extremely hot while idle when you’re perfectly happy with the base clock speed?

The Ugly

On a bit of a whim, I decided to look to the vast internets and see if anyone else experienced this behavior. If you do some quick Googling, you’ll see that thermal issues are no joke, and a lot of laptops are simply not properly equipped for running their CPUs over the TDP for a prolonged period. We checked temperatures on a few test systems—all about 60-70 Celsius while idle—and used the Prime95 Stress test. All systems were approaching 95 Celsius before the Turbo Boost finally turned off and the CPU fell back into the 80-85 Celsius range. These machines were unbearable as actual on-the-lap laptops but disabling turbo boost and making some tweaks to the power settings make a difference.

The Verdict

Keep in mind that Turbo Boost is certainly not the cause of most heat-related issues, especially with desktop computers. You should first consider checking for dust, furballs, or anything else that could prevent your cooling system from working properly. However, many users prefer a system that runs cool and quiet, versus a system that is always running at maximum speed. Laptop users typically want their battery to last! Also, regardless of your noise and heat preference, it’s a fact that idling ANY computer with consistently high heat is not good for the overall health of the system.

A Fix?

As I mentioned before, at one point we were able to disable Turbo Boost by setting the maximum frequency of the CPU to 99% and the minimum frequency to anything lower than or equal to 99% within Windows’ Power Options > Power Plans > Advanced Power Settings > Processor Power Management. However, this does not seem to work on the latest builds of Windows 10 coupled with the latest hardware. Luckily there are other options. If your PC has an option in the BIOS to disable Turbo Boost or Turbo Core, you can do it there, but keep in mind that you won’t be able to re-enable it from your OS.

If you want to have full control of Turbo Boost from within your OS, import THIS registry key (feel free to look it over with a text editor and definitely make a registry backup first) then go back into Windows’ Power Options > Power Plans > Advanced Power Settings > Processor Power Management and you will have a new option: “Processor Performance Boost Mode.” Simply set this to “disabled” and Turbo Boost will be disabled once you hit “apply.” This setting is normally completely invisible in Windows 10.

What do I recommend? Give yourself a Turbo Button! Instead of using this feature automatically on a laptop, I recommend creating manual buttons, so that YOU can choose whether you want a hot and fast computer, or a cool and quiet computer. Simply configure two different power plans and create desktop shortcuts or hotkeys for each. This article explains how to do this, and it still works perfectly on Windows 10. For example, on my computer, I can now hit CTRL + ALT + H to enter High Performance Mode or CTRL + ALT + L to enter Balanced Mode (No Turbo!).

Try it yourself. Share your results. Let others know.

Before I worked in IT, I was a full-time scientist. I urge you to test this yourself and not just take my word. Or perhaps you don’t believe me and want to test this yourself? Take about 10 minutes and try the following:

  1. Download HWinfo or any other app that will let you read the sensor information from your computer. Take note of the min/max/current readings for your CPU temperatures, CPU wattage/voltage, and fan speeds.
  2. In Task Manager, verify whether your processor is running higher than base clock speed while completely idle. Let HWinfo gather some data, then proceed to run your favorite benchmark or stress test. I like Prime95, but UserBench is a great quick benchmark.
  3. First, run your preferred test with Turbo Boost on. Take special note of all the readings I mentioned before, and actively watch them during the test. Notice how the wattage changes based on the temperature and how it will eventually come down once a thermal limit is reached. Screenshot your results. (Watch your temperatures carefully, you may want to end the test if your CPU is approaching 90-100 Celsius)
  4. Give your PC time to cool down once the test is ended. Disable Turbo Boost, let your new temperatures stabilize, clear your sensor readings, then go through the same test. Take screenshots again once the test is over and compare your results.
  5. If you notice a difference and this guide has helped you out, consider sharing it with everyone that would benefit from it—and challenge them to test it themselves!

Let us know if you have questions about how to better monitor and manage your workforce’s computers. We’re here to help! Call us at 502-240-0404 or email us.