Every device that generates or uses power gives off heat. It’s actually a waste product; a result of the imperfection of man-made mechanisms that, if left unchecked, may eventually damage the parts that make up the whole. This is especially true with central processing units (CPUs) of computers. Motherboards, video cards and memory cards are pretty sensitive components which is why heatsink fans play a crucial role by keeping the CPU cool most of the time.
How a heatsink fan works
Heatsinks can be considered as the unsung heroes of a CPU’s cooling system because most people don’t know what these things are for, if they’re aware at all of their existence. It’s a piece of metal, usually made of aluminum or copper with a ribbed or fin-like structure, attached at the back of a cooling fan.
The flat side of the heat sink is attached to a heat-generating component such as a motherboard usually by a heat conducting adhesive. Heat then travels through its “fins” to the other end where the cooling fan blows the hot air away. If that doesn’t seem crucial enough, remember without heatsink, your motherboard can be roasted in minutes, and yes, even with a cooling a fan.
Buying a Heatsink Fan
It is seldom that people will need to buy or replace a heatsink separately as it is generally durable and will outlast the cooling fan it came with most of the time. In the event, however, that you’d want to assemble a CPU with a superior cooling system or simply want to replace your old heatsink fan with a new one, here are the things to consider:
Removing your old heatsink fan
Removing your heatsink fan is a very delicate process because there’s a risk of damaging the most delicate and the important part of your PC --- the motherboard. Conductors of electricity should never touch the circuit, otherwise, it will be permanently damaged.
If you do not have the skills and knowledge, have a person with the right expertise to do it for you.
Once removed, you mast take note of the wire connections or label them if you want. Also, jot down you motherboard’s serials and socket number because retailers will most likely ask for it. The socket number is plainly displayed on top of the processor.
Aluminum vs. Copper Heatsink Fans
A heatsink’s most important attribute is its ability to conduct heat, which is why it is chiefly made of metal. Different aluminum alloys provide varying degrees of thermal conductivity. Heatsink fans made of aluminum are quite budget-friendly but pale in comparison to those made of copper in terms of performance but are less likely to cause short-circuits. The downside of copper heatsink fans, though, is that they’re around 4-6 times more expensive than aluminum. Copper is denser, and consequently, adds more heft to your CPU, as well.
Moving parts produce sound. And though the sound of a fan whirring inside your CPU is a small price to pay for not hearing your precious motherboard crackling as it gets toasted, noise is still something we could do without. Fortunately, there are plenty of fan options out there that minimize the amount of noise they make.
Because smaller fans spin faster, ergo, produce more noise, you may want to go for a larger fan with less rotations-per-minute (RPM). Because of the added benefit, larger, more quieter fans are a bit more expensive than the smaller ones.
There are also those thermal-sensitive heatsink fans. This type reacts to the rise and fall of temperature so as to minimize the amount of the fan’s activity. With this installed, your CPU may still sound like a plane engine if the ambient temperature is high or when you’re running a heavy application such as 3D games, but not quite as often.
A heatsink fan works best if it has a perfectly flat surface that’s firmly attached to the motherboard, so one must watch for dents. If you’d like a more stable and convenient means to attach your heatsink fan to the CPU, you may want to add a shim.
A shim is simply a small plate made of aluminum or copper that serves as a “mediator” between the CPU and the heatsink fan. If properly and carefully attached, shims will help in facilitating a more effective heat flow and prevent the heatsink from the damaging the motherboard’s circuitry.
Other factors to consider
Bear in mind that there are other elements that come in play in a computer’s cooling system. Less clutter inside the CPU will promote better air circulation. Heatsink fans will also work better if they’re dust-free so make sure to clean the CPU regularly.