How do heat sinks function in electronic devices?

by Michael M.

Heat sinks are underrated. A lot of people don’t appreciate the work heat sinks do for their electronic devices. Without a heat sink, your electronic devices wouldn’t work as well as they do. Imagine using a computer that doesn’t come with a heat sink. When it’s running at a very high speed and the heat increases, it might just explode!

Just the way you cool down with chilled water or fizzy drinks after a long day at work, that is the same way the heat sink brings down the temperature of your computer’s processors after running several programs at the same time. Now, extruded heat sinks are the order of the day because they’re already cut and the hardware is ready to be installed.

So, do you want to understand how heat sinks operate? Don’t worry. This article will explain everything in the simplest terms.



How do heat sinks operate?

A heat sink transfers heat from one object to another and is found in electrical devices. They are mostly found in computers, but also found in DVD players, cell phones, refrigerators, etc. Heat sinks vary in size. For instance, in computers, they are just tiny attachments to chips that stop the chip from overheating.

This attachment is just as important as any other component in the computer.

The easiest way to understand how a heat sink works is to relate it to a car radiator. A car radiator detracts heat from your engine just the same way a heat sink detracts heat from the central processing unit.

Now, every heatsink comes with a thermal conductor that detracts from the CPU and dissipates it through a large surface area (fan-like blades) that allows the heat to move to other parts of the computer. This way, it cools both the processor and the heat sink.

Radiators and heat sinks need airflow to function, so both have in-built fans.

Heat sinks weren’t as popular and as functional as they are today. In the 20th century, you wouldn’t find heat sinks in every computer, not to mention every electrical device, as we have it today. They were only used for large computers that produced a large amount of heat that could affect the processor.

Nowadays, the introduction of extremely fast processors requires heat sinks to be in almost every computer because they overheat without cooling. Heat sinks work on the principle of thermal conductivity

What is thermal conductivity?

Heat can be transferred via conduction, convection, and radiation. Heat is transferred in solids through conduction, and this is what heat sinks operate on. For those who don’t know what conduction is, it’s simply the transfer of heat between two solids as a result of temperature difference?

When the two solids meet, fast-paced molecules crash into the slow-paced molecules, thus giving the slow-paced molecules some energy. This interaction results in the cooling down of the heating solid. Thermal conductivity is the process through which heat sinks detract heat from the CPU.

Heat sinks are made of metals, mostly copper and aluminum. However, there are pros and cons to using each metal. Copper has higher thermal conductivity, but aluminum is popular because it’s more affordable and weighs less.

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