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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | The Processor | Processor Physical Characteristics | Processor Cooling ]

Passive Heat Sinks

The first type of cooling applied to processors was the heat sink, a device used for a very long time in electronics to cool hot devices. Your television and stereo have used them for years, and you will find them in your power supply and even on your motherboard in most cases. These are now sometimes called "passive" heat sinks as well, the term meaning simply that there are no moving parts with this type of cooler, unlike a mounted fan which is often called an "active" heat sink.

The operation of a heat sink is quite simple; it cools the processor using thermal conduction and radiation. A large piece of metal (usually aluminum) with fins on it is attached to the surface of the processor. The metal of the heat sink draws heat from the processor, and air blowing through the fins on the heat sink cool it. The larger the heat sink and the more pronounced the fins on the heat sink, the better the cooling. Some heat sinks in newer PCs can be positively enormous, covering a surface area two to three times that of the processor itself.

The heat sink is normally attached to the processor in one of two ways. Some processors come with the heat sink glued onto them directly. Others have a heat sink that clips onto the surface of the chip. Heat sinks that attach using clips should normally be used with heat sink compound to ensure proper heat transfer.

Next: Active Heat Sinks / CPU Fans

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