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Keeping your Computer Cool

<<-- Back to Choosing a CPU
-->> Next: Choosing a Motherboard

As you build your new computer or improve your existing one, don't forget about the cooling aspect. There are generally three areas of concern here. Cooling the CPU, cooling the power supply, and cooling the internal computer as a whole.

CPU Cooling
If you purchase a retail version (vs. OEM) CPU, it'll probably include its own Heatsink and Fan. It's perfectly fine, in most cases, to use these. However, if you're running applications that really keep your CPU humming, you may want to consider upgrading to a higher performance solution.

CPU Fan

If you're installing a heatsink on a new or used processor, you'll need to ensure there is adequate thermal compound between the CPU and heatsink. Often, the manufacturer will pre-apply a pad of thermal compound to the surface of the heatsink that comes into contact with the CPU. While this pre-applied compound is "adequate," it's usually much less effective than a higher-end Thermal Compound. icon A small applicator tube is inexpensive and quite effective.

Important! If you're applying new thermal paste and you have a heatsink that already has a pre-applied pad of thermal compound or you're re-using an older heatsink, be sure to completely and thoroughly scrape away any existing compound using an old credit card. I recommend an old credit card because it's made of plastic and isn't likely to scratch the surface of your CPU or heatsink (very important!), but it's rigid enough to get the job done.

And I would be falling down on my job if I didn't metion that you should never, EVER run your CPU without a properly and completely installed heatsink and fan. Doing so could quickly fry your CPU!

See CPU Fans & HeatSinks icon

Cooling the Power Supply
This is usually a no-brainer. The power supply is going to include its own internal fan, so you don't have to worry too much about it. I'm only mentioning it here because it's technically relavent to cooling your computer. You only need to concern yourself with the power supply fan if it's not running or making excessive noise when you power up your PC.

Case Fans
It's important to have a case fan to evacuate the warm air from inside your computer's chassis. A typical computer may have a fan in the front for intake and a fan in the rear for exhaust.

If you have a computer with high-performance components such as a high-end video card/graphics adapter, high-performance CPU or memory, you should seriously consider adding extra cooling capacity to your computer case.

On higher performance computers, the rear exhaust fan is just as critical for cooling as the front intake fan. The power supply fan provides some exhaust functionality, but is no substitute for dedicated exhaust fans. Choose fans suited for your particular computer case. Typical chassis fans are 80mm or 120mm in diameter. The fan will usually be powered by a 3-pin motherboard connector or via a 4-pin connector directly from your PC's power supply. Pay attention to the airflow rating and noise level, and when you're buying online be sure to check the buyer reviews for that particular product.

Be sure to check the customer reviews on the fans you purchase. You can learn a great deal about a product before you purchase. The most common complaint regarding case fans is noise. Some tend to rattle, wear out prematurely, or they're so loud that they sound like miniature jet engines.

See various Case Fans icon