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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | The Processor | Processor Physical Characteristics | Processor Cooling ]

Active vs. Passive Heat Sinks

While it may seem that an active heat sink is "obviously" better than a passive one, it is not always this simple. An active heat sink does in theory cool better than a passive one in a typical system. However, many large hardware manufacturers, even top-rated companies, use passive heat sinks even on high-end machines, because they have certain advantages over CPU fans:

  • They are not prone to failure the way CPU fans are. Failed active heat sinks can mean very quick processor overheating, but if there is no fan, there is nothing to stop working.
  • They are usually larger or can be made larger than the heat sinks that are used with fans.
  • They are cheaper, sometimes by a decent amount. (Think about how many other ways system manufacturers are willing to cut corners to save a few dollars on the cost of a system, and here there is no drawback if it is done properly).

In addition, newer systems using the ATX form factor motherboard and case already have a (much larger) power supply fan blowing over the processor. If a good-sized passive heat sink is used, the power supply fan often provides enough air flow to ensure adequate cooling. In a standard AT system this is rarely the case however because the design is totally different.

Next: Heat Sink Compound / Paste

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