One of the universal truths about the newest, fastest processor chips from Intel and AMD is that these babies run hot.

It used to be that only those who were overclocking their CPUs had to worry about frying their processors, but if you have to run a new machine 24 hours a day or in a location that can’t be cooled sufficiently, then you could save yourself some trouble in the future by finding a way to cool down your CPU.

The cheapest way to lower that processor’s heat is twofold:

  • Upgrade your OEM heat sink and fan with something better.
  • Use a high-quality grease between the heat sink and CPU.

Upgrade now to boost your speed and stability
The overclockers have led the charge in cooling CPUs because they know that the cooler the CPU is, the faster and more stable the processor will perform.

These folks will go to extremes, embracing such devices as peltiers (a thin, bithermal electrically charged heat sink) and water coolers. You can read more about the dangers that overclockers risk at CNET.

If you have to place a computer in a warm environment, then you might not want to depend upon an OEM heat sink and fan that are designed to operate in a cooler environment. Of course, there are numerous upgrades available.

For less than $25, you can find a heat sink/fan combination with an aluminum heat sink and high RPM fan with ball-bearing construction that can drop the temperature around the CPU 10 to 15 degrees.

Of course, the overclockers will spend two or three times that price for copper or silver heat sinks to get an equivalent drop in temperature for their red-hot chips. But you probably won’t need that much heat conductivity.

Looking at the plethora of reviews on CPU fans and heat sinks on the Internet, one rule seems to be repeated time and again: The more powerful the fan, the louder it is likely to be. This may not be an issue for certain locations, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

Among the heat sink/fan combinations that received the most favorable reviews were products offered by GlobalWIN and Swiftech, but there are so many manufacturers out there that you may wish to visit a number of manufacturer sites to check the specs out yourself.

A few points to remember are:

  • Silver and copper are the best metals for the heat sink when it comes to heat conductivity, but you will pay a premium in price and weight for these metals.
  • Steel and lead are the least conductive metals.
  • Aluminum is about half as conductive as the best conductors, but compared to steel, it is about three to four times more conductive.

The worst conductor is the air in there
Having a decent heat sink and fan combination won’t do you much good if you don’t get a good connection between the surfaces of the heat sink and the processor.

The worst conductor of heat at this connection is likely to be the air between the small spaces where the two surfaces face each other but don’t touch.

To get around this microscopic flaw in the heat-transfer paradigm you are constructing, the use of some sort of thermal, usually silicone-based, paste will eliminate these pockets of air.

Some of the heat sinks you can buy will come with a packet of grease or some grease already applied to the bottom of the heat sink.

Like the generic processor fans that come with the computer in the first place, if you have a hot-processor problem, take the extra step and spend a few bucks on the paste to get the most out of your new heat sink and fan.

You can spend as little as a dollar for thermal paste, and while it might function better than if you had no paste on the heat sink surface at all, for less than $10 you can actually have a paste that is so conductive that it will help lower the CPU temperature another five degrees or so.

One brand that was favorably mentioned repeatedly in our research on overclocking and temperature reduction was Arctic Silver II. The manufacturer claims that the paste contains 78 to 82 percent silver in its silicone base.

Another paste that was often favorably mentioned as well in our online research was CircuitWorks Silver Conductive Grease.

Are your CPUs getting hot?

Do you have to place computers in places that are not adequately cooled? Do they eventually cause problems that can be attributed to an overheating CPU? What would justify replacing a manufacturer’s CPU heat sink and fan? Tell us what you think in the discussion below or send us a note.