The Heat Sink:
For many, the CPU heat sink isn’t anything that they’d normally list off when describing their computer. And that’s because, for the average consumer, CPU heat sinks aren’t anything special. But for this server, I decided to buy a quality CPU heat sink to insure that my $200 quad core processor would not be subject to overheating. (Also, should I decide to overclock my CPU at any time, good cooling allows for overclocking without damaging the CPU).
There are several characteristics to consider when purchasing a heat sink, so I’ll quickly outline what I had to consider when purchasing this one.
First, and foremost, is a heat sink’s ability to cool a CPU. That’s what it’s there for, and that is what it must do well in order to be worth it. You’ll notice the copper base and heat pipes leading away from the base to the grey metal cooling fins. Copper, as any student of physics or engineering would know, is a great conductor of heat (and electricity, incidentally). The copper portion of this heat sink allows it to quickly and effectively move heat generated by the CPU (resistance to electrical current in the processor is what generates heat, kinda like the resistance that causes the wires in a toaster to heat up).
So copper is good (and unfortunately expensive). The other part that determines how well a heat sink can do its job is how effectively the CPU heat sink fan can transfer heat from the cooling fins to the surrounding air. The greater the surface area of the cooling fins, the faster the heat transfer. Similarly, the faster the air is moving past the cooling fins, the faster the heat transfer. Theoretically, you could have a tiny heat sink with a small set of cooling fins, as long as the fan was moving a sufficiently fast stream of air. The problem with such a setup would be the noise associated with a fast-spinning fan.
The better alternative (as evidenced by the heat sink I purchased) is to have a large heat sink with lots of surface area on the cooling fins (i.e. a big set of cooling fans). This allows for a large fan to spin at relatively low speeds. Why is that a good thing? Because it’s quiet. And for a server, you don’t want to listen to the whine of a fan 24/7. I had to literally open my case and stick my ear to within a few inches of the spinning fan to hear the whisper of the fan in operation.
Although it is hard to judge by the picture above, this heat sink is BIG. I have several other heat sinks on my other computers and none of them (with the exception of one in my main rig) is this big. Size really isn’t a factor to worry about unless your case won’t accommodate it (mine did just fine), or if you’re going to be hauling your computer to LAN parties and don’t want a heavy heat sink to carry around.
Given the utilization of this heat sink in my server, cooling efficiency and low noise are the priorities. And this heat sink does both very well. After installing Windows Server 2008 on my new server, I ran SpeedFan (a nifty little tool to monitor temperatures and fan speeds) and saw my processor sitting at a delightfully cool 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). In other words, the processor never exceeded normal human body temperature. Considering that most processors are considered to be operating under optimal conditions when under 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), that’s impressive. Under load (meaning that the processor cores were maxed out at 100% utilization), the temperature never exceeded 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).
So, I think I can consider the purchase of this Typhoon heat sink to be a good choice. It matches my requirements for cooling efficiency and low noise. The only maintenance I should ever have to perform on it is to blow out the dust it will inevitably collect over the years. In my next post in this series, I’ll talk about: the motherboard . . .