COPPER SHIMS UPDATED: Do you add copper shims or pennies, and do they work if they are used?

Copper Shims

COPPER SHIMS UPDATED: Do you add copper shims or pennies, and do they work if they are used?

In a previous article I had written, Do you use pennies or copper shims?, I had tried to explain in a straightforward and concise manner that copper shims do not help cool your chipsets in a proper manner as to keep it from overheating.

To get to my update one day I was speaking to a computer shop owner whom had called me to express his desire to add copper shims to his laptop repairs. I tried my best to convince him that copper shims cause issues when trying to cool the system. Between the capacitors located on the top of the chipset and overloading the motherboard electrical circuits, my warnings were let go by the way side. He stated, I can just add pennies to act as copper shims and get the chipset to cool down and my customers will be happy in the end. Now, this is where I started thinking. My father is an avid coin collector and stamp collector and is electronics professional. He has done both for many years so I decided to ask him a few questions. As I was asking him questions, he decided to ask me one which was, How much copper do you think is in a penny? This got me to thinking, Yeah, your right how much copper is in a penny? Well, the chart below explains just how much is in a penny.

1982 – 2011 Zinc Lincoln Cent Value (United States)

 

U.S. MINT SPECIFICATIONS
Denomination: $0.01
Obverse Image: U.S. President Abraham Lincoln
Reverse Image: Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Metal Composition: 97.5% zinc, 2.5% copper
Total Weight: 2.5 grams
Comments: The zinc and copper versions of the cent were both produced in 1982. They can be differentiated by weight (3.11 grams for the 1909-1982 copper cent, 2.5 grams for the 1982-2011 zinc cent).

 

Now, I had written a few forum posts on the HP Support forums stating about the copper shim danger and what it can do to your chipsets when a guy from Ontario made the comment.

Well, I agree copper shims are bad. I used a penny in a repair and it failed, that is why now I use dimes because they are made of silver.

Well, let us put the facts straight. Dimes may appear silver, but have not been made of silver since 1964. Not one grain of silver is in what is called a clad coin, or coins produced after 1964 for general circulation unless it is a Kennedy Half Dollar or Eisenhower Silver Dollar up to 1971 which are 40% silver by volume. Below is the chart showing us what is in a dime.

1965 – 2011 Roosevelt Dime Value (United States)

 

U.S. MINT SPECIFICATIONS
Denomination: $0.10
Obverse Image: Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States.
Reverse Image: Torch, oak branch, and olive branch.
Metal Composition: 91.67% copper, 8.33% nickel
Total Weight: 2.268 grams
Comments: The term ‘dime’ comes from the French word disme, meaning “tithe” or “tenth part.”

 

Now, we see that a dime is far from silver, but COPPER! Amazing, huh?  But does that make a dime a great way to be copper shims?

Both coins now have had their compositions explained so now we have to get all scientific. For developing why pennies, dimes, and copper shims do not work besides the obvious dangers, we have to refer to the basic laws of thermodynamics. You may say, The laws of thermo-what? As I explain what I mean we must reference what is called the first law of thermodynamics and it states:

The first law of thermodynamics distinguishes between two kinds of physical process, namely energy transfer as work, and energy transfer as heat. It tells how this shows the existence of a mathematical quantity called the internal energy of a system. The internal energy obeys the principle of conservation of energy but work and heat are not defined as separately conserved quantities. Equivalently, the first law of thermodynamics states that perpetual motion machines of the first kind are impossible.

In layman terms spelled out the first law states:

Matter and energy can not be created or destroyed (only converted between the two). Likewise, heat-the movement of energy from a hotter object to a cooler object-is never eliminated, but only moved elsewhere. To accomplish this, there are three primary modes of heat transfer: convection, conduction, and radiation.

By adding copper shims or pennies you have only adapted the first law of thermodynamics to amplify the mode of heat transfer by conduction since the principal is explained as:

Conduction – the transfer of heat through matter with no net displacement of the matter

Now that copper shims and pennies only operate primarily on conduction, you have to relate that certain substances and metals have a level of thermal conductivity. Thermal conductivity is explained as:

Thermal Conductivity is the amount of heat a particular substance can carry through it in a unit time. Usually expressed in W/(mK), the units represent how many Watts of heat can be conducted through a one meter thickness of said material with a one Kelvin temperature difference between the two ends.

The thermal conductivity of all substances can be rated on this scale. Human bodies, copper, water, shaving cream, a piece of bread can be weighed by this principal and scientific fact. The chart below shows how each substance conducts heat over time.

Thermodynamic Profiles in W/(mK)

 

Compounds
Diamond 1000 – 2500
Silver 429
Copper 401
Gold 318
Aluminum 237
Brass (37/15 Cu/Zn) 159
Iron, pure 80.4
Carbon Steel 54
Bronze 50
Lead 35.3
Titanium, pure 21.9
Stainless Steel 16.3
Ice (H2O @ -5°C) 1.6
Glass 1.2 – 1.4
Concrete 1.1
Rubber 0.16
Wood 0.12 – 0.04

 

Highlighted in this chart we see how copper rates on the list. As part of the principal of thermal conductivity you can see that conduction is also rated on the principal that the item must heat up aggressively. With this being said the conductor must wick heat then move it elsewhere otherwise it wicks the heat then superheats the shim then heats the chipset by way of convection causing a failure.

We also see how pennies are made of zinc, not copper, as the primary composition which rates nowhere on the chart. That can be found here:

Zinc 116

 

The idea of using pennies as copper shims will not work. Then using a dime will? No, the idea of running dimes as copper shims will work in theory except the principal of thermal conductivity says the dime will heat up to transfer the heat from the shim, but goes nowhere after that. Heating the motherboard in such a localized manner can cause the flexing, or distortion, of the PCB layers. With distortion, you get flexing and uneven heating causing unrepairable damage to the layers of the motherboard.

As a trend I see variations of the heater coil principal were homemade heat sinks are comprised of aluminum and copper layers. The idea is that the application of the principal in industrial applications can be scaled down to work properly in a electronic situation to help or assist the removal of heat. I give an A for effort, an A for logic, and a F for practicality. As technicians we have to reference back to the principal of thermodynamics and its first law then place logic that convection is the mode of transport for this energy that we are trying to displace. When we take all of that into account we find that the logic and effort will not move the mountain of practicality. Below is an example of an aluminum handmade heatsink placed on a laptop chipset by an eBay seller:

copper shims

Between the 27 single layers of aluminum foil we see and the electrical tape we have to wonder if this was actually worth the effort. I can say if it ended in my shop, I will say no.

Copper shims are by far better than non copper shims, but copper shims in the end are a complete failure as seen in the following posts:

Another eBay Seller With Copper Shims Failures

How can I tell the difference between a hot air rework and an IR reflow?

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