What is a Heatsink Fan, and How Do You Pick a Good One?

noctua_nh_u12s

We recently posted a new video all about heatsink fans and how to pick out the right one for your PC. Check it out right here:

And here’s all the info from the video, in case you prefer reading over watching:

Something that every CPU shares in common is the fact that they get really hot when they’re working. That’s why we have these things, which are called heatsinks, to keep CPUs running cool rather than immediately cooking themselves.

But how do you figure out what kind of heatsink you want? That’s what we’re going to discuss.

Heatsinks, also known as heatsink fans (HSF) or coolers, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. All of the heatsinks featured in this video are air coolers, while some others are water-based.

The purpose of every heatsink is to draw heat away from the CPU and disperse that heat. A CPU needs to be cooled because if it got too hot, it would fry itself, although modern CPUs are smart enough to slow themselves down or even shut off entirely before they get too hot.

In air coolers like these, heatsinks make contact with the CPU with a thermally conductive metal and heat pipes that draw heat up and away from the CPU and disperse the heat over a wide area while blowing it away with a fan.

If you’ve ever wondered if heat pipes actually do anything (or are just marketing gimmicks), we can assure you that they do serve a purpose. They are hollow inside, and contain waiter in a partial vacuum, so that the water boils around the temperature of a warm CPU. The water boils into steam down here, and travels up here where it condenses back into water and drips back down. What this does is move thermal energy very efficiently from down by the CPU up and away into the rest of the heatsink.

But we don’t put a heatsink down on a CPU without a little thermal paste.

Thermal paste is a substance with a high heat conductivity and allows for better heat transfer between the heatsink and CPU. It fills in all the little microscopic gaps between the two and doesn’t allow for any air gaps that could hurt the heatsink’s performance.

There are a lot of different thermal pastes out there, but today the thermal pastes that come with aftermarket heatsinks are quite good.

In this video, we have four different heatsinks. The two little ones in the middle are what we call stock heatsinks, because they were packaged free with our CPUs.

Stock heatsinks are smaller and they can be a little noisier. They usually work just fine if you don’t plan to overclock your CPU, though they generally make more noise than a bigger heatsink when your CPU is working hard.

Let’s discuss our Intel stock heatsink. You can see it’s mostly aluminum, with a copper core that already has some thermal paste pre-applied to it.

This heatsink gets away with being so small because the CPU that it comes with is very thermally efficient, so it doesn’t need to disperse a lot of heat.

By contrast, our stock AMD heatsink is a little beefier. It has some heat pipes and a larger copper base to compensate for the fact that our AMD CPU generates more heat.

Lots of people assume that stock heatsinks are bad, and that’s not necessarily the case. They’re just not usually good enough if you want to overclock your CPU, and you might not like how noisy they get under pressure.

To solve those two problems, we have aftermarket heatsinks like the Hyper 212 Evo and the NH-U12S.

These are aftermarket heatsinks, and they’re the kind of heatsinks that you might buy to replace the stock heatsink that comes with you CPU.

These heatsinks can do a lot more cooling than the stock heatsinks, and they’ll generally be quieter while they do it.

At this point, you might be able to repeat back the two main reasons to replace a stock heatsink with a bigger one: 1) It will generally be quieter, and 2) If you want to experiment with overclocking your CPU, the aftermarket heatsinks will do a much better job of keeping your CPU cool for maximum performance and reliability.

Whether you need a cheaper heatsink or a more expensive one will mainly depend on how much you want to overclock and how hot your CPU runs. The best heatsinks are more expensive, but are only needed if you’re overclocking a lot or your PC is in a very hot place.

So, let’s say you’ve done your research and you decide to buy an aftermarket heatsink. There are two main things to keep in mind:

First, it needs to be compatible with your motherboard, so check the compatibility to make sure it will fit with your particular motherboard’s CPU socket.

Our Hyper 212, for example, says it’s compatible with CPU sockets 2011, 2011-3, 1366, and a lot more. It’s basically compatible with any modern CPU socket, but it’s always good to double check.

Second, your heatsink needs to fit in your case and not interfere with your RAM. Check the dimension measurements and make sure that everything is going to fit without causing any headaches. It’s usually easiest to just do a google search for your case name and the heatsink you want to use, and quickly find whether they are compatible.

That’s about it. If you want some more information about recommended heatsinks, check the links below:

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with us over at logicalincrements.com, where we provide professional recommendations on the best PC hardware for the money.

Helpful Links:

Aftermarket heatsinks in this video:

Other links:

Image source: noctua.at

  • Ilya Zarembsky

    thanks!

    • Matthew Zehner

      No problem!

  • Janice Veldsma

    what a beast

    • Matthew Zehner

      No doubt!