Thermal paste, or thermal grease, is a crucial component for any computer system that uses a central processing unit (CPU). It helps to transfer heat from the CPU to the heatsink, which prevents the CPU from overheating and potentially damaging the system. Applying thermal paste can initially seem intimidating, but it can be a quick and easy process with the right tools and techniques.
In this blog post, we will guide you through how to apply thermal paste correctly to ensure optimal cooling performance for your computer. Whether you are a seasoned computer enthusiast or a beginner, this guide will help you get the most out of your system. Moreover, we’ll look at all the safety tips, precautions, and other factors when applying the thermal paste. Let’s uncover!
Things to Avoid When Applying Thermal Paste
Before applying thermal paste, there are several preventive tips that you should keep in mind to ensure that you apply it correctly and avoid any damage to your system.
It is crucial to apply enough thermal paste to the surface. However, avoid applying too much, as it can lead to air bubbles forming in the paste, negatively impacting its thermal conductivity.
Avoid pressing the cooler base plate by hand. The pressure in the base plate or water block should guide the installation process, and applying pressure by hand may cause air bubbles to form in the paste, affecting its performance.
If you encounter any problems during the installation process, it’s best to remove the CPU cooler, remove all paste, and start the process again. Reapplying the paste may cause new air bubbles to form, which can negatively affect your system’s cooling performance.
Applying thermal paste correctly and installing a CPU cooler for long-term use is essential. Doing so will ensure optimal cooling performance and prevent any potential damage to your system.
Tools Needed to Apply Thermal Paste
There are a few tools that you will need to apply thermal paste properly. Here are the essential tools required:
Thermal paste: This is the most crucial tool required for applying thermal paste. It’s a heat-conductive compound applied between the CPU and the heatsink to ensure efficient heat transfer.
Isopropyl alcohol and a lint-free cloth: Before applying the thermal paste, clean the CPU and heatsink to remove any dirt or residue. Isopropyl alcohol and a lint-free cloth are ideal for cleaning as they don’t leave any fibers behind.
Plastic spatula or a credit card: A plastic spatula or credit card can be used to spread the thermal paste evenly on the surface of the CPU.
Screwdriver: Depending on your CPU cooler type, you may need a screwdriver to secure the cooler onto the motherboard.
Anti-static wrist strap: To avoid damaging sensitive components, wear an anti-static wrist strap when handling the CPU and other computer components.
How to Apply Thermal Paste? Step-by-Step Guide
The following are the steps you should follow when applying thermal paste.
Step 1. Check All Instructions.
Read the instructions for the thermal paste and CPU cooler carefully before starting the process.
Different brands have different approaches or prerequisites, so knowing everything is good.
Step 2. Prepare/ Clean your CPU.
Note: A brand-new CPU comes with no thermal paste applied to it. Therefore, if you have a brand-new CPU, proceed to the next step. If not, follow the following steps to remove the older thermal paste.
Cleaning a Brand-New CPU
Cleaning a brand-new CPU before applying thermal paste is essential to ensure optimal cooling performance and avoid any potential issues. Here are the steps to clean a brand-new CPU before applying thermal paste:
First, gather all the necessary tools and materials, including isopropyl alcohol, a lint-free cloth, and a clean workspace.
Carefully remove the CPU from its packaging and inspect it for any visible signs of damage.
Hold the CPU by its edges and avoid touching the top of the CPU or the pins on the bottom.
Moisten the lint-free cloth with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol and gently wipe the surface of the CPU to remove any residue or dirt.
Repeat the process with a clean part of the cloth until the surface of the CPU is completely clean and free of any debris.
Allow the CPU to dry entirely before applying thermal paste.
Once the CPU is clean and dry, you can apply thermal paste according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Remove Old Thermal Paste
If there is old thermal paste applied to the CPU, it’s essential to clean it from the surface first. The following are the steps for this.
Remove the CPU cooler from the CPU. If the cooler is attached to screws, use a screwdriver to remove them.
Gently twist the cooler back and forth to break the bond between the thermal paste and the CPU.
Use a lint-free cloth or a coffee filter and apply a small amount of isopropyl alcohol.
Gently wipe the surface of the CPU and the heatsink to remove the old thermal paste. Make sure not to apply too much pressure, as this can damage the surface of the CPU.
Repeat the process until all the old thermal paste is removed from the CPU and the heatsink.
Once you’ve removed all the old thermal paste, allow the CPU and heatsink to dry completely before applying the new thermal paste.
Step 3. Apply New Thermal Paste.
After you have removed the older thermal paste from the CPU’s surface, here are the steps to apply the new thermal paste on the CPU.
- Put a small amount of thermal paste on the top surface of the CPU. The amount of thermal paste should be about the size of a pea or a rice grain.
Note: Avoid applying too much paste, as it can reduce the effectiveness of the paste and even damage the motherboard during installation. Plus, I’ll use the dot method to apply thermal paste; you can use line and spreading methods.
- Use a plastic piece on your finger or a plastic spatula to spread the thermal paste evenly on the whole surface of the CPU.
Note: Make sure the paste covers the entire CPU surface without leaving any gaps. Be gentle when spreading the paste, as applying too much pressure can cause air bubbles, affecting thermal conductivity.
Step 4. Installing the CPU Cooler
Once the thermal paste is applied, take the cooler and slowly place it on its socket.
Keep the cooler as horizontal as possible, and avoid tilting it on one side. Make sure the cooler is appropriately aligned with the CPU socket.
After the cooler is correctly aligned with the CPU socket, tighten the screws or clips to secure the cooler in place.
Avoid over-tightening the screws, as this can damage the CPU or cooler.
Step 5. Double-check
Double-check that the water block or CPU support board is attached correctly. There should be no thermal paste on the edges and the motherboard.
If there is, you should clean everything with isopropyl alcohol and repeat the same process.
And everything is fine, and the cooler does not move in place when touched. Alright, then, congratulations!! You did a great job.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Apply Thermal Paste?
Although the metal base of the CPU cooler and CPU IHS look neat and smooth, these metal plates have a minor flaw that doesn’t transfer heat well. As a disadvantage, these two surfaces do not fully contact.
The thermal paste helps to fill these microscopic gaps and improve heat transfer efficiency. Applying thermal paste makes the CPU cooler work effectively and solves problems like throttling.
What is a CPU?
The information processing unit of a computer, the central processing unit, does all the work on the PC and sends commands to other computer hardware. The CPU is the brain of your PC. Modern processors perform high operations every second, generating a lot of heat. The CPU should be cooled with a cooling unit for the best performance and high efficiency.
What is a Baseplate?
The metal base of the air cooler is connected to the CPU’s built-in heatsink. The design and material of the base plate ensure heat transfer through a convection process. It transfers heat to the heatsink fins radiated to the environment by the fan.
What is an integrated heat sink (IHS)?
The IHS is the metal cover of the processor. The IHS acts like a heat sink, dissipating heat from the CPU to the cooler. It also protects the processor from the inside out. Also, this is the open part of the processor after installation and the surface to which the thermal paste is applied.
CPU Cooler: The CPU cooler controls the temperature of the CPU. Typically, air or liquid keeps the CPU at an optimal temperature while the system performs complex tasks.
What is a Water Block?
The water block is the second part attached to the base plate. An all-in-one water cooler or dedicated cooling circuit to lower CPU temperatures provides a hose for optimal water cooling circuitry while providing safe water retention. However, it transfers heat from the heat spreader to the fluid.
The heat transfer fluid then redirects the heat dissipated by the fan to the heat sink. Thermal Grease: Thermal paste is a silvery gray substance. Optimizes the overall heat dissipation of the CPU by improving heat transfer from the CPU IHS to the base plate or CPU cooler water block.