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What is Thermal Margin? [Explained]

While designing the first-ever processor in 1971, one of the biggest challenges that engineers had to overcome was keeping the temperature at an optimal level. Even after 50 years of technological advancement, the key reason behind a processor’s performance drop is high temperature. The concept of thermal margin came so that we could monitor the temperature of the CPU.  


What is Thermal Margin?

The thermal margin of a processor refers to the difference between the highest theoretical temperature at which a CPU can function without throttle and the actual temperature of the CPU under current load.

What Does Thermal Margin Mean? 

It is very simple to define thermal margin. Every processor has a theoretical thermal limit. Meaning, the manufacturer runs various tests on the CPU and provides a temperature limit that the processor should not cross. The thermal margin basically means the difference between the theoretical thermal limit and the current temperature of your processor.

For example, let’s say at this very moment your processor’s thermal margin is 30. That basically means, if the theoretical thermal value (Max Thermal Limit) of your CPU is around 120 degrees, your processor is running at around 90 degrees Celsius.

You might be wondering what is a good thermal margin. In most cases, having a processor thermal margin of 43 degrees to 30 degrees is ideal for the longevity of the CPU.

CPU Thermal Margin

“What is CPU thermal margin?” is a commonly asked question especially among those who own an overclockable processor. I know many people choose high-end CPUs solely because of having awesome overclocking capabilities.

But before trying to make your processor run faster than it already does, having the basic knowledge of thermal margin is essential.

When it comes to CPUs, the theoretical thermal limit is set not just based on some absolute suitable condition. The processors are used in different conditions and after several cycles of testing, the theoretical thermal limit is set.

One of the biggest misconceptions regarding thermal margin is, your processor can run optimally at the theoretical temperature provided by the manufacturing company. But semiconductors are temperature sensitive and will malfunction in a very hot environment. 

AMD Thermal Margin Explained

By reading AMD CPU’s thermal margin, you can understand how much room you have for overclocking with the current running hardware.

Owning a very good cooler should further increase the margin. Nowadays, AMD CPUs come completely unlocked and opens great opportunities for overclocking.

Now, AMD and Intel processor thermal margin is quite different since they are designed differently and have a different number of transistors.

If you are interested in overclocking, keep in mind that having a thermal margin of at least 30 degrees Celsius is essential for keeping your AMD CPU operational.

Difference Between Good and Bad Thermal Margin

A good thermal margin basically means having a marginal difference between the theoretical max temperature and the current temperature of the CPU is optimal.

A bad thermal margin indicates your CPU is excessively heating up due too much load or the processor fan is malfunctioning.

In general, having a thermal margin of 30 degrees or more under optimal load is ideal.  If the margin goes beneath 10 degrees and slowly climbs towards zero than that is alarming.

How Does Thermal Margin Work?

As I have mentioned earlier, the thermal margin basically means the difference between the theoretical temperature and the current temperature of your CPU. 

How Thermal Margin Relate To Temperatures

Engineers set a thermal margin on the basis of heat-exchange physics. Now, if you are running a computer right now, two major components are producing heat. They are the processor and a quiet nice graphics card.

Every time when a transistor goes to the “ON” state from the “OFF” state and vice versa, a certain amount of heat is produced. That heat cannot stay and rotate inside the processor as the flow of holes and electrons of the transistors will be interrupted. That is why manufacturers use a metal shield for sinking the heat out of the semiconductors.

Now, the more transistors a processor has, the more heat will produce. There is a very good chance that the processor you are currently using has more than a billion transistors. The engineers have worked hard to design a processor that contains 3.8 billion transistors!

One of the biggest issues of increasing the number of transistors of a CPU is, the exhaust heat is too much. That is why after doing many cycles of testing, they set a theoretical temperature value for the processor. Exceeding that value will destroy the CPU. This theoretical value determines what the thermal margin of a CPU Should be.

Thermal Margin vs CPU Temp

The current temperature of your CPU helps to determine the thermal margin, but they are not the same thing.

The current temperature of your CPU refers to how much heat the processor is producing while running your system.

On the other hand, the thermal margin is calculated by subtracting the current CPU temperature from the theoretical temperature that manufacturers have provided.

People use thermal margin mainly for overclocking purposes, but it is also an indicator of your CPU’s working condition.

Thermal Margin AMD Overdrive

One of the best ways to observe the thermal margin of your AMD CPU is using thermal margin AMD overdrive. This software will show the exact frequency of your processor, the multiplier value, VID of your processor, and thermal margin. The thermal margin is located in the fourth row.

This amazing software was developed by an independent developer and it is one of the best overclocking apps out there.

Now, you might be wondering, is AMD Overdrive safe? Many people around the globe use it frequently so you won’t have to worry.

Intel also has its own proprietary processor temperature monitoring software called real temp. And there is also 3rd party software such as Coretemp that works on all CPUs whether it be Intel or AMD. 

When it comes to AMD Overdrive Vs Realtemp vs Coretemp, Realtemp, and AMD overdrive will show you the most accurate value, and the accuracy of CoreTemp is often 5 degrees off.

So, I would always recommend that you use brand-specific in-house software for monitoring your CPU temperature no matter what the brand. There is no confusion on whether is Realtemp safe? Or Is AMD Overdrive safe? 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is AMD Overdrive thermal margin negative?

Having a negative thermal margin on the AMD overdrive software is pretty alarming as it means your processor is no longer running at a safe temperature. The heat your CPU is producing has exceeded the theoretical max temperature.

What is processor thermal margin?

The thermal margin of a processor refers to the difference between the highest theoretical temperature that a CPU can function and the actual temperature of the CPU under current load.

What is a negative thermal margin?

When the temperature of the CPU crosses the theoretical temperature that the manufacturing company provided, a negative thermal margin occurs. A negative thermal margin indicates your CPU needs a new thermal paste or a better fan urgently.


Understanding thermal margin is essential especially if you have any interest in overclocking. In this article, I have extensively talked about what is the thermal margin. Hopefully, after reading the whole article, all the confusion regarding this topic would be resolved. Until next time, bye.