CPU fans and coolers are heat sink assemblies with integral fans that provide optimum cooling performance, often for specific processors. As electrons flow along the pathways in computer chips, resistance transforms some of their energy into heat. Dissipating this heat protects sensitive electronic components and increases their reliability and life expectancy. Larger heat sinks hold more heat than smaller heat sinks because of the relationship between surface area and the ability to dissipate heat radiantly. To help increase surface area, CPU fans and coolers use integrated fans with directed fins to achieve specific airflow geometries. As air flows over the fins, heat is moved away from the CPU and to the surrounding area.
CPU fans and coolers vary in terms of length, width, height, and weight; fan airflow, speed, and noise level; DC voltage; and heat sink fin style. Round pins or elliptical fins offer a high surface area to weight ratio and provide multiple airflow paths. Straight fins use extruded and sometimes complex shapes to maximize the heat dissipation surface area. Stamped metal heat sinks are manufactured in standard configurations, and according to application-specific geometry and thickness requirements. With CPU fans and coolers, machined plate heat sinks conform to exact tolerances and are free of burrs and other irregularities.
Important considerations when selecting CPU fans and coolers include heat sink materials and thermal resistance. Materials used in CPU fans and coolers include aluminum, copper, and steel. The central performance for heat sinks, thermal resistance or thermal sensitivity is typically expressed in Celsius (°C) as the temperature increase per watt of heat handled. For catalog and comparison ratings, thermal resistance is a nominal specification. Factors that affect this specification include increased airflow, water-cooling, and ambient temperatures. Frequently, thermal resistance is presented as a performance curve.
CPU fans and coolers are available in several mounting configurations. Some devices have mounting legs, holes, or clips. Others attach with engineered tapes and adhesives that have a high thermal conductance and eliminate the need to use hardware. CPU fans and coolers with integral locking mechanisms attach to electronic components mechanically. CPU fans and coolers with socket mounts are inserted directly into PC sockets.
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Heat sinks are thermally conductive, usually metallic components or devices that absorb and dissipate heat generated by electronic components such as computers. Common heat sink materials include aluminum, copper, and steel.