Danger to PC: Can programs and viruses corrupt your hardware?
How realistic is it for normal software or malicious programs to destroy your computer's hardware? CPU, GPU and Co. how safe is it?
About nine months ago, a report circulated around the internet that said it was responsible for defective graphics cards in Amazon’s online role-playing game New World. Owners of some high-end models from manufacturer EVGA, notably the Nvidia Geforce RTX 3090 and RTX 3080, have reported the damage caused by excessive FPS in the game menu. There have been various theories trying to explain how this could happen.
The facts are now largely clear: bad solder joints around the MOSFET circuits powering the board were responsible for the damage, according to EVGA. However, whether and how high the impact of very high frame rates in the New World is still unclear today.
Can programs damage hardware?
Yeah! But it’s extremely unlikely. Theoretically, it is conceivable that malware could access and modify the BIOS or UEFI. The BIOS/UEFI is responsible for basic control of a computer, namely settings that regulate power consumption and associated security limits, among other things. But like I said, it’s very unlikely. The BIOS/UEFI is usually very well protected so malware can barely access it.
Integrated protective measures: In addition, individual components such as CPUs and GPUs have their own security measures or limiters for power consumption, temperature and clock speed, which in most cases prevent damage. The process called throttling reduces the clock speed as soon as the temperature rises above a certain level.
It is also possible that the programs themselves destroyed the BIOS/UEFI and the PC could no longer start. A faulty BIOS/UEFI doesn’t actually harm the hardware. In the worst case, the CMOS chip on the board needs to be replaced. However, there are usually ways to reinstall the BIOS/UEFI using a USB stick.
It’s not just in the BIOS/UEFI that programs can potentially wreak havoc: computer hardware can also be attacked from within Windows, at least in theory. For example, a malicious program can hide in a stress test like Prime95 and execute microcode, loading the CPU very high. But the same is true here: modern processors are very well protected against overload, and damage is the absolute exception.
Other components such as main memory, components on the motherboard, hard drives or fans are also likely to be hacked. Main memory modules can also be damaged by high loads or heat, components can be overclocked, hard drives can be rendered unusable with certain commands, and fan speed can be reduced.