How to know what type of CPU cooler is best for your PC?

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Although it may not seem so, the most important thing about a CPU is not, as most people think, in its vertical or horizontal design. There is a more important differentiating factor and that on the other hand is going to mark the performance of the fins and their R&D. We are talking about the controversial use of cold plate or direct touch technology using heat pipes, on which all heatsinks on the market have been based for some years. Which one is better?

There is something basic to understand before we go any further, and that is how the CPU IHS works. These are the metal plates that bear the Intel and AMD silkscreen, where their function is two-fold: to protect the die or dies and above all to transmit the heat from these to the heatsink. As a result, the heatsink will come into touch with this nickel-plated copper component, which is the first danger to avoid.

The deformation of the IHS and how to overcome it to improve contact

Although we may imagine an IHS to be a perfectly straight piece of metal, the reality is quite the opposite. Because CPUs are now soldered between their dies and the IHS, this plate deforms towards the center by only a few microns, therefore a processor’s height will always be greater in its corners than in its center.

This means that companies must consider this while developing heatsinks, which is the issue. The two methods of making contact between the heatsink and the IHS are already labeled direct touch and cold plate, so we’ll go over them quickly.

Direct touch refers to the practice of allowing the heat-sink’s heat pipes to contact the IHS directly, whereas cold plate refers to a piece of copper that is generally completely flat and is soldered to the heat pipes on its upper surface, thus passing heat from the CPU to them.

Which of the two heatsink types is better for the CPU?

Heat pipes have the advantage of not requiring intermediates since direct contact causes heat to be passed straight to the tube, causing the liquid inside to change state to gas and begin cooling. There are, however, certain concerns with this which are mentioned below.

  1. Imperfections and voids in the total surface.
  2. Impossibility to make a perfect curvature in the total surface.

We must also specify what we mean by total surface area, and it is nothing more than the total dissipation area of each model. If more or thicker heat pipes are used, there will be more total surface and it will be more complicated to make it perfect.

Assuming the IHS isn’t flat, the heat pipes or cold plate must also be non-flat. Because the IHS is normally concave, both contact methods must be convex to eliminate the mistake. This is really tricky to achieve if what you have to cut is 2, 3, 4 or 6 heat pipes plus the surface that welds them, so a straight cut with polishing is usually chosen. 

But in the case of the cold plate, being a solid piece on which the heat pipes are welded on top, this way is easier to do with CNC for example, since there is no risk of breaking the weld or breaking one of the pipes.

In addition, a cold plate can achieve a more, “pure” surface with less imperfections as it is one piece and not an accumulation of them, so it usually gets better overall performance. Therefore, all high-end and extreme heat sinks employ this approach, whereas the direct touch is cheaper in the mid-range or basic level.

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