Over the weekend I discovered that my in-house server was running VERY hot. It’s a headless server (i.e. it doesn’t have a monitor, keyboard and mouse) which I don’t often tend to pay much mind to. It sits in the cellar head and serves my other devices around the home with various media and services, so I generally only check on it once a month or if something goes wrong.
Saturday morning however I got up to head out on the motorcycle for a few hours and noticed that the cellar head was incredibly warm compared to the rest of the house which prompted me into thinking that maybe it was time to look at the cooling on it and which is obviously what inspired this article.
In part one of this series I focused mainly on the case, this is because if there’s poor air flow inside your case, upgrading cooling on a component level won’t make much of a difference. Part two of this guide is going to cover the CPU and options available for further reducing your systems temperature.
In part one of this guide we looked at improving the airflow inside our computers case. Now that we’ve ensured we have (or upgraded to achieve) a good flow of air throughout our case we can look at further upgrades which will utilise this airflow.
The next main upgradeable cooling component you will generally have within your system is the CPU heat sink and fan (HSF). These are easily upgradable and would not invalidate a CPU manufacturer’s warranty, a motherboard manufacturer’s warranty and more specifically a CCL warranty.
Upgrading your CPU Cooler
When it comes to your CPU cooler you have many options available to you with regards to enhancing the cooling performance.
The first thing you need to find out prior to choosing your new CPU cooler is what socket your motherboard is. Due to the different types of CPU sockets we also have a wide range of cooler fitments. These are always identified by the CPU socket type which does make it a little easier when shopping for an aftermarket CPU cooler.
The second thing we need to look at is that the CPU cooler is rated for the CPU we’re going to cool. As an example; some older AMD CPU’s were 120W TDP, but there are coolers available for the same socket that only support CPU’s up to 70W TDP. So it’s always worth double checking these numbers prior to ordering your aftermarket cooler.
Once you know what ratings and fitment you’re after you then have to decide what route you want to go down to cool your CPU.
As I mentioned earlier you have lots of options available however I’m not going to cover phase change or thermoelectric cooling, as fun and exciting as they are. I’m primarily going to look at the two most common options we offer; high performance HSF and All-in-one maintenance free water cooling solutions.
Higher Performance Air Coolers
Upgrading your stock HSF for an aftermarket one can show some fantastic reductions in CPU temperature. They’re relatively easy to fit and due to their increased efficiency can often be quieter.
But what should you look for in a HSF solution?
There are (as far as I see it) 2 main types of CPU coolers we have:
Tower coolers are typically all about surface area, their general construction is usually a CPU block with heat pipes which have a large array of fins designed to provide maximum available surface area to provide optimum heat dissipation.
In addition to the tower heat sink itself you will then have a multitude of different fan arrangements. Some tower coolers have a single fan on one side such as the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo pictured above.
Other fan options such as displayed in the Cooler Master Hyper N520 above are what is commonly referred to as a Push / Pull configuration. In this type of configuration you have two fans on either side of the heat sink, one fan blowing air into the cooler and the other fan sucking it out.
There is a plethora of information online with regards to the advantages and disadvantages of such setups which if you’re interested in I would suggest perusing at your leisure.
The second and less common type of aftermarket cooler we see is generally orientated towards being low profile. Staying low profile makes these ideal for use in small form factor systems which couldn’t accommodate for a mammoth tower cooler.
Top flow designs such as the BeQuiet Shadow Rock TopFlow pictured above are as with tower coolers – all about surface area. The construction is virtually identical to a tower cooler however they’re angled directly above the CPU block itself to reduce the overall height of the cooler.
The top flow style coolers are also available with multiple fan configurations and generally conform to the standard push / pull mentioned earlier.
Again we have a range of different options from different manufacturers but the principles are generally the same. You can check out our range of CPU air coolers here.
Maintenance Free AIO Water Coolers
All-In-One (AIO) water coolers are becoming more and more popular they’re a great option for enthusiasts looking to get into water cooling and offer an all-round cooling solution that can provide lower temperatures with higher overclocks or quieter cooling at stock speeds.
Not many people realise this but the more efficient a CPU cooler is the less effort it has to put into cooling the CPU - this can often mean that it will run much quieter than a stock cooler. This isn’t always the case as some aftermarket coolers offer lower temperatures by simply fitting high speed fans which are still as noisy if not noisier than a stock cooler.
With AIO water cooling solutions you generally get the best of both worlds; incredible cooling performance at high fan speeds or virtually inaudible cooling at around stock temps - they’re just that versatile.
But where would you start? What do you need to look for? Well firstly you need to make sure your case has suitable room for either a 120mm single fan radiator or a 240mm twin fan radiator.
The Cooler Master Seidon 120m as pictured above is a 120mm radiator unit which is incredibly easy to fit. You simply fit the CPU block as you would a normal heat sink and then you connect the fan with radiator attached to a fan grille that the tubing will reach.
I generally suggest mounting it to the rear of the case as you don’t want the radiator to act as a heater matrix and warm up the air coming into your case.
If you really want to beef up the cooling on your CPU you can opt for a 240mm dual fan radiator shown above on the Cooler Master Seidon 240m. Again with this kind of configuration you have to make sure that your computers case will support the size of the radiator. You can usually mount these anywhere that lets you fit the fan, you would simply mount the fan to the case and the radiator to the fan – but always double check.
With the different AIO options available it’s always best to check benchmarks and reviews to find which one is going to best suit your application.
There are many differences in the performance of the AIO coolers based on many different things such as; radiator thickness and type, CPU block design and material, tubing size and finally pump speed.
As I mentioned earlier you can indeed dive right in to more exotic cooling methods and even build your own custom water cooled system.
Pictured above is my old i7 920 system prior to being finished which I spent countless hours hacking away at an Antec 1200 case with a cutting tool to build.
I squeezed 2 x 240mm radiators into the front which took air in through the front and expelled it out via the sides ensuring that the warm air the radiators generated was out of the case as quickly as possible thus reducing the overall ambient temperature of the system.
You can keep going on forever, optimising here and tweaking there, the sky is the limit as they say.
Hopefully this short article has given you a better understanding of the options available to you with regards to improving the cooling performance of your PC.