CPU Fan Error: What It Is and How to Fix It

Keep a crucial PC component running properly

A boy fixing a CPU fan

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The CPU fan error is a common error message that can appear when starting up a Windows desktop computer or laptop. The warning is usually triggered after a computer has shut itself down due to overheating. This may happen when the fan (or fans) are unable to cool the hardware sufficiently.

While frustrating, the CPU error message and the forced shutdown indicate the computer's safeguards are working properly. If the fans aren't working properly and the computer continues to overheat, it may result in permanent damage to a number of hardware components.

There are ways to confirm the cause of overheating and the resulting error messages, as well as ways to fix them.

How the CPU Fan Error Appears

The CPU fan error commonly appears during the boot up or start-up process on a Windows PC; it does not appear during regular Windows operation. The error message text usually appears as one of the following:

  • "Error: CPU Fan Has Failed!"
  • "CPU Fan Error"

What Causes CPU Fan Errors?

A CPU fan error on start-up is typically due to physical damage to the fan, incorrect settings, or external factors causing the computer to overheat and force the fan to run at unusually high speeds. Dust or other objects obstructing the device's air vents can also cause CPU fan errors.

How to Fix a CPU Fan Error

Because CPU fan errors can be caused by both hardware and software problems, fixes for the errors are equally varied and involve checking specific settings, as well as the internal CPU fan.

Follow these tips to avoid CPU overheating and error messages.

  1. Move your computer. Leaving your computer in an area with a lot of heat or sunlight can cause it to overheat and shut down, no matter how hard the fan is working. Try moving your computer to a cooler room or making sure it's never placed in direct sunlight throughout the day.

  2. Stop overclocking. A consequence of overclocking is a dramatic increase in system heat that can't be managed by the default fans. This can damage circuits and cause frequent shutdowns and overheating errors.

  3. Clean the air vents. The easiest way to clean the vents is to remove the brush from your vacuum cleaner, then use it at full power to suck any dust and debris out. Alternatively, use an airgun or canned air to blast the dust out.

  4. Clean the CPU fans. For this step, you'll need to turn your computer off, unplug it from the power source, and open up the case. Once opened, you can clean the interior and remove dust with an air gun or canned air.

    Refrain from spraying any cleaning agents onto any parts, as this can seriously damage a variety of components.

    Many devices, such as the Microsoft Surface line of products, are not designed to be opened, and doing so may void the warranty or cause permanent damage. If you're unsure, reference your device's official support manual or call customer service.

  5. Check your CPU fan. While you have your computer opened, physically check your device's fans to make sure they haven't come loose or fallen out of place. Depending on your fan model, you should be able to fasten your fans back into place with a screwdriver or glue.

    Whenever you're checking anything in the interior of an electrical device, make sure that it is completely turned off and disconnected from all power sources. Remember to choose Shut Down, not Sleep, when turning your computer off.

  6. Check your CPU fan's location. If you've installed the CPU fan yourself, ensure that it is installed in the correct location. It should be connected to the CPU header on the motherboard. If you've connected it elsewhere, the fan may run when the computer is turned on but it won't be sufficiently cooling the CPU, which is its main purpose.

    The CPU header will likely be labelled "CPU Fan," but if it isn't, it's still easy to spot with its three holes for the fan's three-pronged plug.

  7. Try an alternate CPU fan header. If you have multiple CPU fan headers on your motherboard, try plugging the fan into a different slot. This sometimes fixes the CPU fan error.

  8. Check the CPU fan's settings in BIOS. It can occasionally be used to troubleshoot tech issues and to make sure everything is as it should be.

    Open BIOS, then select Advanced Settings > Hardware Monitor > CPU Fan. Enable Active Heat Sink and Fan Duct with Fan. Disable Passive Heat Sink and Fan Duct without Fan. Save your changes and exit BIOS.

    You'll often be prompted to press F1 when you get the initial CPU error message. Pressing F1 when this message is visible will also open BIOS.

  9. Change the BIOS setting. If you can see your CPU fan working properly and you're sure your computer isn't overheating or running too hot, this change to the BIOS setting in step No. 8 can bypass the CPU fan error message and get your device up and running properly.

    To do this, open BIOS and select Monitor > Fan Speed Monitor > N/A > Ignore > Exit > Save Changes.

    This can affect your computer's ability to detect CPU fan and overheating problems in the future. This is only recommended for those who are completely sure that their CPU fan is working properly and have tested it to make sure it's cooling hardware sufficiently.

  10. Replace the CPU fan. If none of the above works, your fan could simply be broken and in need of replacing. Your computer's warranty may cover the repair of the fan. If you purchased the fan separately, it may have its own warranty you can use to get a free or discounted replacement part.