If your PC’s fans are making more of a racket than usual or you just want to check how much more efficient your new CPU cooler is than your old one, the free SpeedFan utility is your friend.

As well as allowing you to monitor your processor’s temperature, it can also access your motherboard’s other sensors so you can check the ambient temperature and perhaps more, such as hard disk temperature, depending on your motherboard.

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Given the name, it’s no surprise that SpeedFan also allows you to monitor your computer’s fan speeds. It works with all versions of Windows from 9x right up to Windows 8 and is completely free.

Here’s how to download, install and use it.

Step 1: Search Google for SpeedFan or head directly to the website. Don’t click on any adverts which look like the download button in the screenshot below. Instead click on the Download link in the top menu. Then, click on the SpeedFan 4.49 link in the Download paragraph. The download should begin automatically.

Download SpeedFan

Step 2: Run the executable file you just downloaded and accept all the default options. There is no malware and no annoying search engines included, so if you see any options to install the Delta search engine, you’ve inadvertently clicked on an advert instead of downloading SpeedFan.

SpeedFan install

Step 3: Run SpeedFan either by searching your Start menu (or Start Screen if running Windows 8) and accept any message that the User Account Control shows in Windows Vista, 7 or 8. SpeedFan will then detect your hardware before displaying any temperatures. The first tab (Readings) will show all detected temperatures on the right.

SpeedFan CPU temperature

Step 4: Our test laptop’s fans had been running at full speed, and the temperatures for Core 0 and Core 1 (the two physical processor cores) are higher than ideal at over 70 degrees. SpeedFan indicates this with a flame symbol, and temperatures that are normal with a tick.

SpeedFan CPU temperatures

Step 5:  You can monitor temperatures over time using the Charts tab. Tick the box next to each item you want to monitor. Click on the S.M.A.R.T tab to see information on your hard disk(s), including graphs for ‘fitness’ and ‘performance’. It’s also possible to run in-depth tests on each disk as well as checking the maximum temperature recorded.

SpeedFan CPU temperature graph

If your CPU temperature is running on the hot side, you’ll need to investigate why – SpeedFan can’t tell you the reason. First, establish if it’s a cooling problem, such as failed fans, excessive dust in the filters or fans or some other object blocking airflow to the processor.

You can also use Windows’ Task Manager to try to identify if a particular application is thrashing the processor. To launch Task Manager, press Ctrl, Shift and Esc together and then click on the Processes tab. Click the CPU column to order processes by their CPU usage (click a second time if it’s listing it by lowest usage to highest). You can then right-click on a process which is using a lot of CPU time to get the option to end it.

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