Across the computing world, there are all kinds of horror stories about overheating. Whether it’s melting graphics cards or burning out a hard drive, these are the kinds of stories that have been swapped across forums since the beginning of the hobby.
And that’s for good reason. Since gamers have been able to tweak their rigs to run faster, they have. Those tweaks usually come at the expense of heat. And with heat, comes trouble.
Often when looking for more speed, the addition of a solid-state drive (SSD) is an early consideration. Even at a price point of less than $100, SSD’s can radically speed up processing as compared to an HDD on its own. For a full discussion on when an SSD versus an HDD will benefit you the most, visit our article here.
Otherwise, how do SSDs fare in the face of overheating? Is there anything that can be done to extend their lifespan, or make them run more smoothly?
In this article, we will go over the different types of SSD’s, why they overheat, how you can stop that, what to do if your SSD has overheated, and at the end of the day answer the question, do SSDs need cooling?
So, when talking about if SSDs need cooling, it is first important to differentiate what kinds of SSDs we are talking about. While SSDs have been around in one form or another since the late 1980s, they became popular among general consumers during the 2000s.
SSDs were designed to store data persistently, unlike hard disk drives that utilize spinning disks that store data. This means that SSD’s have no moving parts and are therefore much like likely to overheat by design.
That logic holds for an original popular consumer SSD is called Serial Advanced Technology Attachment or SATA. It was developed by Intel in 2003 and is common across many middle and lower-end PCs to this day.
SATA SSDs are extremely unlikely to overheat. They were specifically designed with that in mind and hold up to this day. That being said, they are some of the slower SSDs on the market today and are generally considered to be phased out by gamers or those needing the most bang for their buck.
The second, more recent type of SSD is often called M.2, or formerly, Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF). Both of those terms refer to the same generation of SSDs.
These SSDs were rolled out in 2013 and became popular because of their use of newer logical interfaces that allowed them to process data much faster. M.2 uses a logical interface called Nonvolatile Memory Express or NVMe.
NVMe allows tens of thousands of simultaneous command queues, making them notably faster than older SATA SSDs. Because of this, they are popular for gamers and known for cutting downloading times drastically.
NVMe SSDs still store all their data on integrated circuits and contain no moving parts, but these blazing fast SSDs are just that: blazing. Unlike their SATA progenitors, NVMe SSDs are known for getting hot and overheating if put to the test.
So, when people talk about SSDs overheating or needing a heatsink, often they are referring to M.2 NVMe SSDs. Older models simply don’t heat up or overheat with the same frequency if at all. So, let’s look into some of the causes of why NVMe SSDs overheat.
- YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Best 1TB SSDs
A major reason NVMe SSDs can overheat is the ambient temperature of your computer. These drives are graded to function from 0-70 degrees of Celsius (32-158 degrees of Fahrenheit).
What that ranges means is that the hotter the ambient temperature when the SSD is stressed, the more quickly it will push beyond that 70 degrees limit. Keeping your computer cool is an easy way to fortify it against that upper boundary.
At the other end of the spectrum, however, keeping your SSD above that zero degrees threshold is just as important. While computer components generally are designed to withstand the heat of running hot, getting too cold can also seriously damage them.
As components get extremely cold, their wires and connections contract. Continuous expansions and contracts can break the connections between wires or solder joints, and generally shorten the lifespan of any component, but specifically that of an SSD.
Many other factors can lead to overheating. A common problem with overheating components generally with PCs is the internal temperature of your computer. Due to the proximity of the parts of a computer, even components that don’t get hot can overheat due to the heat put off from other components.
For example, your rig is working hard, your SSD might not be overheating itself. Any number of other components can get extremely hot, put off a lot of heat, and then overheat that SSD due to the temperature within your computer’s case.
Graphics cards, CPUs, and SSDs can all be rated with different heat ceilings. Therefore, in a confined space, the heat put off from one component can affect everything within the computer’s case. This problem is unfortunately common with SSDs.
Other issues that can contribute to SSD’s overheating are unrelated or junk files clogging up your SSD. Many programs create temporary files in order to open, close, or run. Having an SSD near capacity stops those files from running properly or quickly.
Even excluding temporary files, SSD’s near-capacity work notably harder than those not bogged down with other random information. Sifting through unrelated files not only takes time and processing power but forces an SSD to work harder and work hotter to find what it’s looking for.
Other problems related to overheating are issues with the SSD interface or even specific viruses’ that target SSDs causing them to work extremely hard and overheat.
All of the above issues can add to or outright cause overheating or trigger a safety device built within SSD’s in order to stop them from damaging themselves when they get too hot, called Thermal Throttling.
Again, despite still having no moving parts, M.2 NVMe SSD’s are built to do tens of thousands of processes simultaneously. That rapid processing leads to overheating, especially when put under a great deal of stress over long periods of time.
That overheating is not unexpected, and because of it, many NVMe SSDs are built with the safety feature called thermal throttling that will automatically limit the speed of your SSD in order to cool it down.
Thermal throttling stops permanent damage to your SSD and computer, by limiting the processing power of an SSD to stop it from getting even hotter. This is good because it stops you from damaging an SSD, but thermal throttling can radically slow down processing mid-session.
Of course, thermal throttling is a safety feature: you want it to trigger if a component gets too hot or you too, could have an overheating horror story. But thermal throttling’s continued triggering not only slows down your computer but also can drastically lower the lifespan of your SSD.
In order to maximize the lifespan of your SSD, you don’t want to trigger thermal throttling often, if ever.
Thermal throttling, along with the slew of reasons an M.2 NVMe SSD might overheat are the problems a cooling system or heat sink would strive to fix. So, let’s walk through some of those systems and discuss their pros and cons.
- RELATED READING: Best CPU Coolers
Heatsinks are an apparatus that dissipate heat from a specific component in your computer. They are separated into two broad categories: active and passive.
Active heatsinks are attached to a specific component and use fans to cool it down. These small fans are normally bulkier than their passive counterparts but are able to work more quickly and efficiently, usually at the literal price of being more expensive.
Passive heatsinks cool components continuously through a process called convection. Convection happens through several means depending on the heatsink, but at its most simple, a passive heatsink might be a slab of conductive metal attached to a component that will continuously suck the heat generated from that component and dissipate it into the air.
That specific type of heatsink is called a heat spreader. Other types of passive heatsinks are notably more complex and involve drastically increasing the surface area around a component so that it dissipates heat more efficiently.
From that seemingly easy dichotomy, there are many different kinds of heatsinks for the various components of your rig. In fact, many components you buy now come standard with some kind of cooling system.
Not that long ago, it was nigh unheard of for an SSD card to need a heatsink. These days it isn’t outlandish, especially with M.2 NVMe SSDs, but sometimes necessary. There are many heatsinks specifically designed to attach to M.2 NVMe SSDs.
Depending on the specifics of your situation, heatsinks can have many pros and cons. They run the gamut from relatively cheap to expensive, from compact to extremely bulky, and silent to loud.
A major pro of passive heatsinks is that they are silent. As a factor of simply diffusing heat into the air, they don’t have to blow fans or churn liquid. Another serious pro is that they normally run fairly cheap, and are compact in a tight case.
And for NVMe SSDs specifically, if you aren’t running into problems with thermal throttling or overheating already, passive heatsinks can be a great way to prolong the lifespan of your SSD and keep your framerates smooth.
If your rig is set up in a way that doesn’t jam the SSD between several other hot components, there might not be a reason to get a more expensive, loud, or bulky active heatsink or cooling system.
The serious con of a passive heatsink is that you can’t kick it into high gear if you are expecting a particularly stressful session. Passive heatsinks continuously dissipate heat at a steady, unchanging rate. If your SSD gets to its limit or beyond, a passive heatsink won’t work any harder to cool it down.
Active heatsinks are generally, just the opposite. They are more expensive, louder, and bulkier than their passive brethren.
All that being said, they often have settings that can be manipulated to ratchet up and down how much you want them to cool, allowing you both more control and more ability to cool overheating components.
It’s a shaky line between fans and active heat sinks. Where one ends, the other begins. If you have been confused by the term ‘HSF’ or ‘Heat Sink and Fan’ this is why.
Active heatsinks use fans to dissipate heat but are directed or specifically attached to a single component in order to cool it. Fans, on the other hand, are larger and used to cool several components or your entire rig.
That being said, direct airflow onto your SSD can make a world of difference. Depending on the specifics of your rig, you can find mounting kits with fans specifically for SSD cards.
Fans are a more in-depth way to assure that your computer stays cool, not just your SSD. Where passive heatsinks will continuously dissipate heat at a high rate, fans can ratchet up and down depending on how hard your rig is working.
We have all heard computers whoosh like jet engines, and there belies fan’s worse con: they can be loud as all hell. While modern computer fans have been specifically built to stay quiet, you will almost certainly hear them when your computer is working hard.
Other cons are the usual suspects when it comes to PC tech: Fans are bulky. Fans are expensive. And unfortunately, despite all that, fans are one of the best ways to maintain the temperature for your computer as a whole.
- READ ALSO: Why Are Graphics Cards So Expensive?
If you are hesitant or unable to go out and find a heatsink or fan, fear not! There are other actions you can take to keep your SSD card from overheating. The first and most basic would be cleaning out any existing fans and dust filters in your rig.
Even relatively new computers can collect a terrifying amount of dust and debris that make it harder for fans to keep things cool. There are many detailed guides on the several ways to best clean your PC’s fans.
But, at its most basic, get your hands on a can of compressed air and blow out the debris caught in and around your fan. Just make sure that you are blowing that debris out from your PC rather than further into it, or on/in another component.
Cleaning fans can allow them to better cool your systems and stop them from overheating.
Depending on where you are in the process of tweaking your rig, another relatively simple way to keep your PC cool is to increase the airflow within your PC’s case. There are many cases specifically designed for increased airflow through your PC.
Often, they come with mesh sides to allow air to naturally flow into the space, cooling those hard-working components. Otherwise, they are specifically designed so that cool air has a path into your case, and the sweltering heat within has a path out.
An optimized case for airflow as well as lower ambient temperatures can do an incredible amount of work to cool your components rather than traditional heatsinks or fans.
What to Do if Your SSD Has Overheated
An overheated SSD can still fail even after the thermal throttling has been engaged. If other components inside your PC are still producing lots of heat or your computer is still working hard, it isn’t unheard of to still burn out your SSD.
If it isn’t outright bricked, symptoms of a failing SSD are frequent startup crashes, files unable to be read or appearing as read-only, generally your SSD running slowly, or getting a Boot BCD error.
All of these symptoms mean that your SSD has been damaged or corrupted, perhaps because of overheating.
There are several methods for fixing a corrupted SSD card. At its most simple, you can download third-party repair programs like AOMEI Partition Assistant. Several third-party repair programs offer the ability to fix corrupted SSD files and bring your SSD back to its old self.
Other relatively simple solutions include updating firmware and drivers for your SSD. This guide to power cycling is specifically for bricked SSDs, as well as how to fix bricked NVMe SSDss through your computer’s BIOS screen.
Of course, the easiest way to fix an overheated SSD is to take the preventive steps to never have it overheat in the first place. And here we return to our original question: do SSDs need cooling?
So, the first answer is if it’s a SATA or mSATA SSD no it doesn’t need cooling. These SSDs were built to not overheat, and don’t have the processing power to overheat themselves.
Issues with ambient temperature, airflow, or heat production from other PC components would be the only way you can come close to overheating a SATA SSD. Being aware of those factors as well as regularly cleaning your computer and its fans should be more than enough to keep your rig cool and happy.
The other side of that coin, however, is if you have an M.2 SSD that runs NVMe, you most certainly do need cooling if you intend on doing any kind of intensive work. Despite being built to keep cool, M.2 SSD’s are known for getting extremely hot even from day-to-day usage because of their lightning-fast speed.
While you don’t necessarily need to invest in wild cooling systems, having even the most nominal passive heatsink can save you from ever having to deal with trying to save a bricked SSD.
Especially due to the price point of these M.2 NMVe SSD’s, dropping another $20 to save yourself from a future headache or having to buy another is a no-brainer.
- YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Best Custom Water Cooling Kits