What are heatsinks? Why Fanless Industrial Computers Use Them?
What are heatsinks?
Heatsinks are thermal dissipaters that regulate and manage the temperature of essential computer components. They keep computers cool by pulling heat generated by the component and radiating it into the air. As computers become more advanced and drive higher performance, thermal regulation becomes a key element. Refusing to accommodate high temperature components can result in a shorter product lifespan, system failure, and eventually permanent damage to the computer.
Why is fanless design important for industrial applications?
The fanless design is significant in industrial applications because of its already hardened and ruggedized form factor. With a fully enclosed system, external conditions will not come in contact with sensitive components within. An example is the deployment of our industrial computer in a factory where corrosive elements and debris are found in the air. These corrosive particles and debris can damage the internals of the computer and eventually destroy it. However, with our fanless design, the computer can sustainably operate reliably in these harsh conditions. The fanless passive-cooling design is a pivotal feature that Edge Computers have, compared to traditional desktop computers.
Learn more about the 6 steps to build a Fanless PC
How do heatsinks cool down computers?
Heatsinks are made of conductive materials like copper and aluminum that can effectively absorb and distribute heat rapidly. Most heatsinks are fin-shaped to maximize surface area to distribute as much heat into the air as possible and are capable of ‘natural convection’. Natural convection is the passive movement of heat distribution to radiation into the air.
What are the different types of heatsinks? (Active-cooling vs passive-cooling)
Because some computer components, like GPUs generate great amounts of heat, the addition of a fan to actively cool the component is needed. Heatsinks move the heat away from these components and a fan blows the heat out of the entire system. However, passive cooling relies solely on the heatsink to disperse heat away from the components without the need of a fan. For industrial purposes, computers are built with a fanless design. The computer is fully enclosed therefore generated heat would be trapped within the system; however, C&T has designed a heatsink chassis where heat would be spread throughout the chassis of the system and dissipated to the air outside. That way any heat built within the system is properly radiated out through the heatsink chassis.
Popular critical components that require heatsinks
There are three main components on a computer that generate the most amount of heat. Without any thermal regulators incorporated onto these parts, the computer system will ultimately fail and be in-operatable.
CPU (Central Processing Unit)
CPU is the ‘brain’ of the whole computer and is where nearly all data processing takes place. When looking inside a computer, the large set of fins and copper rods that sits on the motherboard is the heatsink for the CPU. Desktop computers use active cooling to regulate the temperature of the CPU, however, industrial computers remain fanless and use passive cooling with the chassis heatsink design. It is important to note that passive cooling is only compatible with certain CPUs with set TDP (Thermal Design Power). Overclocking and CPUs with high heat loads cannot be passively cooled properly.
- C&T’s 10th Gen Intel AI Edge Inference Computer (RCO-6000-CML) is passively cooled with a finned aluminum chassis design. Copper rods are in contact with the CPU and spread across the chassis to evenly distribute heat while the aluminum radiates the heat into the air. This design serves as both a heatsink to cool the vital components within and a chassis to protect the internals from extraneous elements. This design is capable of passively cooling both 10th Gen Intel Core and Xeon W Processors.
- Passive cooling solutions for CPUs will typically look like Noctua’s NH-P1. In order to distribute and radiate heat effectively, perfectly sized and precisely spread fins are needed to optimize natural convection. The NH-P1 can handle most CPUs up to 12th Gen Intel Core and Intel Xeon E Processors.
M.2 NVMe, although miniscule in size, requires a heatsink due to the amount of data rapidly being processed and stored. Unlike the CPU, M.2 NVMe do not need a chassis sized heatsink to cool down, an aluminum finned heatsink is enough to dissipate the heat.
- M.2 NVMe can reach up to 100°C when under load. However, with a heatsink, temperatures will only reach 60°C-70°C. This dramatic decrease in temperature shows how effective heatsinks are and the importance of component cooling to ensure reliability and system integrity.
GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
GPU is a performance accelerator that enables AI inferencing and other data intensive applications to operate seamlessly for machine learning workloads . GPUs are large components and require a long arrangement of fins throughout its structure and sometimes multiple fans.
- Nvidia introduced the RTX A4000, a single-slot GPU that bring high-performance processing power, real-time data analysis, and AI-accelerated compute. With so much performance driving this GPU, a blower fan is built in to actively cool and regulate its temperature.
- Nvidia’s T4 GPU with 320 Turing Tensor Cores enable seamless AI Inferencing and Deep Machine Learning. Nvidia T4 is revolutionizing edge computing because it has a low-profile form factor, is powered through the motherboard, and most importantly is passively cooled (no longer needing a blower fan) with rows of copper fins along the whole card.