Active heat sinks utilize power and are usually a fan type or some other peltier cooling device. If you are looking to purchase an active heat sink, it is recommended that you purchase fans with ball-bearing motors that often last much longer than sleeve bearings. Sometimes these types of heat sinks are referred to as a 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, it is recommended that there is a steady air flow 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 helps dissipate the heat produced by the memory.
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