We’ve All Felt It
Ever find yourself feeling the heat from your PC after using it extensively for a while? Perhaps you might hear the sound of the fan going crazy. Maybe you’ve been doing some hardcore gaming with your team, really pushing yourselves and your machines to their limits. Getting that high score or landing that first place in a competition. That’s your PC telling you that it needs to cool off. You’re probably in need of a better cooling system. In this article, we head down the rabbit hole of CPU cooling to help you understand what it is, how it works and why you need it. We’ve also included our top picks from CPU coolers at the end of the article to make the choice easier for you. So let’s head into the cold world of CPU cooling.
Hardware Requirements for Usage
To use any hardware/software, your PC should meet certain required specifications. Let’s brush up on our knowledge about system requirements. If you want to perform a particular task or use your PC for a specific purpose, you need to check if your PC is capable of handling that task/purpose. Let’s see what some essential components and requirements are. (source: techterms.com)
Typical system requirements for a software program include:
- Operating system
- Minimum CPU or processor speed
- Minimum GPU or video memory
- Minimum system memory (RAM)
- Minimum free storage space
- Audio hardware (sound card, speakers, etc.)
System requirements listed for a hardware device may include:
- Operating system
- Available ports (USB, Ethernet, etc.)
- Wireless connectivity (wifi, bluetooth)
- Minimum GPU (for displays and graphics hardware)
These are the minimum requirements for most uses. However, if you’re going to put your PC under heavy loads, it will definitely need a CPU cooler. While all CPUs come with basic coolers called ‘heat sinks,’ you will have to get better coolers because, at full capacity, your CPU will consume very high watts, leading to more heat.
Why Computers Heat Up
A very well asked question in computer usage is why do computers generate heat?
It’s really nothing to worry about as heat is a normal by-product of using computers. The heat generated depends upon the computer model, your usage, and how many watts it uses. In particular, this isn’t a cause for concern. Most computers warm up after a period of use; some get especially hot. However, if your computer gets extremely hot and super frequently, this might be a sign that you need a better cooling system.
A CPU, or a Central Processing Unit, is the part of the computer that gets work done. It processes the inputs given by users or programs and gives the desired output.
The CPU, which handles most processing in a computer, can be blamed for most of that heat. The way a CPU works is by either letting electric signals pass through its transistors or by blocking them (binary system). When electricity passes through the CPU or gets trapped inside, it gets converted to heat energy. There are resistors in circuits, and when electricity flows through them, some of it turns into heat.
Common Reasons for High Heat
There are three primary factors that usually impair the cooling system in a computer.
Dust can act as a thermal insulator and impede airflow, thereby significantly reducing fan and heat sink performance. You can solve this issue by cleaning your CPU case and fans at regular intervals to prevent dust build-up.
2. Poor Airflow
Poor airflow and turbulence because of friction between components and incorrect placement of fans can reduce the amount of air flowing through a case. In some cases, this can also lead to the formation of hot whirlpools. While this sounds cool, it can increase the amount of hot air in the case, thereby making your cooling solution counterproductive. Better case designs can solve this problem.
3. Poor Heat Transfer
Poor heat transfer due to imperfect thermal contact between components that are to be cooled and the cooling devices themselves is also an issue. This can be made better by using thermal compounds to level surface imperfections.
Dangers and Problems of Overheating
You might’ve wondered, is all this heat bad for my PC? Short answer; absolutely. High heat is a computer’s natural enemy. This is why computers are designed with heat dispersion and ventilation. Overheating can cause your computer to act unstable, shut down suddenly, or even get permanently damaged. Some say overheating a computer is like slow poison.
A decade or two ago, a CPU without cooling would either freeze (how ironic) or burn up. Hence destroying your precious machine. Overheating could also sometimes destroy your motherboard. Thankfully, there came a fix around the time when Pentium 4 was released. Manufacturers added internal thermal safety interlocks to slow down or properly shut down the CPU when overheated. So nowadays, if overheated, your PC will just run slow or shut down. Continued operation of PCs at high temperatures significantly decreases their lifespan.
Along with that, it may also cause hardware failure. Which then leads to frequent replacements. Trust me, that’s a frustrating road to go down. In other words, heat can and will kill your computer.
Thermal throttling is adjusting the CPU’s clock speed based on the amount of heat being generated. In the event of high heat generation, thermal throttling slows down your computer to save it. While this is great for your PC, it isn’t too good for your performance in games. Imagine being on a massive kill streak and losing it because your PC decided to take a break.
While thermal throttling can be handy, it isn’t sufficient to meet your cooling needs. You can play your games at lower settings to solve this problem. However, there’s no fun in that, right?
What is CPU Cooling
CPU cooling is the process of taking away heat from the CPU parts.
Engineers and manufacturers have been figuring out ways to cool down computers since their invention. CPU cooling is needed to remove the unnecessary heat produced by it and to keep its temperature low. This is necessary because, as we discussed, heat is deadly for computers. Additionally, a proper cooling system can help increase the performance of your processor (overclocking). Using multiple ways of cooling apart from just fans also lessens that annoying fan noise everyone dislikes.
A heat sink works passively and exchanges the heat generated to either air or a liquid. It uses a thermal conductor for this function of taking heat away from a CPU. In general, bigger heat sinks are said to be better. Heat sinks are very important in cooling systems.
Types of CPU Coolers
There are two main types of CPU Coolers. Air coolers and Liquid coolers. Both of them work by channeling heat from the processor through a bunch of heat spreaders, thermal pastes, heat pipes, and thermal base plates. The heat then reaches the fan that disperses the heat.
Technically, any method used to transfer air around counts as air cooling. However, we usually mean using fans when we use this term. An air cooler solution for heating comprises a heat sink, heat pipes, and a fan. Air coolers use the air inside the case as their primary cooling medium. Cooler air gathers the heat from the CPU, and either the airflow from fans in the case or natural convection (the tendency of heat to rise up) carries the hot air away. Desktop air cooling systems usually incorporate one or more fans for managing heat. Near about, all desktop builds come with at least one fan to exhaust air from the CPU case. A standard practice in air cooling is to have cooler air come in through the bottom areas and have hot hair dissipated out the top.
PC air cooling systems are preferred because they provide consistent and reliable cooling. These systems are easy to install, so even if you’re not an expert, you can get them to work. In addition, they are also light on your wallet. Air cooling is great for you if you want a dependable cooling solution on a budget.
The effectiveness of air coolers can vary depending on the materials they’re constructed with, the size and quantity of fans attached to the heatsink. There is a wide variety of sizes and designs in CPU coolers that use air.
Some standard fan sizes in air cooling are 40, 60, 80, 92, 120, and 140 mm. In recent times, larger fan sizes are becoming commonplace in gaming systems. These are larger than 200 mm and can even go up to 300 mm.
Air coolers generally cost less than liquid coolers because of their simplicity.
There is a notable flaw in air cooling systems. While they relocate heat away from the CPU, it’s dispersed into the case, and that raises the ambient temperature of the case.
Liquid, or water-cooling, in-home PCs, began around 1997. Liquid cooling came up when air cooling became insufficient for overclockers. A major reason to choose liquid cooling is that it’s significantly quieter than an air cooling solution. Although a problem might be that, on average, they cost more than air coolers.
Instead of cooling down hot PCs with a fan, liquid cooling systems usually use a water block, a pump, and a radiator. The pump pumps cold water through tubes into the water block. Then, the water absorbs the heat from the CPU. A strength of water over the air is that it has a higher heat capacity. This allows it to absorb much more heat before it rises in temperature. When the water heats up, it goes through an efficient radiator which dissipates the heat. Liquid cooling systems may include fans, but they don’t have to run as hard to cool here. This is why usually, liquid-cooled PCs are quieter than air-cooled ones. After being cooled down again, the pump again pumps the water into the water block to repeat the entire process over and over again. This happens fast, and the water constantly loops around so that a consistent temperature is maintained.
There are two main types of liquid cooling systems: open-loop and closed-loop.
Closed-loop cooling is very popular. Closed-loop water cooling is also called All In One (AIO) cooling. The average consumer can assemble these easily without much technical knowledge or expertise. The name closed-loop comes from the fact that the cooling system comes built with coolant inside that goes to and from the water block and radiator. A closed-loop water cooler comes with three simple parts. A water block pump combo, a radiator, and tubes. Closed-loop systems are more compatible than open looped systems.
Then we come to open-loop cooling systems. You create the water loop on your own in these systems. Skilled enthusiasts use these systems as they require in-depth knowledge of PC hardware. Open-loop water cooling is also pretty expensive. Such customized water cooling is one of the best ways to cool your components.
You would need to have the following parts to build an open-loop cooling system. (source: wepc.com)
- CPU Block
- GPU Block
- Reservoir/ Pump (with fill port)
- Compatible Case
- RAM Block
- Flow Fittings
- Drain/ Fill Fittings
3 Best CPU Coolers in 2021
Now that you know so much about coolers, their importance, types, and mechanisms, you’re ready to move on to selecting a worthy cooling system for your PC build. Baffled by the number of options? No need to worry, we’re here to help you narrow down your choices. We’ve carefully curated a list of outstanding coolers to cool down your CPUs. These are our top three picks in no particular order:
1. NZXT Kraken X53 – Best Overall
The NZXT Kraken X53 is a powerful and high-tech liquid cooler with RGB. It provides excellent cooling, beautiful lighting, and easy installation. It has a redesigned cap and a larger infinity mirror ring when compared to the previous model. The Kraken has fine nylon mesh sleeves for added durability and protection. Full CAM integration in the Kraken lets you manage its performance properly. The Aer P Radiator fans that the Kraken has, feature a chamfered intake and fluid dynamic bearing for silent operation, durability, and powerful cooling.
- Two 240 mm fans
- Speed: 500-2000 + RPM
- Air Flow: 18.28 – 73.11 CFM
- Air Pressure: 0,18 – 2.93mm-H2O
- Bearing: Fluid Dynamic Bearing
- Life: 60,000 hours or 6 Years
- Noise Level: 21-36 dBA
- Power Consumption: 12V DC, 0.32A, 3.84W
2. Cooler Master Hyper 212 Black Edition – Budget Pick
The Cooler Master Hyper 212 is an excellent choice if you want an air cooler. It features direct pipe contact technology, with four heat pipes for better heat dissipation. Minimum airflow resistance is ensured by the stacked fin array, which lets cooler air flow into the heat sink. Includes Smart Fan Sensor for jam protection and cable protection. This air cooler also comes with controllable RGB LED lighting. Installing and removing the fan is super simple due to its straightforward fan bracket design. The design is elegant, with a sleek gunmetal black finish.
Features and Specs:
- Material: Brushed Anodized Aluminum
- Nickel-Plated Black Fins
- RGB Lighting
- SF120R RGB Fan
- Direct Contact Technology
- RGB LED Controller
- Intuitive Snap Fan Design
- Air Flow: 57.3 CFM
- Air Pressure: 2.0 mm-H2O
- Noise Level: 26 dB
3. EVGA CLC 120 mm All-In-One CPU Liquid Cooler – Runner Up
If you don’t want the hassles of making your own cooling system, then the EVGA CLC 120 mm All-In-One CPU Liquid Cooler is the CPU cooler for you. This cooler consists of a 120 mm fan along with a 120 mm radiator. It features an All-In-One cooling system that is entirely self-contained. No work, filling or maintenance is required. All you have to do is plug and play. It has a smart wiring system to avoid having messy and tangled wires. The copper base ensures maximum heat transfer. This cooler is compatible only with current and future Intel Sockets. All in all, this cooler gets you exceptional performance with low noise.
- Air Flow: 58.87 CFM
- Noise Level: 20 dB
- Wattage: 50
- Material: Copper
We can conclude by saying that efficient cooling systems are essential for any PC build. You can’t achieve higher performance without excellent cooling. You can now go ahead and purchase or build a cooling system that suits your needs. Happy gaming!