Choosing and Buying Components - Heatsink/Fan Units (CPU Coolers)
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Modern processors consume 50W to 100W or more. Nearly all systems deal with the resulting heat by placing a massive metal heatsink in close contact with the processor and using a small fan to draw air through the heatsink fins. This device is called a heatsink/fan (HSF) or CPU cooler. Use the following guidelines when choosing an HSF:
Make certain the HSF is rated for the exact processor you use. An HSF that physically fits a processor may not be sufficient to cool it properly. In particular, be careful with Prescott-core Pentium 4 processors, which produce much more heat than the earlier Northwood-core P4s running at the same speed.
Make sure the HSF is usable with your motherboard. Some HSFs are incompatible with some motherboards because clamping the HSF into position may crush capacitors or other components near the processor socket.
Pay attention to noise ratings. Some high-efficiency HSFs designed for use by overclockers and other enthusiasts have very noisy fans. Other HSFs are nearly silent.
Use the proper thermal compound. When you install an HSF, and each time you remove and replace it, use fresh thermal compound to ensure proper heat transfer. Thermal compound is available in the form of viscous thermal “goop” and as phase-change thermal pads, which melt as the processor heats up and solidify as it cools down. Make sure that the thermal compound you use is approved by the processor maker.
Heatsink/Fan Units In general, we recommend using the HSFs that are bundled with retail boxed processors. These are generally midrange in performance and noise level.
We generally use the thermal compound or phase-change medium that is provided with the heatsink/fan unit, assuming it is approved by the processor maker. (AMD is very specific about which thermal transfer media are acceptable for its processors.) When we reinstall an HSF, we use Antec Silver Thermal Compound (http://www.antec-inc.com), which is as good as “premium” silver thermal compounds and costs much less.
Avoid the generic “no-name” HSFs you’ll find on bargain tables in some computer stores or computer fairs for as little as $4. Anyone who installs a no-name $4 HSF on a $200 CPU deserves whatever happens. Also avoid premium HSFs that are so beloved by overclockers—you can easily spend $50 or more on such a unit, and it provides little benefit relative to the stock HSF or an inexpensive Dynatron unit. For example, we tested an $18 Dynatron unit against a “big-name” unit that sold for $58, using the same processor and thermal compound. The CPU temperature with the Dynatron stabilized at 33º C, versus 32º C with the premium unit. BFD.
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