What is Heat Sink in Computer? Types & Functions

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What is heat sink? Keeping both yourself and your PC cool at times of work pressure is one of the matters of urgent importance.

While the first one is relatively complicated, the next isn’t so much as air cooling at least comes cheap today and is also easy to install.

But cooling fans on your PC work differently than the ceiling fan you have in your room and the heat sink, therefore, is a very integral part of the entire air cooling system.

Liquid coolers work on a different principle and don’t have these usually.


  • The heat sink removes the heat from the inside of the computer and has different parts to facilitate the process such as base plate, fins and heat pipes.
  • There are usually two types of heat sinks namely active heat sinks and passive heat sinks.
  • By removing the heat tirelessly a heat sink maintains the temperature of the interior of the computer thereby increasing its life and performance level.

What is a Heat Sink?

What is a Heat Sink

A heat sink, in general, is a metallic component of many cooling systems that moves the heat away from the vital components, into the air outside or a cooling medium like water or oil.

In computers too, they work in unison with other cooling equipment in order to remove heat from the processor.

Not only that, but there can also be heat sinks in other places as well like the RAM modules, motherboard, etc and while they may differ in shapes and sizes, they have fundamentally the same job to do.

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The transfer of heat follows the process of conduction, convection, and radiation in different parts.

A heat sink is often seen with a cooling fan so that the amount of heat removal is increased and speeded up.

There are several parts that can be seen in a heat sink. These are:

  • A base plate used for conduction.
  • Several fins are necessary for convection, or transfer of heat from the solid medium to the air.
  • Heat pipes for the transfer of heat towards the fins.

The metal plate is hotter than the outside temperature, and heat moves from it into the air by the laws of thermodynamics and this is the basic way how a heat sink works.

Heat moves from a region of higher to lower temperature, and it is transferred from the base plate through the fins present above.

Types of Heat Sinks

Based on their working, heat sinks can be classified into two major types:

  • Passive Heat Sink: These are the simplest kind, where metal plates known as fins protruding upwards are attached to the heat sink, which has a metal plate for conduction. This metal base touches the CPU directly and heat transfer takes place.
  • Active Heat Sink: The better kind is an active heat sink, which uses one or more fans to blow out the heat absorbed by the heat sink. These are more efficient and are a necessity when your PC tends to run hot due to the use of powerful parts inside.

Heat Sink Functions

  • Heat Removal

The heat sink’s primary function is heat removal. Depending on where it is placed, it removes heat from sensitive components and directs it towards the open air. For the normal functioning of the components, the heat sink works tirelessly.

  • Increases CPU efficiency

When the CPU is at working temperatures, it can work efficiently for a longer duration without a decrease in its efficiency.

How Can a Heat Sink Perform Better?

A good heat sink can save a lot of your money by keeping the components attached to it safe. Below are some of the ways that you can make sure it performs better.

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But some of these are decided by the manufacturer and it is not much you can control.

Generally, a heat sink made of copper would perform better than one made out of any other material like aluminium, and choosing the former already ensures better heat removal, but at a costlier price.

If you have the space, you may attach more than a single fan on the heat sink as well.

  • Increasing airflow

One of the best ways to reduce heat is to make sure there is enough airflow, both inside the cabinet and its surroundings.

A closed room, for instance, would surely increase the room temperature, and the heat sink may slow down due to this.

Maintaining a good airflow through the room, and adding more fans in the PC case can solve the problem.

Although, fans take up a lot of space inside and you need to have a large enough case as well.

  • Increasing surface Area

Increasing the surface area where the actual heat transfer takes place is one of the best ways to increase the heat sink’s capacity. Thus, bigger heat sinks can move more amounts of air than a smaller one.

  • Thickness and arrangement of fins

The heat transfer to the air takes place through the fins, and how they are located plays a big role in the working of the heat sink.

A passive heat sink would do with thicker fins as the entire process is not influenced by any cooling fan.

Also, when arranged in pin fins, the heat sink gets more surface area which is good, rather than straight fins.


What are computer heat sinks made of?

Computer heat sinks are generally made of aluminum and its alloys which come cheap and can be used in an average PC, while copper is the best material that can be used.

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This depends on cost and sizes, and since copper has a far better thermal conductivity than aluminum, it is used in expensive heat sink designs.

Moreover, copper also has better heat absorption and anti-corrosion qualities that make it the perfect material to be used for a heat sink.

Where is the heat sink in a computer?

The heat sink is usually noticed above the processor, while you may have noticed heat plates on the RAM modules as well. The high-performance motherboards and graphics adapters have heat sinks.

Is a heat sink necessary?

Yes, absolutely. Without the heat sink, there is a high chance of your processor overheating than the usual limits, which can affect performance and in the long term even damage the processor altogether hence rendering your computer useless.

Every computer, no matter how small or how powerful, produces heat that needs to be removed from the components or else they may be damaged. The heat sink does exactly this and is therefore very necessary unless there is a liquid cooling system installed in your PC.


So you see the heat sink to have an indirect effect on your PC’s performance, and the better it works, the better is the cooling and thus you will get the maximum performance out of the CPU.