Heatsinks are a common component used in modern-day computers. Whether you own a desktop or laptop computer, it probably has a heatsink. Some computers, in fact, have multiple heatsinks. Because they are located on the motherboard, though, you typically won’t see heatsinks — not unless you open up the case. To learn more about heatsinks and why they are such an important component for computers, keep reading.

Overview of Heatsinks

A heatsink is a small metal component that’s designed to absorb heat from an adjacent or underlying component. Most computers have a Central Processing Unit (CPU) and a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). The CPU is responsible for performing a variety of processing tasks, whereas the GPU is responsible for performing image- and video-related processing tasks.

Both the CPU and GPU produce heat during operation. As these components heat up, the risk of failure increases. A CPU or GPU may become so hot that it melts the component’s respective circuitry. Therefore, computer manufacturers use heatsinks to keep them cool.

How Heatsinks Work

Heatsinks work by absorbing heat from the CPU or GPU to which they are attached. If you open your computer’s case and inspect the CPU or GPU, you should see a square- or rectangular-shaped metal component over it. This is the heatsink, and it’s responsible for drawing heat away from the CPU or GPU.

Most heatsinks consist of fins resembling that of a radiator. As the CPU or GPU warms up, heat will transfer to these fins where it’s released using a fan. A fan is attached over the heatsink to circulate air. The fan runs in reverse, meaning it draws the hot air away from the CPU or GPU. There’s usually another fan located on the motherboard that further pushes the hot air out of the computer case.

Are Heatsinks Really Necessary?

In most cases, heatsinks are an essential component that’s required for a healthy and functional computer. Without a heatsink, a CPU’s or GPU’s temperature may rise to dangerous levels.

Some people assume that heatsinks are only necessary if you plan on overclocking your CPU or GPU. Overclocking does, in fact, increase the amount of heat a CPU or GPU produces. Nonetheless, both CPUs and GPUs can produce enough heat to cause internal damage during normal operation, regardless of whether they are overclocked. A heatsink solves this problem by drawing heat away from the CPU or GPU so that it can safely be released out of the computer case.