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How to Install a CPU and Heatsink

The most critical part of building your own computer is knowing how to install a CPU and how to install a heatsink. The CPU is the brain of your computer and is the most delicate part. It’s easy to damage, although most CPUs are designed so that they’re nearly impossible to install incorrectly.

Installing a CPU is one of the most important steps in building a PC

The heatsink cools the CPU and keeps it from frying. Heatsinks are fastened to the top of the CPU and sometimes come with an additional substance called “thermal paste.” This is a thin gel that adds an additional layer of cooling. Let’s look at the basic steps for installing the CPU and heatsink.

1. Locate the Processor Socket

Before you can install a CPU you should find the processor socket on the motherboard. This is the square socket with numerous pinholes in it. Lift the lever to the side of this socket so that you can install a CPU into it.

Look closely at the pin pattern on your CPU socket. Notice that there is a diagonal corner where it appears some pinholes are missing. It might appear as a triangular pattern. This is there to help you properly align the CPU to the CPU socket. Carefully grab the CPU by the sides and turn it over to examine the pins at the bottom.

Compare the alignment of your pins with the pattern on your socket and you’ll see that there is only one correct pattern for alignment. Again, it’s virtually impossible to install the CPU incorrectly unless you force it. Make sure that you have the CPU and socket aligned correctly before proceeding onto the next step.

2. Mount the CPU

Once you are sure that the CPU pins and socket pins holes are matched up correctly, you can insert the CPU into the socket. Again, be sure to use that diagonal pin pattern as your guide.

You might meet some resistance as you are pressing down. This is a delicate procedure – and if you’ve never before learned how to install a CPU, you might think you are doing it incorrectly. However, learning how to install computer components takes practice. The resistance is normal. Again, the socket design and CPU pin patterns are designed to match perfectly.

Press down past the resistance point and then the CPU will slide smoothly into the socket. The CPU may make a snapping sound as it slips into the socket. When you’re sure it’s complete, lower the lever at the side of the socket to lock the CPU into the socket.

Check to see if your particular brand of CPU or cooling solution came with a protection plate. If it did, place it above the CPU as explained in your documentation.

3. Apply the Thermal Compound

Next comes the thermal compound. Some people choose to avoid this step altogether, while others who teach on how to install a heatsink swear by it.

Generally a properly designed heatsink will ensure that you may not need a thermal compound. However it doesn’t hurt to be too safe, especially with CPU processor speeds increasing and generating more and more heat. Thermal paste can usually shave off a few extra degrees of hot temperature off of your CPU.

Apply the thermal paste to the areas of the CPU that will make contact with the CPU. Begin by applying a little bit of the gel to the center of the CPU and then gently spreading outward. Don’t apply too much of thermal compound. A little dab will do you. Be sure to spread an even, thin layer of the gel to ensure that there is complete coverage over your CPU.

4. Install the Heatsink

Now we learn how to install a heatsink. This is a very crucial step. If the heatsink is not installed properly it might come loose. Your CPU will overheat and be toast in no time.

Before we explain how to install a heatsink, check to see if your heatsink has a fan separate from the unit. If it does, you’ll need to attach the fan to the heatsink first before attaching the heatsink to the CPU.

When you’re ready, mount the heatsink over your CPU according to the specifications for your manufacturer. The directions will vary. Some heatsinks are installed by requiring you to clamp down on them with levers and attaching them to metal hooks on the motherboard. With other heatsinks you may have to screw the whole unit into the motherboard.

Whatever the procedure, follow it closely and be very careful. If you need to use a screwdriver to install the heatsink you could very easily slip and damage your system components.

5. Install the Heatsink Fan Header and Configure BIOS

The final step in learning how to install a heatsink involves connecting the power leads from the heatsink to their proper headers on the motherboard.

Locate the header for the CPU fan on the motherboard. Then plug the power cable from the heatsink into the fan header on the motherboard. There will be more than one header on the motherboard, so be sure that you pick the right one. Choose the wrong one and your computer might get a power surge that will fry the processor.

Check the documentation that came with your motherboard to properly locate the correct header. Once installed, be sure that it is securely in place.

Afterwards, assuming that the rest of your computer has been installed properly, you can configure the BIOS. The BIOS will need to detect the type and speed of the computer processor that has been installed. Again, the exact procedure will vary depending on the manufacturer; check the documentation that came with your motherboard.


Learning how to install computer components like a CPU and heatsink might seem like a daunting task to someone who’s never done it. However, it’s not as hard as you think. CPUs and heatsinks being made today were designed to fitly snug together with a minimum of fuss.

You don’t need much in the way of mechanical skill and about the only tool you will need is a screwdriver. Yet this is by far the most delicate operation you will perform on your computer. Once you pass this hurdle, everything else will be a breeze.

How Does the CPU Cache Work?

The cache on your CPU has become a very important part of today’s computing. The cache is a very high speed and very expensive piece of memory, which is used to speed up the memory retrieval process. Due to its expensive CPU’s come with a relatively small amount of cache compared with the main system memory. Budget CPU’s have even less cache, this is the main way that the top processor manufacturers take the cost out of their budget CPU’s.

How does the CPU Cache work?

Without the cache memory every time the CPU requested data it would send a request to the main memory which would then be sent back across the memory bus to the CPU. This is a slow process in computing terms. The idea of the cache is that this extremely fast memory would store and data that is frequently accessed and also if possible the data that is around it. This is to achieve the quickest possible response time to the CPU. Its based on playing the percentages. If a certain piece of data has been requested 5 times before, its likely that this specific piece of data will be required again and so is stored in the cache memory.

Lets take a library as an example o how caching works. Imagine a large library but with only one librarian (the standard one CPU setup). The first person comes into the library and asks for Lord of the Rings. The librarian goes off follows the path to the bookshelves (Memory Bus) retrieves the book and gives it to the person. The book is returned to the library once its finished with. Now without cache the book would be returned to the shelf. When the next person arrives and asks for Lord of the Rings, the same process happens and takes the same amount of time.

If this library had a cache system then once the book was returned it would have been put on a shelf at the librarians desk. This way once the second person comes in and asks for Lord of the Rings, the librarian only has to reach down to the shelf and retrieve the book. This significantly reduces the time it takes to retrieve the book. Back to computing this is the same idea, the data in the cache is retrieved much quicker. The computer uses its logic to determine which data is the most frequently accessed and keeps them books on the shelf so to speak.

That is a one level cache system which is used in most hard drives and other components. CPU’s however use a 2 level cache system. The principles are the same. The level 1 cache is the fastest and smallest memory, level 2 cache is larger and slightly slower but still smaller and faster than the main memory. Going back to the library, when Lord of the Rings is returned this time it will be stored on the shelf. This time the library gets busy and lots of other books are returned and the shelf soon fills up. Lord of the Rings hasn’t been taken out for a while and so gets taken off the shelf and put into a bookcase behind the desk. The bookcase is still closer than the rest of the library and still quick to get to. Now when the next person come in asking for Lord of the Rings, the librarian will firstly look on the shelf and see that the book isn’t there. They will then proceed to the bookcase to see if the book is in there. This is the same for CPU’s. They check the L1 cache first and then check the L2 cache for the data they require.

Is more Cache always better?

The answer is mostly yes but certainly not always. The main problem with having too much cache memory is that the CPU will always check the cache memory before the main system memory. Looking at our library again as an example. If 20 different people come into the library all after different books that haven’t been taken out in quite a while but the library has been busy before and so the shelf and the bookcase are both full we have a problem. Each time a person asks for a book the librarian will check the shelf and then check the bookcase before realising that the book has to be in the main library. The librarian each time then trots off to get the book from the library. If this library had a non cache system it would actually be quicker in this instance because the librarian would go straight to the book in the main library instead of checking the shelf and the bookcase.

As the fact that non cache systems only work in certain circumstances and so in certain applications CPU’s are definitely better with a decent amount of cache. Applications such as MPEG encoders are not good cache users because they have a constant stream of completely different data.

Does cache only store frequently accessed data?

If the cache memory has space it will store data that is close to that of the frequently accessed data. Looking back again to our library. If the first person of the day comes into the library and takes out Lord of the Rings, the intelligent librarian may well place Lord of the Rings part II on the shelf. In this case when the person brings back the book, there is a good chance that they will ask for Lord of the Rings part II. As this will happen more times than not. It was well worth the Librarian going to fetch the second part of the book in case it was required.

Cache Hit and Cache Miss

Cache hit and cache miss are just simple terms for the accuracy of what goes into the CPU’s cache. If the CPU accesses its cache looking for data it will either find it or it wont. If the CPU finds what’s its after that’s called a cache hit. If it has to go to main memory to find it then that is called a cache miss. The percentage of hits from the overall cache requests is called the hit rate. You will be wanting to get this as high as possible for best performance.