Copper vs. Aluminum Heatsinks: What You Need to Know

by | Gabrian Blog, Heat Sinks

Electronic devices can generate a lot of heat. So, heatsinks play an important role in helping to cool them.

You may be aware that aluminum is the most popular metal for heatsinks, but that copper is also sometimes used. You may also realize that copper has better heat conductivity.

So it’s natural to wonder, “If copper has better heat conductivity, why is aluminum so much more common?”

Let’s look at a few different factors that come into play here.

Copper vs. Aluminum Heatsinks: Let’s Compare

Take a look at the following tables. In them, you can see the three main factors that might influence the decision to use aluminum over copper for heatsinks.

Aluminum vs. Copper: Heat Conductivity

As you can see in this table, copper is more conductive than aluminum. In fact, aluminum only has 60% of the thermal conductivity that copper does. That’s one point for copper.

MetalThermal Conductivity [BTU/(hr·ft⋅°F)]

(Source: Engineer’s Edge)

Aluminum vs. Copper: Weight

If you look at the density of the two metals, you’ll notice that aluminum has only about 30% of the density of copper. That means significant weight savings. One point for aluminum!

MetalDensity - ρ - (kg/m3)

(Source: The Engineering Toolbox)

Aluminum vs. Copper: Cost

Take a look at this third table and you’ll see that aluminum is much cheaper than copper. In fact, it comes in at about one-third the cost. That is a significant cost savings. One more point for aluminum.

MetalPrice in USD per Metric Ton (20 April, 2018)

(Source: London Metals Exchange)

Aluminum is Popular for a Reason, But Copper Has Its Place

As you can see, cost and weight savings are key factors in the popularity of aluminum for heatsinks.

Copper heatsinks are available on the market. They can be used in instances where higher heat conductivity outweighs the available weight savings.

Also, significant cost savings can be had by producing heatsinks through aluminum extrusion. Most heatsinks are produced this way.

Die casting and CNC machining can achieve more complex geometries. But, extruded aluminum heatsinks can meet the needs of most projects. If you’d like to learn more about our aluminum extrusion capabilities, visit our extruded aluminum heatsinks page.

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