Active heat sinks utilize the power supply and are usually a fan type or some other peltier cooling device. If you are looking to purchase an active heat sink, we recommend purchasing fans with ball-bearing motors that often last much longer than sleeve bearings. Sometimes these types of heat sinks are referred to as an HSF, which is short for heat sink and fan.
Passive heat sinks are 100% reliable, as they have no mechanical components. Passive heat sinks are made of an aluminum-finned radiator that dissipates heat through convection. For passive heat sinks to work to their full capacity, there should be a steady airflow moving across the fins. The above picture is an example of a heat sink that is both active and passive.
Heatspreaders are another name for heat sinks and commonly used to describe the covers on computer memory that help dissipate the heat produced by the memory.
What devices in a computer use a heat sink?
Any component that generates an excessive amount of heat uses a heat sink to help keep the component and the computer cooler. The components that generate the most heat is the processor (CPU) and the GPU in your computer. Other components that may have a heat sink include the north bridge, south bridge, and the memory. It is also not uncommon to also find fans to help cool other expansion cards and hard drives in the computer.