Heat sinks are a type of thermal conductor (or heat exchanger) that absorb and dissipate the heat created by electronic and mechanical devices. Heat sinks use convection, conduction or radiation to disperse heat. Discover more in our comprehensive heatsinks guide.
Heat sinks are made from metal and typically constructed from copper or aluminium. Copper is an excellent thermal conductor, helping to draw heat away from the device that you are trying to cool. Although aluminium doesn't conduct heat as well as copper, it is less expensive and lighter than copper. The heat will normally rise through a number of metal fins. Fin designs are used as they provide a greater surface area for the heat to spread across and dissipate.
Heat sinks prevent devices from overheating and are particularly important in protecting electronics such as CPUs. Components subject to too much heat can become irreparably damaged. In the most severe cases overheating components can result in fires, explosions and injury.
Heat sinks can be used to cool a large number of devices. For example, CPUs, LEDs, ICs and modules.
Heat sinks are a piece of metal that conducts heat away from components. Fans forcibly move warm air away from components.
A wide variety of heat sinks are available. Passive heat sinks refer to those without a fan, while the term 'active heat sinks' refer to those with an integrated fan. You may also come across the term HSF which means a heat sink with a fan. Some heat sinks can also be combined with a liquid cooling solution to move heat away from devices. Heat sinks are also frequently spelt as 'heatsinks'.