The RTL-SDR is known to get quite hot during operation and when it gets too hot reception of frequencies over 1.2 GHz can be degraded. Marko Cebokli wrote into us at RTL-SDR.com to show us some thermal imaging pictures that he has made of the RTL-SDR PCB. The images clearly show that the hottest part of the PCB is the R820T chip. The RTL2832U chip stays cool and the only other hot component on the PCB is the voltage regulator. In the post Marko also explains his conclusions on why the reception fails at frequencies over 1.2 GHz when it gets too hot.
The images show that the top of the R820T chip reaches a temperature of 85 degrees Celsius after just 10 minutes of operation. The underside of the chip reaches 68.9 degrees Celsius. Marko writes that these temperatures may be even higher when the RTL-SDR is placed inside the plastic case.
In general the RTL-SDR runs fine at these temperatures, but cooling the R820T chip will improve performance when tuning into signals that are higher than 1.2 GHz, for example with L-band satellites. Other RTL-SDR enthusiasts have cooled their RTL-SDR’s with thermal pads, heatsinks, fans and oil.