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What is a Heat Sink

Due to the millions of microscopic moving parts within a computer chip, friction produces a great deal of heat. Faster, more powerful components generate so much heat that they need to have proper cooling in the form of a heat sink. A heat sink is designed to conduct heat away from the chip that it covers. For components which generate an enormous amount of heat, such as graphics chips and processing units, the heat sink also needs to be cooled by a fan or even, in top-end systems, a liquid cooling system.

Many processors have a full-load operating temperature of at least 50 degrees. Some work perfectly at as much as 80 degrees on full load, but regardless of their normal and maximum operating temperatures, there comes a point when they start making calculation errors, eventually causing your computer to crash. Overheating can also damage components. Because of this, it's important to use reliable cooling solutions. In fact, most processors will die within seconds if the heat sink becomes disconnected for some reason. Fortunately, most computers provide a fail-safe solution which prevents the system from starting up if there is a cooling problem, such as a fan being disconnected.

Cooling units for processors include a large metal heat sink and fan. The heat sink will have multiple layers of fins to further dissipate heat. The larger the heat sink, the more effectively heat can be drawn away from the processor. There is also an extremely important piece of material between the heat sink and the chip itself. This is called thermal grease and it's essential for transferring heat from the processor to the heat sink. New processors usually come with an appropriate heat sink and fan along with a thermal grease pad on the bottom of the heat sink. Heat sinks are also commonly referred to as cooling units of HSF (heat sink and fan).


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