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The fan on my heat-sink died and I need to know how to tell what type of heat-sink it is, if there's anything beyond thermal gel that I should think about?

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Please note that shopping recommendations are off-topic, as stated by the FAQ: Is it not about a shopping or buying recommendation. If you want your question to stay open, then please correct your question so it asks how to decide and not what to buy: An in-depth explanation‌​. –  Tom Wijsman Apr 4 '11 at 0:19
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+1 @Tom Wijsman: Thanks for the link to the blog post by Jeff, that was a huge help. I've edited the question, not so much to get it opened, but just to clean up the question. If you have any additional feedback that'd be great. Cheers! –  blunders Apr 4 '11 at 12:09
    
@Tom Wijsman: Thanks for the edits! –  blunders Apr 6 '11 at 12:03

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The fan/heatsink combo is normally designed to fit a certain type of processor architecture. For example, an Athlon 64 processor may fit a Socket AM2 motherboard, and thus you would need a fan/heatsink combo that is compatible with a Socket AM2 motherboard. Also, sometimes the socket/slot type is printed on the motherboard.

Most fans are specially made for a certain heatsink, but it not always the case. As such (and as prices for fan/heatsink combos are relatively cheap) it is best to look for a new fan/heatsink combo.

Be wary of branded PC's and replacement fan/heatsinks. Sometimes the new features of a fan/heatsink will not work with a branded PC. I recently had an HP PC that had hardcoded the fan speed minimum into the BIOS--when I tried a new fan/heatsink that didn't need to run as fast the BIOS thought the fan was broken and shut down the PC. If it's a branded PC I'd get the part number from the Manufacturer and start there.

On that same note, custom PCs are designed to be compatible with a plethora of fan/heatsink combos.

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+1 @Theo: Thanks, finally got to replacing it last night -- it was easy enough. The thermal grease cost more than the fan/heatsink combo; which I didn't know were combo until now. Another thing was that I final got a used some compressed air on the internals of the box, which made a big difference in getting the dust out; before I was only using a vac. Do you have an opinion on thermal grease and/or removing old thermal pads? Cheers! –  blunders Apr 6 '11 at 12:01
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I do. I consider it necessary. Granted I could mention the properties of silver alloys and how heat dissipation in certain parts of the alloys has a half-life, but there's a better reason...it's cheap! They sell a 2-part remover/primer for chips that works wonders. –  Theo Apr 6 '11 at 12:25

Any heatsink and fan that fits a "Socket A" - the higher spec the better.

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