The processor (or CPU) is the most important part to be cooled. A lot of electricity flows through the CPU while it’s working, and electricity means heat. The more and the harder it has to work, the hotter it gets. And with today’s blazingly fast CPUs pushing the envelope more and more, heat is becoming a major issue. No matter what type of CPU your PC has, it needs a heat sink to help it stay cool. A heat sink is a weird looking metal contraption that’s strapped onto the CPU to help heat dissipate faster. The best way to describe a heat sink I guess would be that it looks like a three-dimensional metal comb but without the dandruff and the hair.
A lot of times the heat sink in a pre-built system is not the best. A good heat sink is at least an inch deep and has at least one fan mounted on it to blow away the hot air. If your heat sink is pretty flat and/or has no fan on it, you should consider getting a better one.
But the best heat sink won’t work if it’s not mounted right. Every heat sink has a metal plate that fits over the CPU and ensures the best possible heat transfer from the chip to the heat sink. But no matter how careful you mount the heat sink, there is always a small gap somewhere. For that purpose, there is something called heat sink compound, a white silicon-based paste.
To make sure your CPU is cooled properly, turn the PC off and take off the case. Locate the CPU and heat sink. Note: If you’re unable to locate it after one hour of searching with the help of a flash light, let somebody help you since this procedure should be performed with care. Remove the CPU from its socket on the motherboard. Now remove the heat sink from the processor and look at the side that touched the CPU. You’ll now see the metal plate I mentioned earlier. Was there anything between the metal plate and the CPU? White paste? Sticky tape? Nothing? Either way, here’s how to do it right:
Carefully spread a pea-sized dollop of the compound with your finger into a thin layer on the metal plate of the heat sink. I recommend washing your fingers before inserting them into your mouth. I don’t think the stuff is poisonous (after all, I’m still alive – I think) but it tastes pretty bad. Anyway, now put the heat sink on, but don’t secure it yet. Pull it off the CPU again – straight up, don’t slide it – and look for spots that are still smooth. They will need a tad more since they did not touch the heat sink. Once this is covered, put the heat sink on and be sure to reconnect the cable for the CPU fan either to a connector on the motherboard or a free power cable from the power supply.
This is very important as a improperly cooled CPU will have problems. And even if you bought your system pre-built from a computer store, please take a moment to check this. I have encountered many systems (pre-built by professionals, mind you!) that had no heat sink compound, a really cheap heat sink without fan, or incorrectly mounted heat sinks that didn’t even touch the CPU!