What if Your CPU Cooler Fails?


Branded by former experience with the Pentium 4 3.6 GHz (throttling under load due to overheating) and Athlon 1200 processors (product killed in action when fan was removed), we decided to put AMD and Intel low-cost and high-end processors to a special stress test by disconnecting the processor fan in order to simulate a fan failure. Although all the processors except the high-end Athlon 64 X2 are based on the latest manufacturing processes, most products still heavily depend on a proper cooling solution when taking on workloads. Even so, we also want to mention that all four configurations were workable and reliable without a working fan when running idle. Clearly, both AMD and Intel did a great job in reducing power requirements when the processors don't do anything.

Removing the CPU fan connector cable is a really simple way of simulating a processor fan failure. It is interesting to draw some conclusions from our test:

  • The AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ (125-W model) did not complete any of our benchmark runs once the CPU fan was disconnected. It clearly dissipated so much heat that either the motherboard or the CPU initiated a system shutdown after only a few minutes.
  • AMD's Athlon X2 BE-2350 has the greatest potential to withstand a failed CPU fan, as it is rated at a maximum power requirement of just 45 W. This, however, didn't really help much, as the test system using the Athlon X2 BE-2350 only completed two out of ten benchmark runs. Again, the system shut off after a few minutes once the CPU fan was disconnected. At least it took somewhat longer for the system to switch off...
  • Intel's Core 2 Duo E6850 completed two out of ten benchmarks with a non-working CPU fan. This is clearly a better result than the Athlon 64 X2 6000+.
  • Finally, the Pentium Dual Core E2160, which is a low-cost processor rated at a TDP of 65 W, managed to complete all ten benchmarks with the CPU fan disconnected! Compared to the 45 W of AMD's Athlon X2 BE-2350, this processor cannot possibly go as high as 65 W, as it would have shut down at some point.

Compare Prices on CPU Coolers

The Pentium Dual Core E2160 is clearly somewhat more energy-efficient than specified, as it outperformed the direct competitor Athlon X2 BE-2350 in this extraordinary test. This also proves that it is certainly possible to passively cool a mid-class dual core processor and run applications with only a little bit of a performance penalty. All high-end processors, however, do require active cooling to remain reliable and deliver their full performance potential.

Join our discussion on this topic