Do you need a CPU cooler? Let’s find out. CPUs are incredibly complex in the way they work, processors take instructions from computer programs and turn them into calculations. A CPU generates heat, like literally every other electrical component does, it’s just a reality because nothing can be truly 100% efficient.
It is for this very reason that coolers and heat sinks are necessary, as heat is the enemy of the operation of electrical components. You may have seen small chips with large finned aluminum blocks attached to them. This is what manages the heat generated by these components and directs it away from the component itself. A CPU cooler works exactly the 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 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 how a CPU generates heat.
How does a CPU generate heat?
A processor has one main task, which is to convert the instructions of a computer program and to call upon the services and components necessary to carry out the instruction. A processor contains transistors capable of producing a simple yes or no variable, adding more of these yes or no variables leads to more complex decisions by processors.
All of this processing uses electricity, of course, and our electricity containment technology does not allow us to use it with 100% efficiency. Indeed, many materials that conduct electricity well are also excellent conductors of heat. This allows some electrical energy to be wasted as heat or thermal energy.
We already have a name for this wasted thermal energy when it comes to electrical components, and that name is Thermal Design Power, or “TDP” for short. You may have heard this phrase when discussing PCs and processors in general.
How do CPU coolers work?
The operation of CPU coolers is full of physics and thermodynamics but is really simple to understand when broken down into steps. Let’s follow the heat as it travels through a CPU cooler.
The CPU die gets hot with use, and so does the CPU’s IHS (integrated heat sink). Between the cold plate and the IHS is thermal paste, to allow better contact between the IHS and the cold plate of CPU coolers.
The thermal paste aims to remove air bubbles and smooth the contact between the IHS and the cold plate as air is a fantastic insulator. The heat is then transferred from the processor to the cold plate by the heat transfer process of conduction.
Once the cold plate is heated, the heat is transmitted to the heat pipe.
The heating plate is now hot, pardon the pun, which means it can’t pick up 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 transfer heat better to the heatsink. Some of the heat can dissipate into the air from the heat pipe, but not much due to its very small surface area.
The primary purpose of heat pipes is to draw heat away from the cold plate and into the heatsink for more aggressive convection.
The heatsink is a large block of copper or aluminum (or any good heat conductor) with fins to greatly increase its surface area. These fins surround the heat pipes from the cold plate to extract the heat and return it to the air surrounding the radiator.
The larger surface area helps the heatsink spread heat more efficiently because it is in contact with as much of the air around it as possible. This allows more opportunities to transfer its heat into the air molecules.
This is how passive cooling works, passive cooling might be enough for less powerful chips, but certainly not for a 5900X.
To turn passive cooling into active cooling, we need a fan.
Fans are there to move air around the heatsink to allow new, cooler, cooler air to surround the heatsink to allow for easier heat transfer. According to the thermal convection coefficient, the colder something is, the more easily it picks up heat. That’s why we want the air around the radiator to be as cool as possible.
The inclusion of the fan also changes the dissipation method for convection rather than radiation, because we use the fan to smash the cold air molecules into the heatsink to capture the heat. Instead of waiting for the heatsink to radiate heat to its surroundings.
Do you need a CPU cooler? Yes absolutely. CPU coolers are essential for the functioning and health of the CPU. Without a CPU cooler, you will definitely kill your CPU. If you’re looking for a CPU cooler, here are the best CPU coolers of 2022.