The heatsink is one of the most important elements of the computer as it helps transfer the heat from the processor to the air. And as you may already know, heat is one of the worst enemies of electronic components. Choosing the correct heatsink will make your computer quieter, run faster (it won’t suffer from thermal throttling), and last more years of trouble-free operation.
Tips for choosing a heatsink for your CPU
The first thing we must take into account is the budget. Although high-end heatsinks are expensive, there are very inexpensive options that offer really good results. Of course, in the long run it is usually quite profitable to invest a little more in the heatsink than in other components because the same heatsink can be used for several computers.
From my point of view, if you mount an Intel processor, I would always buy a separate heatsink. The heatsinks that come with Intel processors are very bad and not worth using.
This changes if you buy a Ryzen processor. Many of the lower and mid-range models come with pretty decent heatsinks that can be used without a problem.
High-end Ryzen comes without heatsinks.
The TDP is a number that refers to the design thermal power of an electronic component. It is the maximum amount of heat generated by a computer chip or component (often the CPU or GPU). Therefore, your cooling system must be designed to dissipate at least that amount of heat.
As we have already seen, Intel tends to give lower TDP than real ones, while AMD TDP tends to be more real.
Therefore, if we are going to use a processor with a very large TDP (the high-end ones) we will need a better heatsink than if we are going to mount a low-end processor (they have a lower TDP).
What use will you give?
The next thing we must analyze is the use that we are going to give the processor. Are you going to do OC? Will you be rendering videos for hours at a time? Is it going to be for office automation?
In case you want to overclock, you will need a good heatsink and good ventilation in the case.
If the processor is going to be at 100% use for a long time, but does not have a very high TDP, maybe a cheap heatsink with a well ventilated case will work for you.
If you are going to use the computer for office automation, perhaps a good and cheap heatsink will work for you.
The socket is the type of socket where the processor connects. Heatsinks are usually compatible with many different sockets, but we have to make sure that it is compatible with ours.
This information can easily be found on both the CPU, motherboard and heatsink spec sheet.
In addition to making sure that the heatsink is compatible with the motherboard socket, we must also check that the cooler will fit into the box and is compatible with the rest of the elements:
The most important factor is the height of the heatsink. There are some heatsinks that are so tall that they won’t fit into boxes that are a bit narrow.
We must also check that we will have enough space to put all the RAM modules we need. This will depend on the heatsink, the motherboard layout, and the number and height of the RAM.
Depending on your computer, it is also important to check that the heatsink does not touch the PCIe cards or the radiator or other elements.
Usually, only large high-end heatsinks have these problems.
Most of the high-end air coolers out there can have clearance issues due to how bulky they are. Their bulk can interfere with your chosen motherboard DIMM slots and interfere with higher memory kits, or they can also hang in the top PCIe lane, forcing you to install your GPU in a lower lane. Therefore, it is a good idea to check and see if choosing a bulky air cooler will interfere with its other parts.
Radiator Size For liquid cooling, and more specifically AIO coolers, the biggest determining factor in clearance will be the size of the cooler radiator. AIO cooler radiators come in many different sizes. However, not all cases can accommodate every size of radiator. So again, before choosing an AIO cooler, you should review the spec sheet for the computer case you are considering and make sure it can accommodate the size of the AIO cooler radiator you want to get.
Air Vs Water
The best air coolers perform roughly similar to mid-range liquid coolers.
Of course, good liquid cooling systems cool better than air-cooled heatsinks, so they are the best option if you want to overclock high.
However, liquid refrigerations have a higher maintenance and every 2 or 3 years we should check the installation: the porosity of the tubes, the sealing of the block, etc.
Over-the-air heatsinks are “install and forget” until you change PCs. At most, open the side cover from time to time and remove the dust from the heatsink fins with compressed air, with a photographer’s bulb or simply by blowing.
If the CPU heatsink is not good, it may be one of the components that generates the most noise.
And trust me, you will curse not having spent 20 or 30 euros more on a better and quieter heatsink. In the long run it is health …
How could it be otherwise, CPU heatsinks are also a fundamental part of the aesthetics of a computer. If you have a window on the side of the computer, you will appreciate spending a little more on a more aesthetically beautiful heatsink.
In 2009, Noctua surprised the world by introducing a monstrous NH-D14 dual tower heatsink cooled by two fans. Of course, since then, many manufacturers have designed similar heatsinks that little by little were getting closer in performance at tighter prices.
That’s why Noctua brought out the NH-D15 a heatsink with improved performance that achieves lower temperatures than many liquid radiator cooling systems at 280mm. In addition, it achieves this with a practically inaudible noise level that is only slightly noticeable when we put the fan at 100% speed.
Of course, to mount the heatsink we need a large box (with a 170 mm margin to the side cover) and we must check the height and position of the RAM memory pads. The NH-D15 with two fans can be used with RAM modules that have a standard height (up to 32mm), if we have taller memories (up to 64mm), we can use the single fan configuration or use a 120 fan mm.
The SecuFirm2 mounting system makes installation very easy and the NA-H1 thermal paste tube has quantity for various applications and its quality is quite good.
The Noctua NH-D15 is available in the typical Noctua white and brown colors, but also in a black version which I personally find much prettier. The bad thing is that it costs about 15 euros more.
There is also a cheaper version with a fan, the NH-D15S that also leaves more space for the PCIe.