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A heat sink is a passive heat exchanger that transfers the heat generated by an electronic or a mechanical device to a fluid medium, often air or a liquid coolant, where it is dissipated away from the device, thereby allowing regulation of the device's temperature at optimal levels. In computers, heat sinks are used to cool central processing units or graphics processors. Heat sinks are used with high-power semiconductor devices such as power transistors and optoelectronics such as lasers and light emitting diodes (LEDs), where the heat dissipation ability of the component itself is insufficient to moderate its temperature.
A heat sink is designed to maximize its surface area in contact with the cooling medium surrounding it, such as the air. Air velocity, choice of material, protrusion design and surface treatment are factors that affect the performance of a heat sink. Heat sink attachment methods and thermal interface materials also affect the die temperature of the integrated circuit. Thermal adhesive or thermal grease improve the heat sink's performance by filling air gaps between the heat sink and the heat spreader on the device. A heat sink is usually made out of copper and/or aluminium. Copper is used because it has many desirable properties for thermally efficient and durable heat exchangers. First and foremost, copper is an excellent conductor of heat. This means that copper's high thermal conductivity allows heat to pass through it quickly. Aluminum is used in applications where weight is a big concern.