Friday, September 7, 2007

#23 Cleaning your heatsink

by Jeff Smith

Two weeks ago I finished up by saying that I would cover cleaning your heatsink in the following article. Well, the long and short of is is, I forgot, and did CMOS batteries instead. I was planning on writing about the BIOS today, but looking back, I found what I'd said, and I will cover heatsinks today.

What is a heatsink?
If you've ever taken a look inside your machine, you may have noticed something that is reminscent of a radiator. Usually, its square, metal, and is comprised of parallel verical fins. Most often, there is a fan attached to the top of this or the side to force air through the fins, radiating heat away from the processor, and keeping your system nice and cool. Over time, due to the airflow, dust and hair accumulate on the fins, much like the lattice on a window fan. The blockage diminishes the airflow and acts as an insulator, trapping in the heat. If left unchecked, it can get bad enough that your processor will overheat, causing your machine to reset unexpectedly, and eventually can cause your processor to overheat to the point of ruin. If you have pets, or have your machine situated in a location with lots of dust, this is bound to happen eventually.

How to clean it!
If your heatsink is not too bad off, it can be blown out using a can of compressed air. You can find these at department stores, though their locations vary from "hobby" areas, to electronics sections.
If you find that that didn't do a good enough job to suit you, you can take a toothbrush or something similar and clean out between the fins. Note that you will likely have to remove the fan for this.
If even this isn't enough to get it clean, you'll need to remove the heatsink from the processor, and wash it. Make sure to dry it thoroughly. You will also need some thermal grease to put on your processor to facilitate the heat transfer to the heatsink when you replace it on the processor. So make sure to have some handy if you plan to remove your heatsink.
Once your heatsink is clean and everything is put back, your processor will run much cooler, have less mysterious resets, and it will extend the life of your processor indefinately.

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