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PC Heatsink [What, How & Guide]

Let's dive into exploring the fundamental passive cooling element i.e., PC heatsink and its working principle.

In the realm of computer hardware, efficient heat management is a critical concern. As electronic components tirelessly process data, they generate heat as a natural consequence of their electrical activity. The unchecked accumulation of this heat can lead to a cascade of problems like thermal throttling. Heatsink is an important traditional cooling element that averts these problems and facilitates the cooling process. In this article, I will explain the PC heatsink along with its working principle in detail. 

Also Read: CPU Cooler Buying Guide

Key Takeaways

  • Heatsinks are made of highly conductive metals and are used in dissipating heat from CPUs and GPUs.
  • The large surface area of the heatsink, due to its fins, facilitates the convective heat transfer between the heatsink and the air.
  • Radiators are a part of advanced liquid cooling setups, while the heatsink-fan arrangement is a traditional cooling method.

What Is A heatsink In A PC?

ENERMAX ETS-F40-FS – Heatsink (Image by Tech4Gamers)

Electronic components generate heat as a natural byproduct of their operation due to the flow of electric current through them. If this heat is not managed effectively, it can lead to performance degradation, instability, and even permanent damage to the components. A heatsink is a component used in computers to dissipate heat from electronic components, such as CPU and GPUs. 

Usually, the heatsink is attached to the hot component, like a CPU or GPU, using thermal paste or thermal compound. It provides a pathway for heat to move away from the component and into the surrounding air. Consequently, the larger surface area of the fins or ridges of the heatsink allows the heat to spread out and be transferred to the air.

How Does A Heatsink Work?

ASRock B650E PG-ITX WiFi - Motherboard - VRM HeatSink
ASRock B650E PG-ITX WiFi – VRM Heatsink – (Image By Tech4Gamers)

The basic principle behind a heatsink’s operation relies on the process of heat conduction. When a computer component generates heat during its operation, that heat is transferred to the bottom of the heatsink through the thermal conduction facilitated by thermal paste. From there, the enhanced surface area of the heatsink due to its fins helps it exchange that heat with the surrounding air through the process of thermal convection.

To enhance this heat dissipation process, a fan is commonly attached to the heatsink. This fan blows air over the heatsink’s fins, promoting convective heat transfer. As the air flows over the fins, it absorbs the heat and carries it away. The fan helps to maintain a continuous flow of cooler air, preventing the surrounding temperature from rising too high and improving the overall efficiency of heat dissipation. Some high-performance heatsinks also employ advanced designs such as heat pipes or vapor chambers, which further enhance heat transfer capabilities by utilizing phase change principles.

Also Read: Understanding CPU Coolers

PC Radiator Vs Heatsink Fan

ASRock B650E PG-ITX WiFi – Motherboard – M.2 Heatsink Fan (Image by Tech4Gamers)

In high-end rigs, advanced liquid cooling setups use radiators as a crucial cooling component. On the other hand, the heatsink-fan (HSF) combination is fairly common in daily use computers. Below is a brief overview of these two cooling methods:

PC Radiator Heatsink Fan
Dissipates heat from liquid coolant by transferring it to surrounding air. Dissipates heat directly from a component (e.g., CPU) using fins and transfers it to surrounding air.
Liquid coolant carries heat away from components to the radiator, where fans expel heat. Solid heatsink conducts heat from the component, and fans blow air over fins to dissipate heat.
Installation can be more complex due to additional components like pump and tubing. Generally simpler to install, typically requiring attachment of heatsink and fan.
May require periodic coolant checks and potential maintenance. May require occasional cleaning to remove dust buildup on the heatsink.
Suitable for cooling both CPU and GPU using one loop. Primarily designed for cooling the CPU, it may not handle GPU cooling in the same loop.
Generally higher cost due to the complexity of components. Typically lower cost compared to a full liquid cooling setup.

How To Replace Fan On Heatsink For PC?

Fan Dusr
Cleaning dust from Fan using compressed air

PC builds often come with a stock fan with the heatsink. However, that stock fan may not be sufficient to satisfy the cooling needs in advanced setups. In that case, you can easily replace the fan on the heatsink by following the below steps:

  1. Power off your PC and disconnect it from the power source. 
  2. Open your PC case to access the heatsink-fan unit.
  3. Locate the cable connecting the old fan to the motherboard or fan controller. Gently disconnect the cable.
  4. Unfasten any clips, screws, or brackets securing the old fan to the heatsink. If applicable, detach rubber mounts as well.
  5. Use compressed air or a soft brush to clean dust and debris from the heatsink and fins.
  6. Place the new fan over the heatsink, aligning it with the same orientation as the old fan. Ensure the fan’s airflow direction matches the heatsink design.
  7. Use the included clips, screws, or brackets to attach the new fan to the heatsink. If there are rubber mounts, hook them into the designated holes.
  8. Attach the cable of the new fan to the appropriate fan header on the motherboard or fan controller. Ensure a secure connection.
  9. Power on your PC to verify that the new fan is spinning correctly. Adjust fan settings as needed.
  10. Close your PC case by reattaching the side panel or top cover.

Also Read: How To Clean Your PC Without Compressed Air?


How long does it take to replace a heatsink on a PC?

Usually, it takes 20-30 minutes to replace a heatsink. This time can vary based on the complexity of the system and your expertise.

Can you run a PC without a heatsink?

Yes, it is technically possible to run your PC without a heatsink. But if you keep operating it without a heatsink or any alternative cooling method, the temperatures will surpass safe limits and can damage your PC components.

Will your PC tell you if your heatsink is not working?

Heatsink is a passive cooling element and does not have electric wires or a feedback mechanism. So, most PCs will not give you a warning in case of heatsink problems. However, unusually high temperatures can be a sign of heatsink-related problems.

Is a heatsink necessary for a gaming PC?

Yes, the heatsink is necessary for a gaming PC, especially for the CPU and GPU.

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