One of the most important parts of owning a PC is managing the heat generated by components. It’s a never-ending task, requiring you to do more work to keep things cool as the power of your installed components increases. Since component manufacturers are aware of the struggles of thermal management, they include parts in what they sell designed to minimize heat. The heatsink is one of these parts and is an essential aspect of most computer parts.
What is Heatink?
A heatsink is a piece of equipment designed to move heat away from the hottest areas on that device. On GPUs, for example, the heatsink helps move heat away from the GPU chip that powers the card.
Heatsinks work by increasing the surface area near hot locations on computer components. The increased surface area helps move heat away from the part that generates it and to cooler parts, where fans can help move hot air away from the computer. Heatsinks move heat out using conduction, which is an important aspect of your computer’s cooling system.
Conduction occurs when heat flows through a solid object, like the metal of a radiator. It’s a kind of passive cooling device as it doesn’t do anything to achieve this other than existence. Different types of active cooling, such as fans and water rings, can help dissipate heat faster, expelling hot air and cooling the inside of your computer.
Computer components heat up quickly, especially when they are under heavy load. Just turning on a high-end game with increased graphics can make it jump 10 degrees or more in less than a minute. That’s why efficient, adequate cooling is essential for your PC.
Which part has a heatsink?
Most parts of your PC have heatsinks. Your motherboard and GPU will be passively cooled to help move the high heat generated by the chips in the CPU and GPU. However, you will likely see smaller heatsinks on many components if you open your computer and take a look. All of them aren’t quite as impressive as the deep grills on some devices. Sometimes radiators look like a small metal honeycomb designed to move heat away and create cooler air.
What is the radiator made of?
Heat sinks are usually made of metal. However, different manufacturers may choose to use different types of metal, which can affect the performance of the radiator. You are more likely to see aluminum and copper in modern heatsinks.
Aluminum is more likely to be used on lower end parts because it is cheaper and lighter. Radiators add significant weight to the components to which they are attached. Using aluminum means that manufacturers don’t have to add weight to their designs by splinting or supporting them. Its thermal conductivity is less than 250 Water per meter per degree Kelvin.
Copper is found more often in high-end components. With a thermal conductivity of around 400, it is significantly better at moving heat than aluminum. However, it is also heavier and more expensive.
There are also heat sinks made of various materials. Coating a copper heatsink aluminum can make it move heat more efficiently than just aluminum without adding to the cost and weight of pure copper.
Some materials conduct heat much better than copper or aluminum. However, despite its thermal conductivity above 2000, I have yet to see a radiator made entirely of diamond.
How can I make my heatsink more efficient?
The heatsink is just one part of your computer’s cooling system. Active cooling support, enough space and keeping it clean will help it work more efficiently.
You must supplement the passive cooling of the heatsink with active cooling throughout the case. Make sure your temperatures are low enough to keep your components in good shape. There are two main types of active cooling to consider:
- Air cooling uses a fan to pull air through the case, transferring the hot air with cooler air from outside. The placement of the fan is important, as you don’t want to blow hot air around in the case. Additionally, many components come with their own built-in fans to help add cooling to the case fans you install.
- Water cooling uses water in sealed tubes to move heat away from components like the CPU and GPU. While there are many cases where only air cooling is used, you should not just use water cooling. It is designed to help reduce heat at specific components and should be part of a system that includes passive cooling and fans.
Having enough additional cooling capacity is the best thing you can do to keep your radiators in good working order. Other cooling methods take heat away from heatsinks, making areas cooler for newly generated heat to move in.
Some radiators come with their own fan or blower, designed to move hot air away from that radiator. You can see them as a working radiator. They can be more efficient than standard heatsinks.
Space inside the computer tower
While small builds are great for certain scenarios, consider that you want some free space in your computer tower. The open space gives you more space between components and more air to dissipate heat in.
When the heat-generating components actually work together, they warm each other and make it harder for the passive radiators to do their job. For example, a GPU that works mostly on your motherboard might even have its fan directing hot air from the GPU to the motherboard.
When you place your components like this, they add heat to each other, not remove it. You want enough space to make room for airflow.
Location of your computer
The location of your computer also contributes to how well your heatsinks work. The more airflow, the better they work.
Don’t leave your computer on the carpet. There’s some space underneath the tower for air to move through – even if that means having to prop it up on a hard, flat surface. Leave enough room at the edges so it doesn’t hit the wall, this will remove an entire side where it can get air.
When choosing a case, look for one with legs and vents. You should be able to get more cooler air into the case to support the radiators this way.
Keep your radiator clean
The cleaner your heatsinks are, the more heat they are able to release. Over time, dust builds up on your PC components and can cause them to not perform as well as when cleaned. Grab a can of compressed air and blow the dust off any heatsinks in your computer when you notice it gathering. Doing so will help keep your computer cooler.
Keep your thermal paste in good condition
Thermal pastes also use a grease called thermal paste as part of their coolant. This grease transfers heat from the heating element to the radiator more efficiently than direct contact.
Thermal paste remains good for many years in most cases but should be changed when it reaches the end of its life. If your temperatures start to rise on your CPU or GPU, consider taking them apart to add a new layer of thermal paste. It can increase the efficiency of your radiator and lower your operating temperature.