A heatsink socket is the type of processor socket build to which a heatsink is compatible. Small, rectangular, and generally equipped with a tiny metal lever, a socket is an electronic part that is installed into a motherboard to act as a locking seat for the processor. The heatsink socket is matched with the type of processor used in the computer motherboard. Used to cool the main computer processing unit (CPU), the heatsink is a mostly metal assembly designed to move heat away from the CPU.
Most heatsinks have a fan to move hot air away from the heatsink. These types of heatsinks are called active heatsinks. A heatsink with no fan relies entirely on moving heat from the CPU by contact with the CPU. When a heatsink works with no fan to move the air, it is called a passive heatsink.
Because a passive heatsink has no fan, it is generally significantly larger than an active heatsink and may not fit in some computer cases. They also tend to be heavy enough to damage other hardware, so some passive heatsinks require a special type of heatsink bracket to brace the motherboard for the weight of the larger chunk of metal. On the plus side, an active heatsink is usually nearly silent, a feature that can be beneficial for computer users who rely on a consistently quiet studio atmosphere.
Each processor is compatible with a certain type of socket, and is not interchangeable with other sockets. The easiest way to identify a processor socket to ensure that it is compatible with the heatsink socket is to visit the manufacturer's website, which should contain information about the socket for each model of processor they produce. Because the processor is seated in the motherboard, the heatsink attached to the processor is sometimes erroneously referred to as a motherboard heatsink.
The placement of a heatsink socket within a computer case can have a great deal of effect on heatsink options for a computer. A heatsink socket positioned near other hardware creates limited space for a heatsink and will probably require the use of a low profile heatsink to cool the CPU. When designing a custom computer case layout, computer technicians often opt for an arrangement that allows for maximum heatsink space. Giving the inside of a case extra space for air flow and a larger heatsink leaves a computer user with more options to upgrade cooling hardware.