Do you need a CPU cooler? Let’s find out. CPUs are incredibly complex in the way they operate, CPUs take instructions from computer programs and process them into computations. A CPU generates heat, as do literally all other electrical components, this is just a fact of life as nothing can be truly 100% efficient.
It’s because of this very reason that coolers and heatsinks are needed, as heat is the enemy when it comes to electrical component operation. You may have seen small chips with large finned blocks of Aluminium strapped to them. That’s what handles the heat generated by these components and draws it away from the component itself. A CPU cooler works in the exact same way.
Do you need a CPU cooler?
The short answer is yes, absolutely. CPU coolers are essential to PC operation and have been for well over a decade now. Without a CPU cooler, you WILL irreparably damage your CPU. To understand why we need a CPU cooler we must first understand more about how a CPU generates heat.
How does a CPU generate heat?
A CPU has one main job, and that is to convert instructions from a computer program and call upon the services and components needed to execute the instruction. A CPU contains transistors capable of outputting a simple yes or no variable, adding several of these yes or no variables together leads to more complex decisions on the CPUs part.
All of this processing uses electricity, obviously, and our technology for containing electricity does not allow us to use it with 100% efficiency. This is because a lot of the materials that conduct electricity well are also excellent conductors of heat. This allows some of the electrical energy to be wasted as heat or thermal energy.
We already have a name for this wasted thermal energy in regards to electrical components, and that name is Thermal Design Power, or ‘TDP’ for short. You may have heard this phrase when discussing PCs and CPUs in general.
How do CPU coolers work?
The way in which CPU coolers work is full of physics and thermodynamics but is really simple to understand when broken down into stages. Let’s follow heat on its journey through a CPU cooler.
The CPU die heats up through use, and as a result, so does the IHS (integrated heat spreader) of the CPU. Between the cold plate and the IHS lies thermal paste, to allow better contact between the IHS and the CPU coolers cold plate.
Thermal paste aims to eliminate any air bubbles and smooth the contact between the IHS and cold plate as air is a fantastic insulator. Heat is then transferred from the CPU to the cold plate through the heat transfer process of conduction.
Once the cold plate heats up, the heat is passed along to the heat pipe.
The hot plate is now hot, pardon the pun, meaning it cannot grab more heat from the IHS as efficiently, so the heat has to be passed to a copper heat pipe. This heat pipe contains a wet wick to help better transfer the heat to the heat sink. Some of the heat may dissipate into the air from the heat pipe but not much due to its very low surface area.
The heat pipes’ main purpose is to move heat away from the cold plate and into the heatsink for more aggressive convection.
The heatsink is a large copper or aluminum (or any good conductor of heat) block with fins to vastly increase its surface area. These fins surround the heat pipes coming from the cold plate to extract heat and radiate it into the air surrounding the heatsink.
The larger surface area helps the heatsink radiate heat more effectively as it’s contacting as much of the air around it as possible. This allows more opportunity to transfer its heat into air molecules.
This is how passive cooling works, passive cooling can be enough for lower-powered chips, but certainly not a 5900X.
To turn the passive cooling into active cooling we need a fan.
Fans are there to move air around the heatsink to allow for new, fresher, colder air to surround the heatsink to allow for easier heat transfer. As per the heat convection coefficient, the colder something is, the easier it grabs heat. That’s why we want the air around the heatsink to be as cool as possible.
The inclusion of the fan also changes the dissipation method to convection rather than radiation, as we’re using the fan to smash cold air molecules into the heatsink to pick up heat. As opposed to waiting for the heatsink to radiate the heat into its surroundings.
Do you need a CPU cooler? Yes, absolutely. CPU coolers are essential to CPU operation and health, without a CPU cooler you will certainly kill your CPU. If you’re in the market for a CPU cooler, here are the Best CPU coolers of 2022.