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Types of CPU Coolers

Types of CPU Coolers

Table of contents

Passive CPU Cooling

This type of cooler solely consists of a heatsink. The heat spreader on the CPU makes contact with the heatsink, which draws the heat from the heat spreader to help it dissipate across a larger surface area. To assist the thermal conductivity from the heat spreader to the heatsink, a thermal compound is typically applied on the CPU to ensure proper contact. Pure passive CPU Coolers (those requiring no airflow at all, like from a case fan) are not recommended for modern CPUs since they do not exchange heat at a high enough rate to keep current CPUs within acceptable operational temperatures.

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Active CPU Cooling

This type of cooler also consists of a heatsink and fan. Active CPU Coolers come in a variety of shapes, sizes and configurations. Most modern Active CPU Coolers offer heat pipes for faster heat exchange from the heat spreader to the heat sink. When the heatsink fins absorb the heat, the attached fan circulates air over the fins to facilitate faster cooling. A CPU Cooler can still be considered as using active cooling if case fans provide adequate airflow.

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Heat Pipe Technology

Heat pipes typically act as a heat conductor throughout heatsinks. Heat pipes are filled with liquid that absorbs heat from the heat spreader, evaporating the liquid, which moves towards the heatsink fins on the other side of the heat pipe. When the heatsink cools the gas, it returns to the heat spreader side of the heat pipe as liquid to repeat the process.

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Water Cooling

This type of cooler is an aggressive type of active cooling that uses coolant and a radiator setup. In water cooling configurations, a water block is attached to the CPU heat spreader in a similar fashion as passive or active cooling. The water block is specifically designed to allow coolant to pass through it via two openings. Tubes are attached to those openings to create a closed system with a pump and radiator. The coolant is then cycled through the system, exchanging heat from the CPU to the radiator. A main advantage to water cooling is the ability to cool other components, like GPUs and hard disks, by adding appropriate water blocks and routing extra tubing to extend the system. Disadvantages include cost, labor and potential for leaks that could destroy the computer system.

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Exotic CPU Cooling

Other cooling methods exist, such as thermoelectric cooling, liquid nitrogen/helium, liquid immersion and more. Depending on the solution, electric charges are introduced, special CPU housing must be constructed or specific, non-conductive liquid must be used. Due to the extra cost, labor and potential danger to computer systems, exotic cooling is not recommended for most computer builders.

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« Basic CPU Cooler Considerations
CPU Cooler Basics »
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