How to install heat sinks on a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ ?


When I bought my first Raspberry Pi 3 B + kit, it came with two heat sinks. There was no explanation on how to install them. I didn’t know what to do with it.
I knew it was probably one on the CPU, but I was not sure for the second one.

Where to install heat sinks on a Raspberry Pi?
Heat sinks should be installed at least on the two main components of the Raspberry Pi: the CPU and the LAN Chip.
Some kits also provide a heat sink to put on the back of the Raspberry Pi
.

And now let me tell you more about this topic following these 4 simple questions :

  • Which are the components of Raspberry Pi that give off heat?
  • Why do you need a heatsink (or not)?
  • How to install heatsinks?
  • How to monitor the CPU temperature of the Raspberry Pi?

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Components location on a Raspberry Pi 3B+

x
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I need to be sure that you’ll understand the rest of the article and that we are talking about the same thing.
So, we will start to see where the components are located on a Raspberry Pi 3B+.

The Raspberry Pi is designed with these primary components:
– Processor
– Memory
– Wireless card for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
– Network Card
– USB ports
– HDMI output
– Audio output
– SD card slot
– Micro USB connector
– GPIO Pins

You will see each component’s location in the following image:

A thermal camera makes it possible to highlight the points where the heat is the highest (Red being the highest temperature and blue the lowest).
If we take a picture of a Raspberry Pi running, it looks like this:

Using this photo, we understand very well the two areas where heat sinks will be the most useful to protect the Raspberry:

  • The processor, in the center of the raspberry, which is the most visible.
  • The LAN chip, on the right, which also produces a lot of heat.

Are the heat skins needed?

In most cases, heat sinks are not essential.

Indeed, the Raspberry Pi, when used for basic usage, does not generate a lot of heat and the components don’t risk anything without the heat sink.
The basic version of the Raspberry Pi is also delivered without a heat sink, which proves that the manufacturer did not consider it essential.
The Raspberry Pi was designed to work in a small box without heat sinks, so don’t worry about that.

If they were provided with your pack when you bought your Raspberry, I recommend you to install them anyway.
It will have more thermal protection. Anyway, a pack of heat sink is very inexpensive if you want to try them (check the price on Amazon).

It will take you 5 minutes and you will be more confident in the future if you use your Raspberry Pi more intensely.

If you start using your Raspberry Pi in a more sustained way, for example by using it as a very loaded server or by overclocking it, it will be necessary to monitor the temperature of your Raspberry Pi closely.

I will give you some tips at the end of this article on how to be sure that your Raspberry Pi is running in the expected temperatures.
In some cases, you will even need to add a fan to ensure that the CPU is cooled properly.

Nowadays, I rarely use heat sinks anymore, I prefer to use passive cases. I have review a bunch of them on this website if you want to give it a try:

Heat sink installation

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, we must install heat sinks on two components:
– the processor, which is in the center of the board.
– the network chip, which is close to USB ports.

Here are the two places where we have to put our heatsinks :

The bigger heat sink will go to the CPU in the center and the other to the LAN chip.
The orientation of the heat sink does not matter, try to center it on the CPU so that the heat can smoothly flow over the entire surface.

To install the first heat sink follow these simple steps:

  1. Take the first heat sink (the larger of the two).
  2. Peel off the adhesive pad underneath.
  3. Place it on the processor (1).
  4. Press lightly to make sure it is properly attached.

Repeat the same steps with the second heat sink, sticking it this time on the network chip (2).

You can take the Raspberry Pi in your hands and slightly tighten the heat sinks between thumb and index to complete the operation.

Once the set up is complete, it should look something like this:

And that’s it. It’s not complicated once you know where to install them.

Monitor your CPU temperature

To go further on this topic, we will see how to check the temperature of your processor to ensure that it stays in the recommended range.

What is the maximum safe temperature?

The lower the CPU temperature is, the more efficient it will be.
The Raspberry Pi will start to run slower over 85 °C, and it is not recommended going higher because you risk CPU damage.

So we will see how to know the temperature of the CPU at any time to ensure that it is well below this limit.

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How to get the current CPU temperature?

On Desktop :

If you are on the Raspberry desktop, you can add the current temperature in your taskbar by following these steps:

  • Right-click on the taskbar.
  • Then Add/Remove Panel Items.
  • Click on the Add button in the right menu.
  • Choose Temperature monitor in the list.
  • Then Add.

The top bar will now display the current temperature of your CPU
You can also customize items order, add space between elements.

With command line :

It is possible to know the temperature of the CPU if you are connected using ssh or if you want to use it in a script.

There is a command for this:
/opt/vc/bin/vcgencmd measure_temp

This command will return the current temperature of the CPU in Celsius, for example :
/opt/vc/bin/vcgencmd measure_temp temp=61.2'C

A bit lost in the Linux command line? Check this article first, which will give you the most important commands to remember, and a free cheat sheet you can download to have the commands at your fingertips.

And if the temperature is too high?

If despite the installation of heat sinks, the temperature of the CPU is still too high, you will have to find a way to improve its cooling.

For example, by following these few ideas:

  • Make sure the environment does not make the situation worse (if you put your raspberry under direct sunlight or near a radiator, it will not help).
  • Check for dust that clogs the components.
  • Think about investing in more suitable equipment :
    • More massive heat sinks
    • Better-ventilated case
    • Fans
    • Water cooling stuff

You will find the products I use on the resources page.

Conclusion :

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Now you know why and how to install your heat sinks and also how to monitor the temperature of your Raspberry Pi to avoid overheating.
You are ready to start creating amazing projects with your Raspberry Pi cooled correctly 🙂

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Patrick Fromaget

I'm the lead author and owner of RaspberryTips.com. My goal is to help you with your Raspberry Pi problems using detailed guides and tutorials. In real life, I'm a Linux system administrator with a web developer experience.

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