Finding a solution
Next, we used 6SigmaET’s thermal simulation platform to add a heat sink onto the model. With a heat sink at ambient temperature and without a case, our simulation showed that the processor would operate at 80ºC – almost 30ºC cooler than without the heat sink. This also means the Raspberry Pi would be able to operate for at least short periods of time at full load up to 55ºC ambient temperature.
Even inside a plastic case, the Cortex processor still operates at only 92ºC following the addition of a heat sink, much lower than the 123ºC we saw before it was added. Interestingly this was even more effective than the inclusion of a fan.
According to the simulation, when a 5V fan was added to the case, the result was only a reduction in heat of around 4ºC – meaning that the Raspberry Pi still couldn’t be used at high temperatures when running at full load. The same was true of adding additional ventilation for the case, something which again only reduced the overall temperature by a few degrees.
Keeping it cool
As the above tests suggest, Reddit users are correct in thinking that the Pi 3 has a bit of an overheating problem – especially when being used at full CPU load. In terms of dealing with this issue a heat sink is clearly the optimal route, providing far better cooling than the more complex option of adding a fan or allowing for additional ventilation within your Pi case.
While this is good news for Pi users looking for a quick and easy solution to their thermal issues, in the long term the underlying reasons behind such thermal complications are far more difficult to overcome. As everyday electronics devices become smaller yet ever more powerful, the increase in processing power will almost always result in an increase in operating power and ultimately, a greater need for thermal considerations. This is a concern that is unlikely to go away, leaving designers with little choice but to factor more thermal consideration into their designs, from the very outset.
About the author:
Tom Gregory is Product Manager at 6SigmaET - www.6sigmaet.info