What Is A CPU Cooler?

Written by Jin May Soo


  • CPU Cooler & Its Function
  • Inside a CPU Cooler & How It Works
  • Types of CPU Cooler : Air Cooler vs. Liquid Cooler

The CPU Cooler

Odoo • A picture with a caption

Source: Giphy

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the brain of your computer, a powerhouse responsible for processing and executing instructions in order for your computer to function.

The CPU operates when electric signals pass through its microscopic transistors. Every flow of electrical energy that passes through wires and circuits meets a certain degree of resistance. This resistance, similar to the friction of rapidly rubbing two hands together, produces heat.

Without the presence of a cooler or ventilation to help direct the heat away, the heat accumulated in your computer will eventually reach a blazing point, microwaving all the components that you painstakingly bought with your sweat, blood and tears.

That's where the super-component, CPU Cooler comes into play!

Source: Newegg

The CPU Cooler is an essential damage prevention component designed to disperse the heat generated by the CPU and other hot-running components such as the chipset, graphic card and hard disk drives inside your computer.

It keeps the computer’s temperature at bay, leaving your components unharmed which in return enhances the computer’s efficiency and stability of the system. On top of that, your components are more likely to last in the long run, to which your pockets will thank you.

On a side note, adding a CPU Cooler can increase your computer’s overall noise level but it is usually not unbearable. Moreover, there are tips and tricks to reduce the noise level. CPU Coolers with exceptionally loud noise levels are often caused by dust and dirt. So a quick clean will normally do the trick.

How A CPU Cooler Works?

CPU coolers generally consist of heat base, heat pipes, heat sink, and heat fins. Usually made of materials that easily dissipates heat such as copper, aluminium or metal, these four main pillars of the CPU coolers ensure the heat energy flows to the right place and is dispersed accordingly.

Heat Base

Source: Quiet PC

The heat base, also known as the cold plate or base plate, is a copper or aluminum surface where the heat sink base meets the Integrated Heat Spreader (IHS). This contact allows the heat that was absorbed from the component into IHS to be transferred into the heat pipes in the CPU Cooler through the applied thermal paste.

Source: Intel

The base comes in two forms - flat and direct contact. The flat heat base provides more support for contact whereas, direct contact is a bundle of coils touching the heat pipes.

Heat Pipes 

Source: Cooler Master Co.

Heat pipes are copper or aluminum rods with a porous inside, filled with liquid or substance to help direct the heat energy to the heat fins and fans. When the heat is absorbed into the heat pipes, the liquid inside these rods evaporates into vapours.

These vapours will then travel to the center of the pipe and revert back to its original form (liquid) once cooled down. The cooled down liquid will then flow through the porous material to the base of the heat sink to get heated once more.

Source: My Heat Sinks
This recurring cycle which transfers heat away from your component is the critical activity in keeping the temperature near-optimal level. It’s safe to say that the more heat pipes you have, the better the effectiveness of dissipating heat.

Heat Sink

Source: One Computer Guy

Typically made of metal, the heat sink is designed to contain a large formation of fins. Heat sinks are actually more commonly used than you’d think. Although known for its existence in computers, heat sinks are also frequently found in refrigerators and cellphones.

Source: GamersNexus

Heat sink works by redirecting heat away from the heat pipe and spreading it out into the neatly arranged, thin heat fins. This course of action increases the surface area to dissipate heat easily.

Here’s an article by R S Component for a more in-depth explanation of the heat sink and its types.

Heat Fins

Source: Sunpower Group Holdings

Usually made of aluminum, heat fins (or cooling fins) are a foundational part in all CPU coolers. They are a section of the heat sink structure which is vital in the cooling process as their construction, spacing, placement, shape and quantity determines the effectiveness of the heat dissipation.

The heat directed from the heat sink and spread out in the heat fins are blasted by the nearby cooling fan to dispel the heat. At this part of the process, the vapours in the heat pipes would be sufficiently cooled to condense back to its liquid state.

Air Cooler vs. Liquid Cooler

Source: GamingScan

Air Coolers are made of a combination of heatsinks and fans. They come in many different shapes and sizes with varying thermal dissipation capacities. Air coolers transfer the heat from the IHS, through the applied thermal paste, and into the heat base. From there, the heat will move on to the heat pipes to disperse.

They are great at relocating heat away from the CPU but something to keep in mind is that the heat is directed into the case.

Liquid Coolers on the other hand, is great at relocating the heat outside of the PC through fans on the radiator. Similar to the Air Coolers, they direct the heat away from the IHS through the thermal paste and into the heat base.

Source: Intel

The difference is, instead of using heat pipes and heat sinks, the Liquid Cooler uses water blocks and tubes. A water block is the watercooling equivalent of a heat sink. Its heat base is designed to absorb heat from the IHS on one side (the flat side) while the other side (with heat sinks), is filled with coolant to draw the heat away.