Graphics processing units, or GPUs, are a vital component of your computer since you can’t play video games, create videos, or use any graphic design software without them. So, you need to take care of your GPU, like making sure they don’t get too hot to avoid damage. But can a hot GPU catch on fire, and if so, how do you keep you and your GPU safe?

A GPU can catch fire. That said, you need to monitor it and let it rest if it starts overheating. If your GPU doesn’t have enough airflow to it, or you’re using it for games and programs above its capacity, it won’t work efficiently—and will overheat—thus, putting it at risk for fire. 

This article explains what GPUs are used for and what types of GPUs are available.

I’ll also discuss GPU fires and how to prevent them and go over some important facts and safety info for keeping your GPU safe and preventing fires. Keep reading.

a graphics card with smoke coming out of it

GPUs Can overheat when they use too much power

GPUs are most popular in graphics, videos, and video gaming. They were primarily made to render 3D graphics, but they now have other uses as technology improves.

The improvement in technology also means that GPUs render graphics more realistically and detailed. 

GPUs are still being used in design programs, videos, and gaming, but they’re also used in cryptocurrency trading, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

With these uses, GPUs work hard and require a lot of energy to output the necessary graphics rendering.

GPUs are used for gaming. They help the graphics in your video games move and flow as fast as they do.

Before GPUs, the graphics in video games were very simple. Now, they can have vibrant colors, lots of details, and no delays.

GPUs are very useful in virtual reality games where the graphics need to be so realistic that you feel like you are in the game itself.

This high quality of gaming is thanks in part to GPUs.

Video creators and graphic designers also use GPUs. With GPUs, designers can render graphics and videos much faster than before, helping their work and design processes move faster. 

There are two types of GPUs you can find in a computer: discrete and integrated. 

  • Integrated GPUs come in your computer already and are the most common kind. The computer is meant to interact with an integrated GPU, so it works more efficiently and uses less power. 
  • Discrete GPUs use a lot of power and can run high-quality graphics better and maximize performance. However, these GPUs create heat and can become a fire hazard. That said, you’ll want to be extra careful when using this type of GPU.

If you want to learn more about GPUs and how they work, check out this video on Youtube from IBM Technology:

YouTube video

Extended overheating can cause a fire in GPUs 

Unfortunately, GPUs can catch fire, usually when they overheat from extended periods of use or if they’re being used for something above their caliber.

There are a few common reasons that GPUs overheat and occasionally catch fire, as discussed below:

  • Excessive use: GPUs overheat when they have to work harder. You must ensure you don’t use your GPU for anything more intense than it’s made for. If you put a lot of demand on your GPU that it doesn’t have the energy capacity for, it’ll overheat from trying to work harder than it can. 
  • Lack of airflow: GPUs will overheat when they don’t have enough airflow to keep them cool. When GPUs overheat, or you’re worried that your GPU will overheat, ensure it has plenty of airflows; otherwise, it’ll work harder than it has to to keep your system running and graphics from slowing down. You should always keep your computer on a flat surface like a desk or table – there must be adequate airflow. 
  • The aging thermal paste on your GPU: The thermal paste on your GPU can get old and hard over time, preventing proper heat transfer and airflow on your GPU. You need to replace your thermal paste when it gets old. And you need to make sure you reapply the paste in the proper place. Otherwise, you’ll block the airflow from the GPU. 

Your computer shuts down when the GPU overheats

There are other consequences of your GPU overheating in addition to the risk of it catching fire. 

When your GPU overheats, you may notice that your games or programs freeze or quit unexpectedly.

Your GPU can no longer handle the demand your games or programs are putting on it, so it stops running them.

Or, even worse, your computer might shut down or restart while you’re in the middle of using it. It does this when the GPU overheats and shuts down in an attempt to cool itself down. 

When your GPU catches fire, you may have to completely replace either your computer or your GPU, which costs money and takes away time that you could be using to game or do graphic design or anything else you use your computer and GPU for.

So, preventing GPU fire is important to avoid these consequences. The next section explores some GPU safety tips and information.

How to keep your GPU safe

a brush to illustrate cleaning of a graphics card

You want to prevent your GPU from setting on fire; otherwise, you’ll risk it becoming permanently damaged and unusable.

Even if you still can use your GPU after a fire, it may not work as well as before.

You’ll likely have to replace a GPU that doesn’t work if you want your computer or gaming system to work properly. 

This section will explain how you can keep your GPU safe and prevent overheating and fires. 

Follow your GPU instructions

Your GPU should come with a set of specifications that’ll let you know how to use it. You should only use it for a certain period, in certain devices, and for certain rendering.

If you don’t follow your GPU’s instructions, there’s a high risk of overheating and setting on fire. 

You should make sure the GPU computer settings are consistent with what your GPU is made for, which you should be able to find in the instructions or user guide.

You may consider asking a computer expert in your area for advice when in doubt. 

Don’t let your GPU experience huge, sudden changes

thermometers showing different temperatures beside each other

Don’t put too much new demand on your GPU because the sudden change can be too much for it.

If you notice your GPU overheating after starting a new game or a new design project, it’s probably too much on your GPU.

You can get a new GPU to offset the demand for your new projects, but it’s probably more realistic to fix the one you have now. 

Try using your GPU in shorter bits of time so it has time to cool off before it gets too hot.

Or, make sure you don’t have too many programs or games running simultaneously.

If your newest game or design is making your GPU overheat, you need to minimize how much energy it requires from your GPU, and you need to make sure other ones are not putting too much demand on your GPU.

Check your GPU settings

Your computer system has settings that give you insight into how your GPU is running and whether or not you’re overworking it.

You can change your GPU settings if you think you’re putting too much demand on your GPU. The lower quality graphics you use, the less demand on your GPU.

You can also change the settings in your games or other programs to a lower quality or GPU usage to keep your GPU from overheating.

It may impact the performance and quality of your gaming or program, but it can save your GPU from working too hard.

This video on Youtube from Techquickie explains how to change your GPU settings and which ones you should change for maximum performance:

YouTube video

Keep your GPU clean

Make sure your GPU physically stays clean, too. Any dust and dirt can block your GPU from getting the air it needs to keep from overheating. 

Be careful when cleaning your GPU because there are fragile parts. You don’t want to add more dirt or dust to it.

Ensure that the computer is off before you check your GPU for dirt and dust and before you clean it.

Make sure you clean your GPU on a clean surface and wash your hands before handling it. Use a dry cotton swab or another gentle item to clean the GPU.

Do a cleaning regularly, even if it looks like your GPU doesn’t need one. The less dust and dirt you let build up, the better your GPU will run, and the less risk you will have of it overheating. 

You should also keep your computer on a hard, flat surface that gives your GPU room to have airflow to and from it.

If you have it sitting on a bed, a blanket, or other soft surfaces that cover the bottom of your computer, your GPU won’t get enough airflow.

And keep it in a temperature-controlled environment and out of direct sunlight.

If you’re not sure how to clean your GPU, you can always send it to a computer shop in your area to get it cleaned.

You can also get the shop to advise you on how to clean your GPU at home later on.

Make sure the cooling fans are doing its thing

Faulty cooling fans can be disastrous. Check them carefully to make sure that they are spinning up properly when your graphics card or GPU gets hot.

If you notice that your fans don’t spin up aggressively and become noisy when your GPU temperatures get up there, it could be that your fans require replacing.

Another reason for inadequate fan speeds is a buggy graphics card BIOS or software that isn’t configured correctly.

To make sure that you have optimal fan speeds when your graphics card gets hot, read my other article about speeding up graphics card fans.

It will show you how to install and configure MSI Afterburner (which works well on most graphics cards, even non-MSI ones) and get a good fan speed curve saved in a profile.

Make sure you uninstall all third-party software first, before following the guide.

Let your GPU cool down

If you notice your GPU heating up, you should take a break from using it and give it some time to cool down.

You want the temperature of the GPU to go down and the GPU to be cooled enough that it’ll start up normally when you start using it again.

There are a few ways to tell if your GPU is overheating. First, you may notice your computer getting hot.

If you’re using a laptop, you may notice the bottom of your laptop overheating. Or, the fan might be louder than normal.

These are great physical alerts that your GPU is getting too hot. 

Or, sometimes, you may see signs that your GPU is overheating on your screen.

Your screen may start glitching or have weird lines, dots, or other patterns, which signal that your GPU can not render all the graphics properly.

Or, you may see an error message. Sometimes these come from the game or program you’re using, or they come from the computer itself, like the blue error screen that Microsoft computer users are familiar with. 

These are all signs that your GPU is too hot, and you need to let it cool down before continuing to use it.

This video on YouTube from DVZN Media explains three easy ways to cool down a GPU so that it doesn’t overheat and potentially catch fire:

YouTube video

Get a good GPU

If you need a new GPU, whether as an upgrade or because your old one was damaged in a fire.

Final thoughts

Unfortunately, GPUs are at risk of catching fire when they overheat.

You can take many steps to keep your GPU from overheating, like giving it proper airflow, ensuring you’re not overworking it and ensuring your GPU stays clean. 

If your GPU does start to overheat, you need to give it time to cool down before you continue using it.

When your GPU heats quickly or often, you should minimize the demand you are putting on it to decrease fire risk.