When you purchase an Intel desktop processor from a retail store, it comes in a box that contains the processor, a heatsink/fan component -- also called an HSF -- and a spare packet of Intel’s thermal compound. Intel also sells its processors wholesale to resellers and to original equipment manufacturers, who use the processors as components of other products. Processors sold through OEM channels are delivered in trays and contain just the processors alone.
You can ensure the inclusion of Intel’s complete processor package by purchasing it through a reputable retailer like Best Buy, Fry’s or Amazon.com. Retailers will allow a product exchange if something is missing from the box. Intel’s boxed processors also include a three-year warranty, which most retailers will honor. If you buy an Intel processor from an online auction or an unfamiliar website, however, even if it comes in an Intel box, there's no guarantee that you'll get anything more than the processor. Before purchasing a processor from a stranger, ask if it comes with a heatsink and fan.
Not everyone wants or needs the HSF that comes with a new Intel processor. If you're overclocking your computer or plan to use it for heavy gaming, you probably have a more advanced cooling system already. You can buy a standalone Intel processor from resellers like Newegg, OutletPC and TigerDirect, but unboxed processors are just as expensive as the retail packages. Purchasing the warrantied boxed processor and tossing the HSF in a drawer as a spare may be better.
Included HSF vs. Added HSF
Suppose you bought what you thought was a boxed processor from an unfamiliar seller, and when the package arrived, the HSF was loose in the box or appeared to be worn. It's possible that you were sent an OEM processor with an HSF thrown in by the seller, which is not a valid boxed product and therefore not covered by warranty. You may even experience compatibility issues because all HSFs don't support all processors. There's a way to verify whether the components inside the box are, in fact, genuine. Look for an identification code on the HSF that begins with the letter "D," "E" or "C." Write that number down, along with the name of the manufacturer located below the ID code. Then write down the markings that are on the processor, and contact Intel support with that information. Intel can tell you whether your new processor is boxed or OEM.
Intel's Thermal Compound
Typically, the heatsink/fan component is shipped already bound together with Intel’s thermal compound. The thermal compound included with your boxed processor is extra and should be used only if you separated the two parts and need to reattach them.