Up until recently, major cooling devices were for people who were interested in over-clocking their machines so that they could squeeze every last ounce of performance from their computers. As chip manufacturers push their hardware to achieve greater speeds, the components require more energy to run. The end result is that the hardware puts out more heat than ever before.

Why does temperature make a difference?
To put it in the very simplest terms, a computer works based on the movement of electronic impulses. When the computer chip gets warmer, it causes those impulses to travel more slowly. This can result in the electronic impulses not arriving when they are supposed to, causing the computer to compute numbers incorrectly, such as 1+1=0. This can eventually cause the computer to crash. With the newest processors and video cards, proper cooling has become essential for keeping a computer stable.

Using tools to keep your CPU cool
The best way to deal with heat is to use heat sinks and fans on the most essential component in the computer that must remain cool—the CPU. Although most retail CPUs, such as Intel and AMD, come with their own heat sinks and fans, they can be ineffective depending on the environment in which they are used. It is also important to note that if you are assembling systems using an OEM processor, chances are that the CPU didn’t come with its own heat sink and fan. If that is the case, then here are a few of my favorite heat sink/fan combo manufacturers:

  • Computer Nerd USA (http://www.computernerd.com)
    You may note that some of Computer Nerd’s products can be more expensive than the competition. However, the extra expense is worth every penny. This is especially true in a situation where stability is essential. I use their products in all of my personal computers and have had great luck.
  • Cooler Guys (http://www.coolerguys.com)
    Cooler Guys has a good selection of heat sink/fan combos. You can find products manufactured by Alpha and Global, which are some of the best cooling solutions available to date.

There is another solution for cooling called peltier coolers. These are used in combination with a heat sink/fan combo. These devices use electronic current to move heat from one side of a pad to another, thus causing one side to be hot and the other to be cool. Unfortunately, using this method requires quite a bit of energy, and it brings another problem into the equation—condensation. If you think heat and silicon don’t mix, you should try adding water if you like living dangerously. Note that this is not advised, of course. You should be able to find peltier coolers at the two Web sites mentioned above.

Case cooling
If all the air inside the computer case is just as hot as the processor itself, then the heat sink and fan will do little good—blowing hot air onto the processor to keep it cool just doesn’t work. If this is the situation, odds are you may need something to cool your case in addition to the processor. Most cases come standard with two fans—one in the front that brings in cool air from outside the case, and the other fan that is attached to the power supply, which blows hot air out of the case. In most situations, this cooling method is sufficient. However, adding an additional case fan to help move the air out of the computer wouldn’t hurt. Most computers have a mounting point in the back of the case for an additional exhaust fan.

Also, some cases have the fans in the front, but there are no holes for air to pass through. If you have a plastic front panel, it can sometimes help the air flow to drill a few holes in the front to allow air to pass through. It is advised to only do this while the machine is off, of course.

If these are not adequate, a company called Zerus makes a complete line of case cooling solutions. They have drive bay coolers, hard drive coolers, central system coolers, and even a monitor cooler. I installed their Twin Turbo drive bay fan system in my computer and noticed a slight difference. I would like to note, however, that I did not experience the 30 degree C temperature drop that was advertised on their Web site as of the time that this article was published, but the noticeable difference I did experience does help in the overall stability of my computer.

Other components
Processors are not the only components in the computer that need cooling. Other chips, such as some newer motherboard chipsets and fast 3D video cards, require their own cooling as well. Fortunately, unless you’re trying to over-clock those chipsets, the heat sinks and/or fans that come with them are usually more than sufficient for keeping them running at an optimal temperature, provided that they are operating correctly.

Kyle Harmon is a frequent contributor to TechRepublic. He co-owns and operates a web hosting company, UCANweb.com.

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