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How to apply thermal paste

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By Dave James Contributions from Ryan Fisher published 21 January 22

There are many ways, but only one is the right way.

How to apply thermal paste

There are many ways to apply thermal paste, which is why it can be a touchy subject among some enthusiasts. Everyone has their own way of laying down paste to get the best results, but from my experience the best temperatures come with the simplest and often minimalist application method—just one dot. This is also referred to as the “grain of rice” method.

There are newer caveats to this, where larger CPUs may require more paste to cover the large surface area, or hit specific hotspots under the heatspreader, but largely the advice remains the same: a wee dab of paste goes a long way.

Before going over my preferred application process, it helps to understand some of the issues that can occur with different application methods. One of the most common methods used is often referred to as the “line method.” This is exactly as it sounds. Apply a thin line of thermal paste directly down the center of the IHS (Integrated Heat Spreader) and then allow the pressure of the CPU cooler to spread the paste as you secure it.

The problem with this method is that the paste doesn’t spread out evenly. In trying to ensure that you have enough paste applied to cover the entire area of the CPU, it’s more than likely that you’ll end up with too much paste. This negatively impacts performance because excessive paste ends up impeding efficient heat transfer.

If you do not leave enough of a gap between the edge of the CPU and the end points on your line, you also risk having the paste squeeze out of the sides once you have secured the cooler. Not only does this make an unnecessary mess, but if you happen to be using an electrically conductive paste, any contact with the PCB could cause a short circuit, damaging your motherboard and other connected components.

Remember: the goal of thermal paste is to fill in microscopic gaps on the surface of your CPU and your heatsink, not to sit on top of your processor like so much grey cake frosting.

It can be difficult to ensure that thermal paste is spread evenly. Some people recommend (wrongly) that thermal paste should be manually spread across the CPU using a flat hard surface such as a credit card. While this does provide nice looking initial results, and makes it much easier to control the amount of thermal paste applied, it has one major flaw that can greatly impact performance: spreading the thermal paste manually creates small air bubbles. Since air doesn’t conduct heat nearly as well as thermal paste, temperatures can suffer greatly.

Using the Dot Method

The simplicity of this method works to eliminate the issues with other application methods and guarantees great performance and even spread of thermal paste every time, provided you install your cooler correctly. Before you start squeezing the plunger, it’s a good idea to make sure the surface of both your cooler and your CPU is clean. A quick wipe with a non-linting towel and some isopropyl alcohol will do the trick.

Squeeze out a small amount of thermal paste onto the center of the CPU. You only need a small dot a few millimeters in diameter. Don’t go overboard or you will sacrifice performance. No larger than a grain of rice or two.

Before installing your cooler make sure all required hardware is in place. If you place your cooler and then realize you forgot a bracket or backplate you’ll have to wipe down and start again. Ideally, applying the thermal paste will be the last step before mounting your heatsink.

Make sure you place your cooler on as straight as possible the first time. If you have to turn it to line up the holes after it’s already place, the thermal paste will not spread properly.

It’s worth noting that for larger processors, such as Intel’s 12th Gen Alder Lake CPUs, or AMD’s Threadripper chips, you will need more than a single dot of thermal paste. Being no longer square means you can no longer rely on one application to spread equally across the surface of the heatspreader, so I would recommend two small dots at either end of the processor.

For Threadripper, maybe three.

So long as the paste spreads across the breadth of the chip you’re good. That’s important for something like the chiplet-based Ryzen processors, which have three discrete chips that will need effective cooling. If your application leaves a bald spot on your CPU that could lead to overheating and poor performance.

Upon removal of the cooler you can see that this method provides an even spread of thermal paste. There is enough paste to cover the die area without causing it to spill out or creating a thick layer that inhibits heat transfer. Sometimes less is more, and in the case of thermal paste, less is definitely more.

Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he’s back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.

By Alex Castle ( Maximum PC ) published 26 January 10

Building a PC is a many-step process, but one in particular stands out as being intimidating to first-timers: properly mounting a CPU and cooler. Why? Because, generally speaking, that one little cpu chip is simultaneously the smallest, most delicate, and most expensive part of your system. Mount the cooler wrong, or improperly apply the thermal paste and you’re looking at (at best) a drop in performance and system crashes, or (at worst) a $200 disaster.

But don’t worry! It’s actually not terribly hard to install a new CPU, as long as you know what you’re doing. And so that you do know what you’re doing, we’ve put together a quick primer on installing a new CPU. If you’re a newbie getting ready to build a new system, or an old pro looking to make sure your technique is the best, read on to find out everything you need to know about properly mounting a CPU.

So what is thermal paste anyway?

Thermal paste is a type of heat transferring agent that serves to fill in the microscopic gaps that naturally occur when two flat metal surfaces—such as your CPU and cooler—are pressed against one another. These air-filled gaps hinder the rate at which the cooler is able to absorb heat from the CPU, and filling them with thermal material greatly increases performance.
There are several different types of thermal material, including ceramic- and metal-based pastes and solid, waxy thermal pads. Some coolers come with pre-applied pads, but most don’t, and we recommend using a paste. Our two favorites are Arctic Silver 5 and Arctic Silver Ceramique.

Step 1: Prep the CPU and cooler

If you’re using a CPU, cooler, or both that’s already seen a tour of duty, then they’re likely to have some gunky thermal paste residue. Don’t be tempted to just reuse this old paste, as it dries out over time, and you won’t get a clean connection between your CPU and cooler.

So the first order of business is to clean off the old thermal material. Here in the lab we use a two-stage cleanser called ArctiClean, although high-percentage rubbing alcohol will do the job just fine. Just apply a drop or two to the old material and let it sit for a minute while the cleaner breaks up the grease in the thermal paste. Then, wipe it clean with a lint-free cloth. A coffee filter makes a terrific, cheap lint-free cloth. Repeat the process until both the CPU and cooler are totally clean, and then move on.

Step 2: Apply the thermal paste

Looking around the internet, you’ll find a lot of different philosophies about how to apply thermal paste. Some people say you should apply it in a dot, some a line, some two lines, some an “X,” and so on. Truth is, all you’re trying to do when applying thermal paste is to get a paper-thin layer of the stuff over as much of your CPU as possible. For that, a dot is pretty much perfect, since a dot will squish into a circle, which will hopefully reach to all 4 edges of the CPU.

Here’s what we recommend:

First, insert the CPU into its socket on your motherboard.

Next, squeeze out a dot of thermal paste directly onto the center of your CPU. Your dot should be about the size of a BB (as in, what BB guns shoot), or a little smaller than a pea. Next, take your cooler and press it straight down onto the CPU so that the thermal paste spreads evenly in all directions. If you feel comfortable doing it, you can use a very very slight rubbing motion as you press down on the cooler to help spread the paste better.

Ideally, you’re now finished. You simply lock your cooler down (using whatever mechanism yours comes with) and then move on. However, if you’re afraid the thermal paste didn’t get spread properly, you can give it a quick look by lifting the cooler back up, twisting slightly to break the vacuum seal that may have formed. If you’ve got too much paste on the CPU, you can wipe up the excess from around the edges, and if you’ve got too little, you can add some more. Of course, if you somehow totally screwed it up, you can always clean everything up and try again.

Note that we don’t recommend doing this more than once—every time you lift up the cooler, you risk adding more air bubbles into the thermal paste, which will lower you coolers efficiency. Don’t let yourself get too worried about that, though—unless you’re doing some real overclocking, it isn’t going to make or break your system.

And that’s about it. Good luck with your build!

How to apply thermal paste

The amount of thermal paste on a chip plays a vital role in transferring heat generated from the chip to the heat sink.

Apply them too much, and the leakage may act as an insulator that does not allow heat to flow. Apply them too little, and the heat from the chip may not flow efficiently through the heat sink.

Today, we are here to provide you with details about the thermal paste pattern so that the paste spreads evenly on the processor’s surface.

Table of Contents

How Does a Thermal Paste Work?

A Thermal paste sits between the chip, mostly GPU or CPU, and the heat sink. Without a thermal paste, the two surfaces in contact will have a lot of irregularities and create small air pockets.

The thermal paste fills these air pockets so that heat is not trapped inside. By doing this, heat from the chip transfers smoothly to the heat sink.

What’s the Best Thermal Paste Pattern?

There is no way of knowing that the thermal paste you apply to the chip covers its surface completely. If it does not, the chip might not dissipate heat onto the heat sink efficiently. This will create a lot of air pockets between the chip and the heat sink, resulting in a temperature rise.

Below, we have mentioned a few patterns that most people use when applying thermal paste.

Dot/Pea Pattern

How to apply thermal paste

The dot or Pea pattern is one of the most used thermal paste patterns. All you do is insert a small amount of paste in a shape of a small dot that looks like a pea.

Although the most used one, this is not the best thermal paste pattern as it does not cover the entire surface. Despite covering most of the area around the center of the chip, it does not completely cover the edges. This will cause the parts that contain air pockets to heat up fairly quickly, and the chip will suffer from thermal throttling.

Rice Grain

How to apply thermal paste

In this pattern, you apply the thermal paste just like a rice grain. The paste should look like a small horizontal or vertical line in the middle of the chip.

Although the rice grain pattern uses more thermal paste than the dot pattern, it also fails to cover the entire surface. The rice grain method will cover most areas around the center, but the paste may not always reach the edges.

Even if you cover all the surface area by applying more paste, you will have some leakage from the sides.

Single Line

How to apply thermal paste

Imagine a rice grain pattern, but longer. Well, now you have a line pattern. Here, you apply a thermal paste on a straight line from one side to the opposite side.

The thermal paste spread using this pattern is better than the pea/dot or the rice grain pattern. The paste might not cover all the edges and corners due to the straight pattern, but it evenly covers most areas around the center.

One downside to the line pattern could be that, since you apply the paste from one side to the other, these two sides may suffer from leakage.

Double Line

How to apply thermal paste

Since the single line pattern had a problem reaching the corners and edges, we can use the double line pattern to disperse the paste across the chip.

The double line pattern covers most of the edges of a chip but fails to cover the corner. And just like the leakage issue in the single line pattern, the double line pattern also faces the same problem.

Cross/X Pattern

How to apply thermal paste

In a cross or X pattern, you apply the thermal paste diagonally from one corner of the chip to the opposite corner. Repeat the process from the remaining corners to have a cross pattern.

The cross pattern is one of the best patterns that cover all, if not most, the chip’s surface. Due to this, there are little to no air pockets that trap heat. By theory, this should give us a better temperature.

Although it may seem that this is the best thermal paste pattern, you may have some spillage from the sides. So, if you are using a conductive thermal paste, you should clean any leakage on the side.

5 Dots

How to apply thermal paste

In 5 dots pattern, you apply dots of thermal paste on four corners of the chip and one on the center. These small dots are all across the processor chip, covering most areas.

This method can be useful, especially if you have a bigger chip, such as a Ryzen processor. If you have a smaller processor, it is best that you avoid this chip, as you might have some leakage.

Using a Thermal Paste Spreader

How to apply thermal paste

A thermal spreader works like a charm in spreading the thermal paste across the processor chip. Besides a thermal paste spreader, you can also use any hard plastic with a straight edge.

However, make sure that there is no leakage before inserting the heat sink.

Does It Matter What Thermal Paste Pattern I Use?

Depending on the thermal paste pattern you are using, the processor will have different temperatures. However, these temperature differences are in the range of 0.2 to 0.4 degrees, which is minuscule to cause any issues.

Therefore, it does not matter what thermal paste pattern you use as long as you do not leak any around the processor chip.

Related Questions

Do I Need a Thermal Paste?

Thermal paste fills the small air pocket between the processor chip and the heat sink. If you don’t apply thermal paste, these air pocket acts as an insulator that restricts heat flow. This will cause the processor chip to heat up.

The thermal paste fills these air pockets, allowing heat to transfer more efficiently. Therefore, if you want a normal temperature, we recommend always using a thermal paste.

How Often Should I Re-apply Thermal Paste?

Thermal Paste lasts two to three years, depending on the usage. If you perform GPU or CPU-intensive tasks constantly, you might need to re-apply thermal paste even sooner. If you find that your CPU/GPU runs at a higher temperature even on idle, you might want to change its thermal paste.

You should also always re-apply thermal paste if you remove the heat sink from the processor chip.

What Happens If I Apply Too Much Thermal Paste?

Small leakage on the side of the chip does not really matter if you are using a non-conductive thermal paste. However, too much spillage, either conductive or non-conductive, can cause some serious issues.

If you are using a conductive thermal paste, even a small amount of paste on the motherboard may even cause the board to short circuit.

Tech Enthusiast. Front-end Developer. Casual Gamer. Campfire Guitarist.

Custom High Performance Gaming PCs and Notebooks

How to apply thermal paste

Heat management is essential to maintain your gaming PC. Playing video games can increase the performance of both your CPU and GPU, generating more heat than usual. Too much heat in your system can cause it to shut down or damage any sensitive components. Thus, it is crucial that each PC build has a proper cooling system and a thermal paste applied to the CPU.

The thermal paste is a cooling solution applied to the processor before installing the fan unit. It helps with the heat transfer from the integrated heat spreader (IHS) of the processor to the base plate or the water block of your cooling solution designed to dissipate the heat.

Applying the thermal paste to your IHS will help your CPU cool down. This will prevent any performance issues. If you have no idea how to use a new thermal paste to your CPU, below is a guide that can help you.

Follow the steps below to apply a new thermal paste to the CPU in your gaming PC:

Steps to Apply New Thermal Paste to CPU

  • Step 1 – Make sure to choose a good thermal paste.
  • Step 2 – Clean the CPU and the heat sink surfaces.
  • Step 3 – Smoothen the heatsink and CPU surface with wet sand.
  • Step 4 – Apply the right amount of thermal paste to the CPU’s cooler base.
  • Step 5 – Install the heat sink to the processor.
  • Step 6 – Don’t remove the heat sink after installing it.
  • Step 7 – Reconnect your PC fan to the motherboard.
  • Step 8 – Boot your gaming PC system.

Step 1 – Make sure to choose a good thermal paste.

The standard thermal greases you will find on the market are made from silicone and zinc oxide. But if you have a budget, it is definitely recommended to buy a thermal paste that contains silver or ceramic. This is because silver or ceramic thermal paste is more efficient in heat transmission. Thus, if you are running a high-end gaming PC, choose a thermal paste containing silver, copper, or gold.

Step 2 – Clean the CPU and the heat sink surfaces.

Before applying a new thermal paste, you need to clean the CPU and heat sink surfaces. Take a cotton ball with isopropyl alcohol. Use the cotton ball to wipe the surface clean.

Step 3 – Smoothen the heatsink and CPU surface with wet sand.

The heat sink and CPU surfaces should be perfectly flat before you apply the thermal paste. So if the heat sink base is rough, you can wet-sand it using fine-grit paper or emery cloth. While this step isn’t necessary, it is definitely recommended to reach the best cooling performance possible.

Step 4 – Apply the right amount of thermal paste to the CPU’s cooler base.

Drop a small portion of the thermal paste to the center of the CPU’s cooler base. You should only use the correct amount of thermal paste, which should be the size of a pea. An insufficient amount will not cover the surface area needed to be effective. While putting too much may reduce the efficacy of the thermal paste. And you may risk spilling out onto the motherboard during installation.

Remember that there is no need to spread the thermal paste for circular coolers because the applied pressure will spread it evenly across the heat sink surface.

Step 5 – Install the heat sink to the processor.

Make sure to attach the heat sink processor with even pressure from all sides. This way, the thermal paste will spread on the entire contact surface. It will create a thin, even layer that will fill any gaps. However, make sure that it will not have any excess build-up.

As the heat is applied, the thermal paste will become thinner and spread towards the edges. Use a small amount of paste.

Step 6 – Don’t remove the heat sink after installing it.

At all causes, avoid removing the heatsink just after you have installed it. Although it may be difficult to check if the paste has been applied correctly. Remember that if you break the seal created when you attach the heat sink, you will need to restart the whole process. That means you must clean the old paste again and reapply some thermal paste.

Step 7 – Reconnect your PC fan to the motherboard.

Once you have installed the heatsink, you need to reconnect the PC fan to the motherboard. The wire of your PC fan should be plugged into the CPU fan socket. This way, you will adjust the fan speed automatically without the need to change the voltage.

Step 8 – Boot your gaming PC system.

Turn on your computer and check if the fan is working. Press F1 to enter the BIOS. Check if the CPU and GPU temperature is normal. It should be below 104°F or 40°C when idle.

If you have explored the realm of PC building, there’s no doubt that you have heard whispers about the magical thermal paste. This thick form of material is also famously known as thermal interface material (TIM), thermal gel, CPU paste, heat paste, and thermal grease.

Whether you call it a thermal material or thermal paste, the fact remains that applying it correctly can significantly reduce your CPU temperatures, and ensure that your processor is working like a charm.

But the question is, how to apply thermal paste the right way? If you are one of those PC enthusiasts, then you are at the right place at the right time.

Why Do You Need to Apply Thermal Paste?

Thermal pastes are integrated when you are installing a cooling solution. Whether you are installing a new CPU cooler or applying custom aftermarket water cooling solutions to your GPU, you integrate the thermal solution.

With this in mind, it is evident that thermal paste is a vital material that safeguards your CPU from intense heat, and, your money from going up in smoke. Albeit the correct way to apply a thermal paste is important, it is also crucial to buy the correct type of thermal solution, if you are confused then check out some trustworthy options here.

There is a high chance that you have come across different techniques to apply thermal paste, which has left with you a lot of confusion. Don’t worry, we are here to guide you, and as long as you apply the right amount at the right place, you are good to go.

How to Apply Thermal Paste

Now that we have covered our bases let’s jump right into how you can apply thermal paste the right way.

Step 1: Remove Old thermal Paste

This is the most basic step of all, in order to apply new thermal paste, you are required to remove any previously integrated thermal solution from both the heat sink and your processor.

How to apply thermal pasteRemoving pre-applied thermal paste.

Use the spudger’s flat end to scrape off as much old thermal paste as you can. Then remove the remaining thermal paste by using a paper towel, microfiber cloth, or a coffee filter with isopropyl alcohol – preferably 90% concentration to wipe the remaining residue off. Once you are done, let it dry before going to the next step.

Step 2: CPU Cooler

Even if you have applied thermal paste correctly, what will happen if your CPU cooler, for any reason, is not working properly?

How to apply thermal pasteApplying CPU cooler the right way.

A lot of people ignore this step as they believe that their CPU cooler is good to go. So, before you start applying the thermal solution, ascertain that your CPU cooler is working and ready to install. Ensure that you have all the necessary tools, and an instruction manual to consult.

Step 3: Apply Thermal Paste

If you have correctly followed the above two steps, step three is going to be a walk in the park. To apply thermal paste, we recommend using the method proposed by your processor manufacturer. There are four ways you can apply thermal paste, the surface spread method, middle dot method, horizontal line method, and vertical line method. I personally prefer the middle dot method and that is what I’m going to recommend.

The surface spread method requires you to wrap your finger with a plastic piece. After that, put some thermal paste onto your processor and then use your finger to gently spread the paste across the core(s) of the processor.

Horizontal and vertical line methods are exactly as they sound, putting thermal paste strip either horizontally or vertically. These are very commonly used methods but require a high level of concentration. If you apply too much, the paste can ooze out, which can potentially damage your hardware.

After you are done applying thermal paste, move on to the next step!

Step 4: CPU Cooler

In the fourth step, all you have to do is to place your CPU cooler on top of your processor IHS and apply gentle pressure (in case of stock intel cooler).

How to apply thermal pasteReinstalling an Intel CPU Cooler

When you hear a click sound, then it means your CPU cooler is in the right place. Lastly, if you’ve any other aftermarket CPU Cooler installed then make sure to resort to its manual for proper reinstallation instructions.

Step 5: Keep Calm and Double-Check Your Work

Once you have installed your CPU cooler, ascertain that everything is in the right place. Ensure that the thermal paste is not oozing out from the CPU edges. If you find any thermal paste on your motherboard, then it means you have applied too much paste.

How to apply thermal paste

It would be best if you clean any paste that is outside your CPU as it can potentially damage your hardware. Remember, it is just a thermal paste so, don’t panic. Work in a calm environment to ensure that you are fully concentrating on applying the thermal paste.

If your cooler doesn’t move and everything looks clean, then you, my friend, have done a fantastic job.

Final Verdict

Thermal paste is a crucial component PC building component, and if you know how to apply thermal paste the correct way, then you can increase the life of your CPU or GPU.

Now that you know how to apply thermal paste, you can easily max out your CPU usage and get the best performance.

So, what are you waiting for? If your CPU’s temperatures are high and you’re system is bottlenecking, apply thermal paste right away!

Do you apply thermal paste to GPU?

The first thing you need to do is get a new thermal paste. Once you have it, you can use it to remove the graphics card from the computer. The next part of the process could cause damage to the board if you don’t remove the chip and heatsink first.

How often should you apply GPU thermal paste?

After 5 to 10 years, most cases a replacement of the thermal paste is not needed. If you’re an advanced user, there’s a chance that you’re going to upgrade your graphics card completely and not need to use any thermal solution.

How do I cool my GPU?

Dust can accumulate in a case. Cool air can’t flow in and hot air can’t go out if your computer case is full of dust.

Does changing GPU thermal paste help?

It may do the job for a while, but after a while, you may notice that the operating temperatures of the graphics card are going up. A good quality thermal paste will allow for better heat transfer between the graphics card and the heatsink and will last a long time.

Is 1 gram of thermal paste enough?

If you want to mount three or four heat sinks, a single gram of the lowest quality thermal paste is sufficient. If you want to mount one or two heat sinks, a single gram of a better quality thermal paste is all you need.

Should you replace thermal paste on CPU?

How often should thermal paste be replaced? If you want to remove your cooler for any reason, you should replace your paste. If your computer’s temperature is climbing, you may want to apply thermal paste.

Is CPU and GPU thermal paste the same?

The same paste is used for all components. There is a single exception. Don’t use Liquid Ultra if you aren’t a power user because it can cause damage.

Can you apply too much thermal paste?

If you apply too much thermal paste, it will act like an insulation. At best, this may make the paste useless, and at worst, it may cause damage to components. Put a thin layer of paste on the component.

What is a good temperature for CPU while gaming?

The gaming temperature is between 61 C and 73C. It depends on the type of processor you have, but a good rule of thumb is that your temp shouldn’t go past 180F. Proper air flow is needed to keep your computer cool.

How long does thermal paste last on a GPU?

The thermal paste can last as long as 10 years. In the normal run of things, people replace their computer’s processor and graphics card long before it crashes. It varies from thermal paste material to thermal paste material, but in the long run it should be fine. It is possible to use a good quality type.

How long does thermal paste last?

It is important to remember that not all thermal compounds have the same effect. The majority of value options are good for two to three years. If you want to keep your chip at its optimum, you should replace it every two to three years.

Is overclocking GPU safe?

Is it safe to increase the number of transistors on your graphics card? It’s a fairly common thing to do for a bigger performance increase. It’s just a matter of making sure your power supply has enough power to support it and your case is cool enough to handle it.

Is 80c OK for GPU?

The average temperature for air cooled or founder’s edition cards is 80C, which is fine for a graphics card. It will be better to run at lower temperatures since modern graphics cards automatically throttle according to the temperature.

Is 90 degrees Celsius hot for a GPU?

The maximum safe temperature for a graphics card is 90C.

Is GPU cooler necessary?

It’s the same as a computer’s central processing unit. It’s not something that you have to do. The manufacturers of graphics cards try to keep their graphics cards cool.

Does applying thermal paste to GPU void warranty?

It is not possible to say yes. There is an answer to the question, “should I do this complicated thing that risk destroying my component completely?” It’ll void your warranty if you replace the thermal paste of a graphics card with something else.

How do I know if I need new thermal paste on my GPU?

If it isn’t broken don’t fix it. It’s not hurting anything if theGPU is not running higher than 70C. Try reapplying thermal paste to give your cooling fans some relief if the temperature goes up to 80C.

Can I use toothpaste as a thermal paste?

Although it looks similar to thermal paste, toothpaste does not have the cooling properties of thermal paste.

Can you just wipe off thermal paste?

The first step is to place a small drop of thermal paste on the center of the processor. If the thermal paste spills over, you can wipe it off with a microfiber cloth or paper towel.

What is normal CPU temp?

There is a range of temperatures that are optimal for performance. The range for the PC to run essential apps is between 150 and 160 degrees.

How long should I wait after applying thermal paste?

I usually recommend an hour or two of low impact use to allow the compound to bed in, but you can use it immediately in most cases. The majority of decent compounds don’t dry. The types of compound that do dry out become less effective.

Can I use CPU thermal paste on a GPU?

It’s possible to use a thermal paste on the graphics card to cool it. The similarity ofGPU thermal paste andCPU is not something to be proud of.

Do I need to wait for thermal paste to dry?

Do I need to wait for the paste to dry? The answer is no because thermal paste doesn’t dry. A pasty form is needed to fill the gaps between the processor and the heatsink.

Can thermal paste damage motherboard?

If you use too much thermal paste, it can cause damage to the board. If you use too much thermal paste, it could cause a short circuit.

Is Noctua thermal paste conductive?

NT-H1 has top performance from the start and doesn’t need a longer burn-in time. If you make a mess, you don’t have to worry about NT-H1 being incompatible with all materials used in PC environments.

How hot can a GPU get?

The ideal temperature for the graphics cards is between 65 to 85 Celsius (149 to 185 F) under load, but they can reach temperatures as high as 115 degrees Celsius (270 F) with the help of the graphics cards.

Is 70 too hot for CPU?

Some would say that it is safe if you are in the 70s to 80s. While it is a little bit safe, it is already near the danger levels of overheating as going close to 90 degrees while gaming can cause damage to your processor over time. The harder you work, the more time it will take for the processor to wear out.

Is 50 Celsius hot for a GPU?

It was very good. It’s fine to be at 50 degrees. Your graphics card is doing a lot of work, so it will get a bit hot. It is possible to work at 60+ degrees with the help of the graphics processing units.

Is dried thermal paste bad?

The paste is better at transferring heat than air is. It can be difficult to fill the gaps when it is dry. A smooth paste fills gaps more effectively than a dry paste. The heat may be transferred by the liquid.

Do thermal pads go bad?

It may take a long time for thermal pastes to go bad. The thermal paste needs to be replaced if it’s dried up in the computer. Put a new layer of thermal paste on top of it after removing it. Three years is a long time to go bad with thermal paste.

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Michael Crider is a veteran technology journalist with a decade of experience. He spent five years writing for Android Police and his work has appeared on Digital Trends and Lifehacker. He’s covered industry events like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Mobile World Congress in person. Read more.

How to apply thermal paste

Most of the steps in building your own desktop PC are fairly self-explanatory: thanks to the modular nature of PC parts, it’s actually hard to mess up. But there’s one exception, and it can get messy.

When it comes to applying thermal paste, less is more: a small, pea-sized drop is all you need. Don’t spread it around, either—the heatsink will spread it out evenly as you screw it in. Thermal paste (also known as thermal grease, thermal interface material, or thermal gel) is the semi-fluid compound you apply to the metal housing of the CPU to allow efficient heat transfer to the cooler mounted directly above it. And if you’ve never used it before, it can be tough to know exactly how much you need—and the internet is full of bad advice on the subject.

Before we get started: thermal paste is applied to the top of the CPU, not the bottom. It should applied to the smooth metal plate (where the manufacturer and model information is printed), not to to the hundreds of squares or pins on the underside. Thermal paste does not go on the motherboard’s CPU socket directly. This point might seem obvious to the experienced system builder, but it’s a mistake often made by first-timers…that can unfortunately ruin an expensive CPU (and motherboard).

How to apply thermal paste

Also note that if you’re using the cooler that was included with your CPU purchase, it might already have thermal paste applied from the factory. Check the copper-colored heat transfer plate beneath the fan and heatsink assembly: if it has even patches of grey material on it, the paste is already in place, and you don’t need to apply any yourself. If you’re swapping out for a new CPU, you will need to clean off any old, excess paste with isopropyl alcohol and apply fresh material.

How to apply thermal paste

Worried about what kind of thermal paste to use? Don’t—it doesn’t make that big a difference in your temperatures. If your cooler came with a tube of thermal paste, it’s probably good enough.

The correct amount of applied paste is, bluntly, “not much.” Both Intel and AMD recommend squeezing a “pea-sized” glob of paste out of the tube (which is either included with the purchase of a CPU-and-cooler combo or sold separately) and onto the direct center of the CPU before placing the cooler on top and affixing it with the mounting hardware. To be perfectly clear, we’re talking about a single drop of material, no more than a centimeter (half an inch) wide at any point. (You may need a little more if you have a rather large CPU, like some of Intel’s six- or eight-core processors.)

Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly even, and don’t try to spread it out across the entire surface of the metal plate. You’re not making a peanut butter sandwich here. The cooler mounts directly onto the CPU itself, so the paste will spread out laterally as it’s compressed, making an ideal surface for heat transfer more or less on its own. Some users have more elaborate methods of covering the CPU, but it really isn’t necessary.

How to apply thermal pasteIntel’s official instructional photos for thermal paste application.

If you’re worried about getting it wrong, well, don’t. But if you’re still worried, remember this: too little thermal paste is better than too much. Because the cooler plate and the CPU are so close, too much paste can expand out beyond the chip and the plate, filling into the space of the CPU socket itself and transferring undesirable heat to the CPU’s electrical contacts or the surrounding PCB. That’s bad. If you apply too little paste and your CPU runs too hot resulting in computer crashes, you can always clean it off and reapply, but cleaning paste out of the socket itself is much more problematic.

Once you have the paste applied as above, simply set the cooler on top and screw it into place on the motherboard with its included mounting hardware.

Building a new PC can be intimidating for some, but it’s also pretty exciting. Either way, rushing the process will not be anything but frustrating.

When installing a new device, there are many factors to take into account. For example, getting the compatible CPU that fit with motherboard. Also, there are some cables that have to be routed in just the right way. And finally, some CPU have cooling fans on them which need to be installed before they’re carried over for installation onto the motherboard.

One such area that’s often overlooked when building a PC is the installation of the CPU. A key component to this process is applying thermal paste to its surface, and will affect cooling over time.

What is Thermal Paste and Why Do You Need To Apply It?

Thermal paste is a type of thermal compound that is used to transfer the heat from the CPU to the heatsink. It also helps to even out any difference in surface temperature. Some people use thermal paste as a means of overclocking their CPU, but this can be dangerous if not done correctly.

It’s important for you to apply thermal paste on your CPU because it won’t be able to cool down without it. You should also keep in mind that there are different types of paste out there, so make sure you know which one you need before purchasing it.

How To Apply Thermal Paste Correctly

Applying thermal paste correctly is essential for any computer to function properly. However, there are a few different ways to apply it. The first way is the most common and applies the thermal paste in a thin layer on both the CPU and the heat sink.

The second method is less common but can be advantageous if you are working with air-based coolers. It involves applying thermal paste in a thick layer on both the CPU and heat sink. The last way to apply thermal paste is by spreading it out evenly so that it covers both surfaces evenly.

How to apply thermal paste

Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on your preferences, budget, and computer setup.

Do CPUs Come With Thermal Paste?

No, CPUs do not come with thermal paste. The manufacturer of the CPU does not include or sell thermal paste separately.

Components within a CPU are constantly running at high temperatures. They need to be cooled with thermal paste to keep them from overheating.

Do AMD CPUs Come With Thermal Paste?

A rule of thumb is that thermal paste usually comes with the CPU cooler, but never with the actual CPU.

This means that AMD doesn’t include thermal paste, unless they come with a stock cooling option. They usually take the form of an air or liquid cooler such as Wraith Air, or Stealth, Spire, Prism, etc.

How to apply thermal paste

Some CPUs come with thermal paste included in their package like Ryzen 5 1600. However, there are instances when the thermal paste is not included in the package. For example, the Ryzen 5 1600X did not come with any pre-applied thermal paste and if you want to keep your CPU cool, you will need to buy some first.

Based on the data that we have collected, it seems that 1600X would be more popular among enthusiasts who want to overclock rather than out-of-the-box. With higher clock speeds and lower prices, the Ryzen 5 1600X is perfect for gamers and has a base clock speed of 3.6GHz, which is significantly higher than the 1600’s 3.2GHz.

Do Intel CPUs come with thermal paste?

Intel CPUs don’t come with thermal paste pre-applied to the processor. Users must apply the thermal paste themselves in order for the computer to function at its best. That being said, it’s good to take a look at the stock cooling unit, which will come with a pre-installed thermal paste.

How to apply thermal paste

If you buy any of the non-K or non-X Intel processors, for example the i7-11700 processor, it will come with a cooler. But if you buy a high-end variant, such as the i7-11700K, it won’t.

Do You Need to Apply Thermal Paste to a New CPU When the Cooler Has Pre-Applied Thermal Paste?

It is not necessary to reapply thermal paste to a new CPU if it comes with pre-applied thermal paste.

In this instance, it is not necessary to apply thermal paste when the cooling system comes with pre-applied thermal paste. When the cooler has its own thermal paste, there is no need for a user to apply more.

Is There an Alternative To Applying Thermal Paste?

There are many ways to apply thermal paste, but some of them are more effective than others. Here are the best methods for applying thermal paste:

– Use a spatula to apply the paste. This is recommended for beginners who have never applied thermal paste before or people who are not experts at it.

– Spread the paste with a small amount of pressure away from your body. Be careful not to apply too much pressure because too much will cause it to squeeze out of the joint and onto the motherboard or other components on your PC system.

– Apply some light pressure on top of the spread thermal paste with your finger or thumb before moving on to another component in your system. This will help make sure you’ve applied enough without squeezing too much out of place on its way out through.

Over To You

If you have any question related to thermal paste. How to apply and how much should you put on CPU. We are here to help. Comment below you question, we will answer you happily.

Do you know how to clean off and apply CPU thermal grease? Learn the correct method of applying thermal compound with our CPU thermal paste application guide.

Incorrect thermal grease application is one of the most common mistakes made by computer builders and upgraders. In most computer forums and discussion boards, it’s common to find users complaining about higher temperatures and overheating after applying thermal compound to a CPU.

In most cases, it’s not the user’s fault at all. Who can blame them when even tech sites and blogs get it wrong sometimes? In fact, some sites recommend incorrect methods that may even damage the motherboard and other components.

How to Remove CPU Thermal Grease

Before applying thermal grease, It’s essential that you remove all thermal grease residue from the contact surfaces of the CPU and heat sink.

Isopropyl alcohol (see image below) is the ideal solution for cleaning off thermal paste. 99% isopropyl alcohol works best, but anything with 70% concentration or higher should do the trick as long as it doesn’t contain any fragrances or additives.

While acetone is even more effective for removing thermal compounds, we do not recommend it because in high concentrations, it can corrode plastic and cause damage to the CPU socket and motherboard.

How to apply thermal paste

Lint free and microfiber cloth (see image above) are the best material for wiping off thermal grease, followed closely by coffee filters. They are recommended because they won’t leave any fluff after wiping. For best results, we use and recommend MagicFiber Cleaning Cloth from Amazon.

How to clean off CPU thermal grease: Detach the CPU from its motherboard socket. Pour a small quantity of isopropyl alcohol onto a stamp-sized area of the wipe cloth. Apply light pressure with your finger tips when cleaning off the thermal paste. Isopropyl alcohol will dissolve the paste after a few wipes. Repeat the same procedure for the CPU heat sink.

Do not attempt to scrape off the thermal paste with a credit card, cardboard or razor blade(!). You may scratch the contact surfaces of the CPU and heat sink, reducing their heat dissipation capabilities.

The image below demonstrates the correct method to clean off thermal paste from the CPU. The black microfiber cloth has been soaked with isopropyl alcohol:

How to apply thermal paste

How to Apply CPU Thermal Grease

As explained earlier in our “What is CPU Thermal Paste” article, the purpose of applying thermal paste is fill up any air pockets between the CPU and heat sink. What we want to achieve here is to coat the contact surfaces with a thin and even film of thermal grease.

If the thermal grease layer is too thick, it will impede CPU heat dissipation because the grease is a poor thermal conductor compared to the two metal contact surfaces. Excessive CPU thermal paste application can cause CPU temperatures to increase by up to 3 to 5В°C.

Applying too much thermal paste can also cause it to spill onto the motherboard, causing electrical damage if you are using a metal-based thermal compound.

Method 1: Thin Vertical Line Across CPU

Apply a thin vertical stripe (1 to 2 mm in thickness) across two-thirds of the CPU as shown in the image below:

How to apply thermal paste

Method 2: Small Dot at Center of CPU

The correct amount of thermal grease to apply should be half the size of a pea (see image below). The pressure from the heat sink plus the heat of the CPU will spread the thermal grease evenly over time.

Some people recommend applying a rice-sized grain, but that tiny quantity may be insufficient to cover the entire CPU surface.

How to apply thermal paste

If your CPU thermal paste is very thick and viscous, then the line method works better. If your thermal compound doesn’t come in a syringe or is very fluid, then the dot method will be easier. Otherwise both methods will work equally well in most other cases.

Asmodean

Registered

Soz for the potencially stupid question.
I had to reapply thermal paste to my cpu there after cooling change, and im just wondering how you tell if i put the paste on correctly?,

Its my first time doing this. Will there be a significant difference in temps to establish this or? (as in will it be noticably hotter if i didnt do it right)
Thanks alot for any input, its appreciated

ZixacunX

Registered

NitroNarcosis

Opinion8r

It is more of an experience thing, and heck even after you get it down pat. if you do not do it often enough.

The next time you go to do it you will be questioning yourself yet again.

If you completely mess up you will definitely notice.

Good Point from above poster. Huge temp variations are mostly caused by improper mounts.

If you really are looking for absolute best temps. you should always do at least 3 mounts just to get a better average.

also, and this is what I do. when you go to remount, pull the HSF or block or whatever it is you have attached up as straight as possible.

This way you can get a good view of the spread you attained from the previous mount and possibly know where you messed up.

Making your next mount even better.

Maxxa

Registered

bucdan

Registered

Greensystemsgo

Premium Member

some say pea, i like to say more like rice. Im a huge fan of the spread method, you spread it so thin you can almost see the processor through the layer, but not quite.

For “official” instructions, check my sig.

Asmodean

Registered
Registered

macca_dj

Registered

Most of the time if you have applied TIM correctly you will se a slight temperature change after a few days,

So monitor your temps over the next couple of days and see if they start to get lower,

If you have done a bad job it will take a lot longer for temps to change if they do so at all.

Asmodean

Registered
Premium Member

The more viscous and thicker the paste, the more paste you need. The less viscous and thinner the paste, the less paste you need.

MX-2 is fairly thin paste so you don’t need to apply as much.

NitroNarcosis

Opinion8r

Asmodean

Registered

Originally Posted by Riou

The more viscous and thicker the paste, the more paste you need. The less viscous and thinner the paste, the less paste you need.

MX-2 is fairly thin paste so you don’t need to apply as much.

bucdan

Registered

Goaky

Registered

Originally Posted by ZixacunX

Temps should go down and also see if the temps between the cores are the same

NitroNarcosis

Opinion8r

I have found that spreading it can be a serious PITA.

So much easier to either do the bb/pea size or line and then squish to spread.

I just prefer the dot method.

macca_dj

Registered

Every TIM has a burn in time thats why we all wait for a couple of days to get the figures,

Mx-2 is a good Paste depending on how flat the HS is depends on the amount you should use Personaly I try to keep TIM film as thin as possible to reduce burn time,

But then once I have applied TIM I run some cpu intensive apps to heat up the CPU and then let it cool and then cycle like that for a bit,

Pea size drops are good as long as you have a low viscosity TIM

Here is everything you need to know about thermal paste, including a complete guide full of pictures. Learn how to correctly apply it in order to prevent your CPU from overheating.

Introduction

Contents

With processors working at increasingly higher clock speeds, concern with thermal dissipation is necessary because the higher the clock used, the higher the heat produced. To give you an idea, a 486DX2-66 dissipated somewhere between three and six watts, while a Pentium 4 processor with 3.8 GHz dissipates 115 W! If you don’t utilize a thermal solution compatible with the specific model of processor that you use in your system, several problems can appear: random resets, freezes, reduction of processor lifespan, and even burning the CPU in extreme cases.

Several solutions were proposed to solve those problems, including the elaboration of a new motherboard standard (the BTX standard was created to maximize air circulation inside the PC) and the launching of cases with ventilation ducts and liquid cooling systems.

Those solutions are still expensive, and we are not always willing to pay for them. Individuals who work assembling and selling computers are aware of market problems and know how difficult it is to convince a client that the final cost of the computer increased due to a better cooling system. Usually, the client is not very interested in that; their only concern is the price.

A simple and inexpensive solution is the utilization of thermal paste (also known as thermal grease or thermal compound) that can help reduce the problem of processor overheating. The paste must be used with the right cooler for the specific model of processor installed.

In this tutorial, we’ll discuss the role of thermal paste in the process of thermal dissipation, how to correctly use it, and the most common mistakes made during thermal paste application.

We have a follow-up review to this tutorial, called “What is the Best Way to Apply Thermal Grease” that you should read as well.

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How to apply thermal paste

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Knowing how to apply thermal paste to CPU builds can be an incredibly useful skill in the modern day. It’s especially important if you’re looking to build a PC from scratch. On the other hand, learning how to apply thermal paste to CPU units is equally important to proper maintenance.В

However, it can be a tricky thing to figure out, especially if this is your first time. That’s why we’re here to tell you all the intricacies of how to apply thermal paste to CPU rigs. Without further ado, let’s get started.В

What Is Thermal Paste?

Before you learn how to apply thermal paste to CPU rigs, it’s important to understand what thermal paste even is. After all, CPU parts are a delicate thing so it’s crucial to get things in the right places. If something isn’t in proper order, then it’s easy to mess things up and wind up with a broken computer.В

Now, back to the thermal paste. The first thing you need to understand about thermal paste is that it’s different from thermal adhesives . It’s easy to mistake one for the other because of the confusing naming scheme. Nonetheless, thermal paste is completely different, serving a different purpose from thermal adhesives.

What’s the difference? Firstly, thermal adhesives are what you would use to stick a heatsink to an integrated circuit. On the other hand, thermal paste is what you use to channel heat from the chip to the heatsink. However, it doesn’t exactly have adhesive properties like the name implies.

How to Know When You Need Thermal Paste?

Now that you know what thermal paste is, you might be wondering why you need to apply it. Surely a good working computer has the proper parts — and pastes — in place, right?

Well, you’re certainly right about that if you’re buying a pre-built rig. However, aspiring PC builders would need to know how to apply thermal paste to CPU rigs to get things working. It’s just one part of the assembly that’s needed to make sure your CPU won’t overheat. You do this before installing your CPU’s cooling mechanism.

On the other hand, regular PC users could also benefit from knowing how to apply thermal paste to CPU rigs. Why? That is because thermal paste needs replacing from time to time. Moreover, learning this technique is critical if you plan on upgrading your processor down the line.

With all of that said, how often should you apply thermal paste to CPU units? Is there specific timing for when this is needed? Yes, there is. More specifically, are three instances that warrant a thermal paste re-application. Those are:

  • If you move around any cooler or heatsink (whether you’re researching, replacing, or loosening them)
  • When any unintentional loosening or unseating happens to the heatsink or cooler
  • If your computer overheats or has an unusually high temperature despite having a fully functional fan

Best Thermal Paste You Can Get

Before you start learning how to apply thermal paste to a CPU, you first have to know what thermal paste to get. This is the crucial first step to this process as it’s important to use the right kind of thermal paste to ensure that it’s conducting the heat well. Usually, this means buying the most expensive one, because in this case, it does determine quality. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t buy something cheaper if you can’t afford it.

With that, we leave you with our top recommendations for thermal paste to do the job right below:

October 09 2020

How to Apply Thermal Paste Correctly

Correctly installing thermal paste on your CPU cooler is essential is creating strong thermal heat dissipation for your CPU. So many times I have people emailing me stating that their CPU’s are running too hot and come to find out they recently removed and/or installed a CPU cooler and didn’t take the time to apply the thermal paste properly, or sometimes didn’t apply any at all because they didn’t realize they needed to.

If you’ve every bought a brand new retail boxed CPU, you notice that the included retail heatsink usually comes with pre-applied thermal paste on the bottom of the CPU cooler where it would contact the CPU itself during installation. Now if you asked 10 people if they would rather have the thermal paste applied to the heatsink first, or the CPU first, you’d probably have 5 people on each side.

Well I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t matter if you apply it to the heatsink first or the CPU first, as long as you don’t apply thermal paste to BOTH. That will certainly hurt your temps because you’ll end up with too much thermal paste between the CPU and heatsink.

I’m going to show you how to properly apply thermal paste (in this case “Arctic Silver 5”) to a stock retail heatsink that recently came with my new Intel Core 2 Duo CPU. As far as I know it’s the same exact heatsink that comes with all Intel Pentium-D’s also. However the exact heatsink used is not the focus here. What’s important is that you take notice on how to apply the thermal paste to your particular hardware.

How to apply thermal paste
Stock Intel Core 2 Duo Heatsink.

How to apply thermal paste
Alcohol and Q-tips for cleaning the copper base of the heatsink.

The Alcohol is very important to remove grease and contaminates from the application area prior to spreading thermal paste on the surface. Just as you would scrape old paint off before you apply new paint. You can substitute or interchange Q-tips, tissues or paper towels as long as it’s clean and white preferably so you can see as you’re taking contaminates off the surface. Continue cleaning it until you see no more dirt on the cleaning “cloth” .

How to apply thermal paste
Applying the Thermal Paste

To apply the thermal paste in this scenario, I’ll be applying it directly to the base of the stock Intel heatsink. The main reason for this is because the Intel socket 775 is a bit more tricky then most because of the locking socket design. Also because the base of the stock Intel cooler is round, and the CPU is square, therefore if I cover the entire surface area of the CPU itself, the base of the heatsink will not make contact with the entire CPU. Picture putting a small round peg into a larger square hole).

How to apply thermal paste
Thermal Paste Correctly Applied.

Here you see the thermal paste correctly applied in a very thin layer across the entire surface of the heatsink base. What I like to do personally is squeeze out a small line of thermal paste across the center of the heatsink base and then use a razor blade at a 45 degree angle, some firm pressure, and slide it over the paste heading out in a few different directions until you get a nice even layer across the entire surface. What’s nice about using a razor blade is it pretty much collects the excess paste onto the underside of the blade.

How to apply thermal paste
Installed

That’s about all there is too it. As with all things pertaining to computer hardware; take your time and plan your next move. Sometimes re-installing some quality thermal paste every now and then can really help in keeping temps in check. However there is no substitute for a quality CPU cooler. Thermal paste can only do so much. A good copper CPU heatsink and some quality thermal paste is the best combination. Take a look around here at Frozencpu and you’re sure to find something you like.

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By Jase Fasiano

Building your own computer or assembling a repaired computer can seem pretty straight forward. This part connects to this part, you feel a reassuring click and you know that it belongs there. It just fits.

But then you come across some goop in a pouch, or maybe it’s in a syringe, and you find yourself thinking “I’m not a trained medical professional. What do I do with this syringe? Where does this part fit?”

We’ve got the answers about what thermal paste is, what is does, and how to apply it.

What is this thermal paste stuff?

Before you learn how to replace your thermal compound (thermal paste), you should take a second to understand what it actually is and the purpose it’s serving. Thermal paste acts as a bridge between the CPU and the heatsink. The CPU and heatsink are already sandwiched together, but microscopic imperfections in their surfaces reduce the efficiency of heat transfer between them.

The thermal compound fills in the tiny gaps and allows for a much more efficient transfer of heat away from the processor, and boy does the processor generate some serious heat. The thermal compound improves the efficiency of the heat transfer so much that without it, the processor overheats in a matter of seconds or minutes, at which time your computer will likely shut down to protect itself from permanent damage.

Why would the thermal paste need to be replaced?

Over time, thermal compound will dry out and begin to develop cracks which interrupt the heat transfer, making it much less effective. If you use your computer frequently and for longer periods of time, this process happens more quickly. An average user who only does some light web surfing can generally go many years without needing the thermal compound replaced, but the thermal paste is always becoming less efficient at pulling heat away from the processor.

For computer components without moving parts, like the CPU, heat is the silent killer. The hotter your computer runs, the shorter the lifespan. So the more efficiently you can draw heat out of the computer chassis, the longer the internal components will last.

The healthy temperature range for a CPU varies quite a bit by processor type, so it’s best to look up the safe range for your particular processor. A number of things could be responsible for a spike in temperature, but if the obvious reasons are not the culprit, thermal paste could be the cause. There are free apps and software available for Mac computers that will track CPU temperature. Smcfancontrol works wonderfully, and it tracks more than just temperatures.

How to replace the thermal paste.

Below is a step-by-step guide detailing our favorite method for replacing thermal paste. The demonstration was performed on a MacBook Air, but the same steps can be applied to most computers.

Every now and then we get a question how to apply the thermal pads or thermal grease correctly, therefore I decided to write a short blog post about it. First, I’ll present our TIM portfolio and then show a thing or two about the correct applying.

Thermal Pads

At EK we are using Ultra soft thermal pads from t-Global , which feature very good thermal properties along with great elasticity and elongation. They are self-adhesive on one side which is great because it makes the installation easier. We use thermal pads as the interface material between MOSFETs, inductor coils, circuit boards and the water block cold plates.

The thermal pads consist out of about 95% Aluminum oxide (Al2O3) and 5% Silicone resin. The thermal conductivity is 3,5 W/mK and operating temperature from -55°C up to 200°C.

How to apply thermal paste

Looking at the picture above, you can see that the thermal pad deflects by 45% when applying 40kPa of force. The thermal resistance is relatively steady so that tells us that it will perform well through the wide range of applied pressure.

When applying you must first make sure that you remove the protective foil from the both sides before putting it into place. The thermal pad is very soft, therefore it is easily cut to the desired dimensions.

The thermal pad should cover the whole surface, from which we want to dissipate the heat. Usually it helps if the thermal pad is a bit bigger than the previously mentioned surface. Using the right standoffs and designing we (EK) make sure that the gap between the copper cold-plates and the cooled elements on the PCB is just right. The bottom picture shows the “healthy” thermal imprint of the MOSFETs on the motherboard after one assembly/disassembly cycle of the monoblock.

How to apply thermal paste

When you remove the cooler you should clearly see the imprint of the edges of the elements on the PCB. When the edges aren’t visible you have no or bad contact. The contact can also be too good. You can observe that when you check if the motherboard/graphics card is severely bent in the area of the thermal pad. In extreme cases you can have a direct contact with the elements and that may lead to short circuiting your hardware.

Thermal Grease

Thermal grease is used mainly at contacts of the cold plate with GPU or CPU processor units. At EK we are using Thermal Grizzly Hydronaut and EK-TIM Ectotherm . Both are one of the best in its class and price range. The Thermal Grizzly Hydronaut is used at extreme overclocking because its operating temperature can be below zero degrees Celsius and the thermal conductivity doesn’t suffer. EK-TIM Ectotherm performs best at basic to extreme overclocking and is also easier to apply because it is less dense.

How to apply thermal paste How to apply thermal paste

Thermal greases often consist of silicone compounds and must be applied in very thin layers. Because of the higher density, you must apply Thermal Grizzly Hydronaut thermal grease with applicator and cover the whole surface of the chip. At EK-TIM Ectotherm it is enough just to apply about two rice grains of the grease, depending on the chip size, on the center of the chip. The cold plate from the cooler will expand if it’s installed correctly.

How to apply thermal paste

Below you can see the examples of good contacts when using EK-TIM Ectotherm thermal grease. As a reference, we took a contact on the Titan X GPU water block cold plate:

How to apply thermal paste How to apply thermal paste You can observe that there is a very thin layer of grease between the processor and the cold plate of the water block when they are firmly coupled.

There is a chance that you apply too much thermal grease on the chip. In case of very dense material of the grease and thick applying of it, can result in poor thermal performance or even severely bent circuit board, which may lead to damage on the hardware.

Conclusion

We can summarize that choosing the right TIM is very important. You must beware that you take the right thickness (in case of thermal pad) and applying method (in case of thermal grease). If these conditions are taken into account, you can expect your hardware to run flawlessly even at high overclocks.

What is thermal paste and why do you need to replace it?

Thermal paste is a substance that is used as a heat conductor between different components. It is a paste that has a very low thermal resistance, which means it has the ability to conduct heat very well. When the thermal paste is used, heat is conducted from a component that is hotter, such as your processor, to the cooler component, usually your heatsink. It is usually not a good idea to buy the cheapest thermal paste you can find, especially if you are overclocking your CPU. This is because the paste will conduct heat better than the stock paste and if you don’t apply it correctly, you will not see any results when you are overclocking. The thermal paste serves one purpose, and one purpose only – to transfer heat. Thermal paste is not made to be permanent, it will dry out or become worn with time and it will need to be replaced.

Why thermal paste gets old?

If you are like me and work in the computer industry, then you probably have heard from customers, friends or family that their computer is not working as well as it used to. The problem is always one of the following: either the computer is too slow, the internet is not working or the fans are making a lot of noise. I use to explain to people that the computer is only 4 years old and that these are normal problems for a computer that is 4 years old.

But now I have found a solution that might help people understand that computers will always have problems and that the problem isn’t that the computer is aging but that the hardware is not working as well as it used to. The solution is to explain to people why their computer is slowing down, why their internet is not working or why the fans are making too much noise and why the solution to the problem is replacing the thermal paste on the CPU.

How to clean off thermal paste

If you are having difficulty removing all thermal paste from your CPU, begin by wiping it with a microfiber cloth.

Wipe the top of the CPU gently with rubbing alcohol while dipping a cotton swab into it; this will help loosen any hardened thermal paste. To help remove the stubborn paste, you may use a plastic spudger.

If you still have any thermal paste left, you can use a clean portion of the cotton cloth or paper towel to remove it. The alcohol will evaporate almost instantly.

To remove any old thermal paste remaining on the underside of the cooler, repeat the steps above.

How to apply thermal paste

Place a small amount of thermal paste in the centre of your CPU after it has been installed on your motherboard.

Apply top-down pressure to the cooling unit as you install the CPU cooler. Installing the cooler will distribute the thermal paste evenly because the cooler’s pressure will do that for you. There is no need to spread paste itself.

Check the edges of the CPU after installing the cooler to see if any thermal paste spilled over, and clean it if necessary with a microfiber cloth or paper towel.

There comes a time when your CPU starts overheating, and no, it’s not always because of CPU coolers, but it is the time to replace thermal paste. No matter how good thermal paste you use, you always need to replace it after a couple of years.

The thermal paste helps heat transfer in a CPU by eliminating air bubbles in the CPU surface, which otherwise act as a thermal insulator. It transfers heat energy to the CPU cooler, which dissipates heat out of the CPU.

Let’s dive deeper into how you can accurately replace thermal paste on the laptop and CPU.

Necessary Precautions Before You Replace Thermal Paste

Before you start, you need to take the required precautions to ensure safety while changing the thermal paste. Let’s check them out.

  1. Turn off the CPU or laptop and unplug all the wires.
  2. Hold on to the power button after unplugging wires to discharge any residual electricity.
  3. Put latex gloves before you perform the task.
  4. You can also put on an anti-static bracelet to help static charges in your body dissipate.
  5. In the case of a laptop, remove the battery too.
  6. Ensure that you experiment in a clean and dust-free place.

Here is How You Can Replace Thermal Paste on the CPU

Below is a comprehensive guide on changing the thermal paste on your CPU without any professional help.

How to Remove Thermal Paste?

Start by unplugging all the wires from the CPU. Remove the heatsink and clean the vents and other parts that have dust in them. For cleaning purposes, you can use a small brush or a can of compressed air.

Now remove the CPU and prepare to remove the thermal paste. We recommend you buying N-B Max Pro as it comes with a free applicator, spatula, alcohol pad, and microfiber cloth. This is everything you need to remove and replace thermal paste on CPU.

Start scrubbing the Nab Cooling alcohol pad on the CPU surface to remove the previous dried thermal paste. Make sure not to put much pressure while cleaning as it may harm the IHS. The alcohol pad is powerful enough to remove a large amount of thermal paste.

When done, use a microfiber cloth to clean the rest of the traces of thermal paste. People may ask you to use a sharp material to scratch away the thermal paste, but you should not do that.

Using sharp materials on IHS may scratch its surface and induce air gaps, preventing heat transfer. Also, check for thermal paste where it had contact with the heat sink. If there is any, repeat the same method with an alcohol pad and microfiber cloth to remove the thermal paste.

Also, make sure to clean previously spilled thermal paste. Do not move to the next time until you completely clean the dried thermal paste. Let the IHS dry.

How to Apply New Thermal Paste?

Applying a good quality thermal paste is necessary if you want your CPU’s health. The bad thermal paste may dry sooner, and you need to replace them every six months to one year. Also, they have less shelf life.

With an advance in technology, companies are manufacturing better and budget-friendly thermal pastes that last up to 8 years. One good example is the N-B Max Pro which ensures eight years of unopened shelf life and five years in CPU without drying.

N-B Max Pro comes with a free applicator and spatula. Apply a small amount of N-B Max Pro in the center of IHS. Start spreading it with the spatula that comes with the N-B Max Pro package.

Use the spatula to apply the thermal paste to all four corners of the IHS and make sure it doesn’t leak into the surroundings. Reinstall the heatsink and test the difference in CPU temperature.

We recommend you not to use the tiny dot method, X method, or line method. The best way to apply is by using a spatula.

To dive deeper into different thermal paste application methods, read: What is the Best Way to Apply Thermal Paste?

How to Clean Thermal Paste in CPU Pins?

To clean thermal paste in the CPU socket pins, start with removing all components. Now, put thermal paste cleaner on the CPU socket. The cleaner should be enough to fill all holes and the gaps between pins.

Leave cleaner for 5 minutes, so it starts breaking down the thermal paste. Pick a cotton bud and start cleaning in the direction of pins. Keep changing cotton buds with regular time intervals until the thermal paste cleans off properly.

Let the CPU socket dry completely. Now, put purification fluid on the cotton bud and clean the affected area again. Wait until it dries properly. Reinstall the CPU, and you are good to go.

Don’ts While Replacing Thermal Paste

Here is all you should not do while you replace thermal paste on laptop and CPU to ensure peak CPU performance.

  • Do not use tissue paper or paper towels when removing paper towels as it may leave lint behind which acts as a thermal insulator.
  • Ensure that no residue is left behind when changing thermal paste.
  • Don’t put alcohol directly on the IHS.
  • Never use water when cleaning the CPU.
  • Never put thermal paste on when the surface is wet.
  • Don’t use anything other than a spatula for applying thermal grease.

Tip: If any problem occurs while applying thermal paste, remove it completely and apply all over again to reduce risk of inducing air bubbles.

FAQs – How to Replace Thermal Paste?

Below are some frequently asked questions regarding replacing thermal interface material.

How to Check if CPU has pre-applied Thermal Paste?

Check beneath the base plate of the CPU cooler. If there is some silver-grey paste, this means that this CPU already has thermal gel applied onto it.

However, it is always a good idea to replace pre-applied pastes. You never know what quality thermal paste the company used and how long the CPU was in the box. Thermal paste dries when it stays for too long.

How Often Should I Replace Thermal Paste?

If you are using bad quality thermal pastes, you should replace them every six months to one year. However, if you are using N-B Max Pro, we recommend you replace it every five years. If you are playing heavy load applications on your computer, change it every three years.

Can I Put New Thermal Paste on the Old One?

No, putting new paste on the old one will destroy your CPU. It won’t help heat transfer but further worsen it. You should completely remove thermal paste for the best results.

Does Changing Thermal Paste Make a Difference?

Yes, an excellent thermal paste can decrease CPU’s temperature significantly and help it run cool even when loading heavy applications and gaming. Over time, old thermal paste dries and separates, causing the CPU to overheat.

Conclusion

Now you know how to replace thermal paste on the CPU. It may sound challenging at first but with necessary precaution and good quality thermal paste, you can do it without any hassle.

Checking and fixing electrical gadgets can be risky. Even if you replace thermal paste on your laptop, you should always wear latex gloves, stay away from dusty areas and keep these gadgets away from water.

Introduction

Whenever you install a heatsink on a CPU or a video card, you always have to apply thermal paste. It is very crucial to the performance of the heatsink. You could get a very high-end heatsink, and without thermal paste, it will fail to work in the way it was designed too.

What is thermal paste and what does it do?

Thermal paste is a very high heat conductive paste that is used between two objects (usually a heatsink and a CPU/GPU) to get better heat conduction. It fills in all those microscopic imperfections on the heatsink and CPU/GPU that can trap air in them and cause a loss in the heatsink’s performance. Air is a very poor conductor of heat. Thermal Interface Materials (TIM) can be up to a 100 times greater conductor of heat than air.

However, thermal paste is not near as good of a conductor as copper. Thus, too much thermal paste will hinder a heatsink’s ability to cool properly.

How to apply thermal paste

This is an exaggerated view of what these microscopic imperfections would look like. All the white area would represent the air pockets, and this is what the TIM would fill in. It wouldn’t be such a gap like this, but this just an example to give you a rough idea of what it would look like.

If you could have a perfectly flat heatsink base, and CPU, you would not need thermal paste. But it is impossible to do so, and that’s why we need thermal paste.

Types of thermal paste

There are essentially three types of thermal pastes:

  • Metal based
  • Ceramic based
  • Silicon based

Metal-based TIM’s are the most popular as they have the best performance out of the three. These pastes have lots of little metal particles in the grease that have a high thermal conductivity. One disadvantage of this type of paste is that it is also electrically conductive as well, which can cause a problem, more on this later.

How to apply thermal paste

Ceramic-based TIM’s are also a popular solution that doesn’t perform quite as well as metal-based pastes, but the difference is minimal (1-3C). These consist of some form of thermally conductive material with lots of little ceramic particles. The advantage of ceramic-based pastes is that they do not conduct electricity.

How to apply thermal paste

Silicon-based TIM’s are usually what thermal pads that come on stock heatsinks are made of. These work well, but nowhere near to what other pastes will. Usually they come with cooling kits.

How to apply thermal paste

There are also thermal epoxies, these are basically the same thing as regular grease, but are actually used to permanently attach the heatsink. They are not recommended for most cases, but in some they are of course. One main example for a use of an epoxy is, attaching heatsinks to video memory. Most of the time you use thermal pads that don’t perform very well, so an alternative is thermal epoxy. But the disadvantage is, that most of the time you will not get the heatsinks off once they are put on.

What can be tried to get epoxied heatsinks off is to put the video card in the freezer before trying to remove the heatsink. The low temperature will make the epoxy brittle, so it goes off easier.

Elite Member

UsandThem

Elite Member

It depends on the paste used, the cooler, and finally the size of the IHS.

A method that works great one way, might not work very well using different components.

Iron Woode

Elite Member

serpretetsky

Senior member

UsandThem

Elite Member

Poor guy. I bet he never makes another PC build video.

Edit: I found a shortened video of his build with added sound effects:

Although, don’t do the “Too much” method.

How to apply thermal paste

Senior member

Pea method is antiquated on today’s CPUs simply not because the heatspreader area is bigger but multiple dies below and (sometimes) not so efficient thermal coupling between said dies and the heatspreader. Ok, so that was a mouthful but the goal is to have the heatspreader completely covered with as thin of a layer as possible. Since the Nehalem days, I’ve been using the X method. Thinning lines stopping a few mm before the corners and thicker lines in the middle where the intersecting point is somewhat spherical and about 5-6mm in diameter.

Larger chips (eg TR4) require a twist to this technique either more spokes (think asterisk) or just painting a layer on. Some TIMs that are super pasty/viscous aren’t going to be easy with this method. The syringe can be heated (gently) to thin it out some to make it easier. Put a coffee mug 3/4 filled with water in the microwave and nuke for 2 min, then (carefully) remove and place syringe in water. Make sure the cap is on TIGHT and watch the plunger for movement, if it looks like it’s coming out on its own remove from the water, it’s hot enough.

When you dismount the block, you should never see TIM past the edge of the heatspreader or running all over the place like a crazy cheeseburger. That’s just too much paste. The minuscule gap between heatspreader and block is filled either way, but excessive paste just makes it more work to clean up AND in the case of electrically conductive pastes can present a real risk of destroying the board and cpu!

chrisjames61

Senior member

Pea method is antiquated on today’s CPUs simply not because the heatspreader area is bigger but multiple dies below and (sometimes) not so efficient thermal coupling between said dies and the heatspreader. Ok, so that was a mouthful but the goal is to have the heatspreader completely covered with as thin of a layer as possible. Since the Nehalem days, I’ve been using the X method. Thinning lines stopping a few mm before the corners and thicker lines in the middle where the intersecting point is somewhat spherical and about 5-6mm in diameter.

Larger chips (eg TR4) require a twist to this technique either more spokes (think asterisk) or just painting a layer on. Some TIMs that are super pasty/viscous aren’t going to be easy with this method. The syringe can be heated (gently) to thin it out some to make it easier. Put a coffee mug 3/4 filled with water in the microwave and nuke for 2 min, then (carefully) remove and place syringe in water. Make sure the cap is on TIGHT and watch the plunger for movement, if it looks like it’s coming out on its own remove from the water, it’s hot enough.

When you dismount the block, you should never see TIM past the edge of the heatspreader or running all over the place like a crazy cheeseburger. That’s just too much paste. The minuscule gap between heatspreader and block is filled either way, but excessive paste just makes it more work to clean up AND in the case of electrically conductive pastes can present a real risk of destroying the board and cpu!

There are many ways to apply thermal paste, which is why it has become a sensitive topic for some enthusiasts. Everyone has their own way of applying to get the best results, but in my experience the best temperature comes from the simplest and often minimalist method of application – just one point. This is also known as the “grain of rice” method.

There is an updated caveat to this, larger CPUs may require more paste to cover a larger surface area, or to hit specific hot spots under the heatsink, but basically the advice remains the same: a small amount of paste will Long way to go.

Before reviewing my preferred application process, it would be helpful to understand some of the issues that can arise with different application methods. One of the most commonly used methods is often referred to as the “line method”. It does sound so. Apply a thin line of thermal paste directly to the center of the IHS (Integrated Heat Sink), then allow the pressure of the CPU cooler to spread the thermal paste away as you secure.

The problem with this method is that the paste is not evenly distributed. When trying to make sure you have enough paste to cover the entire area of ​​the CPU, you will most likely end up with too much paste. This can negatively impact performance as too much solder paste will eventually hinder effective heat transfer.

If you don’t leave enough clearance between the edge of the CPU and the end of the line, you may also run the risk of squeezing the slurry out the sides once you’ve secured the cooler. Not only does this create unnecessary clutter, but if you happen to use conductive paste, any contact with the PCB could cause a short that could damage your motherboard and other connected components.

Remember: The purpose of thermal paste is to fill in the tiny gaps on the surface of the CPU and heatsink, not to sit on top of the processor like gray cake frosting.

It is difficult to ensure that the thermal paste is evenly distributed. Some people (wrongly) recommend using a flat hard surface like a credit card to manually apply thermal paste to the CPU. While this does provide nice initial results and makes it easier to control the amount of thermal paste, it has one major flaw that greatly affects performance: applying thermal paste manually creates small air bubbles. Since air doesn’t conduct heat like thermal paste, temperature can be greatly affected.

use point method

If you install the cooler correctly, the simplicity of this method eliminates the problems of other application methods and guarantees excellent performance and even the spread of thermal paste every time. Before you start squeezing the plungers, it’s a good idea to make sure the cooler and CPU surfaces are clean. A quick wipe with a lint-free towel and some isopropyl alcohol will do.

Squeeze a small amount of thermal paste into the center of the CPU. All you need is a small dot a few millimeters in diameter. Don’t overdo it or you’ll sacrifice performance. No more than one or two grains of rice.

Before installing the cooler, make sure all required hardware is in place. If you put a cooler and then realize you forgot the stand or backplate, you’ll have to wipe it down and start over. Ideally, applying thermal paste would be the last step before installing the heatsink.

Make sure to place the cooler as straight as possible the first time. If you have to turn it to align the holes after it’s already placed, the thermal paste won’t spread properly.

How to apply thermal paste

It’s worth noting that with larger processors, such as Intel’s 12th Gen Alder Lake CPUs or AMD’s Threadripper chips, you’ll need more than one spot of thermal paste. No longer square means you can no longer rely on one application being evenly spread across the surface of the heatsink, so I recommend placing two small dots on either end of the processor.

For Threadripper, maybe three…

As long as the paste spreads across the width of the chip, you’re good to go. This is important for things like chiplet-based Ryzen processors, which have three separate chips that require efficient cooling. If your application leaves bare spots on the CPU that can lead to overheating and slow performance.

How to apply thermal paste

The amount of thermal paste on a chip plays a vital role in transferring heat generated from the chip to the heat sink.

Apply them too much, and the leakage may act as an insulator that does not allow heat to flow. Apply them too little, and the heat from the chip may not flow efficiently through the heat sink.

Today, we are here to provide you with details about the thermal paste pattern so that the paste spreads evenly on the processor’s surface.

Table of Contents

How Does a Thermal Paste Work?

A Thermal paste sits between the chip, mostly GPU or CPU, and the heat sink. Without a thermal paste, the two surfaces in contact will have a lot of irregularities and create small air pockets.

The thermal paste fills these air pockets so that heat is not trapped inside. By doing this, heat from the chip transfers smoothly to the heat sink.

What’s the Best Thermal Paste Pattern?

There is no way of knowing that the thermal paste you apply to the chip covers its surface completely. If it does not, the chip might not dissipate heat onto the heat sink efficiently. This will create a lot of air pockets between the chip and the heat sink, resulting in a temperature rise.

Below, we have mentioned a few patterns that most people use when applying thermal paste.

Dot/Pea Pattern

How to apply thermal paste

The dot or Pea pattern is one of the most used thermal paste patterns. All you do is insert a small amount of paste in a shape of a small dot that looks like a pea.

Although the most used one, this is not the best thermal paste pattern as it does not cover the entire surface. Despite covering most of the area around the center of the chip, it does not completely cover the edges. This will cause the parts that contain air pockets to heat up fairly quickly, and the chip will suffer from thermal throttling.

Rice Grain

How to apply thermal paste

In this pattern, you apply the thermal paste just like a rice grain. The paste should look like a small horizontal or vertical line in the middle of the chip.

Although the rice grain pattern uses more thermal paste than the dot pattern, it also fails to cover the entire surface. The rice grain method will cover most areas around the center, but the paste may not always reach the edges.

Even if you cover all the surface area by applying more paste, you will have some leakage from the sides.

Single Line

How to apply thermal paste

Imagine a rice grain pattern, but longer. Well, now you have a line pattern. Here, you apply a thermal paste on a straight line from one side to the opposite side.

The thermal paste spread using this pattern is better than the pea/dot or the rice grain pattern. The paste might not cover all the edges and corners due to the straight pattern, but it evenly covers most areas around the center.

One downside to the line pattern could be that, since you apply the paste from one side to the other, these two sides may suffer from leakage.

Double Line

How to apply thermal paste

Since the single line pattern had a problem reaching the corners and edges, we can use the double line pattern to disperse the paste across the chip.

The double line pattern covers most of the edges of a chip but fails to cover the corner. And just like the leakage issue in the single line pattern, the double line pattern also faces the same problem.

Cross/X Pattern

How to apply thermal paste

In a cross or X pattern, you apply the thermal paste diagonally from one corner of the chip to the opposite corner. Repeat the process from the remaining corners to have a cross pattern.

The cross pattern is one of the best patterns that cover all, if not most, the chip’s surface. Due to this, there are little to no air pockets that trap heat. By theory, this should give us a better temperature.

Although it may seem that this is the best thermal paste pattern, you may have some spillage from the sides. So, if you are using a conductive thermal paste, you should clean any leakage on the side.

5 Dots

How to apply thermal paste

In 5 dots pattern, you apply dots of thermal paste on four corners of the chip and one on the center. These small dots are all across the processor chip, covering most areas.

This method can be useful, especially if you have a bigger chip, such as a Ryzen processor. If you have a smaller processor, it is best that you avoid this chip, as you might have some leakage.

Using a Thermal Paste Spreader

How to apply thermal paste

A thermal spreader works like a charm in spreading the thermal paste across the processor chip. Besides a thermal paste spreader, you can also use any hard plastic with a straight edge.

However, make sure that there is no leakage before inserting the heat sink.

Does It Matter What Thermal Paste Pattern I Use?

Depending on the thermal paste pattern you are using, the processor will have different temperatures. However, these temperature differences are in the range of 0.2 to 0.4 degrees, which is minuscule to cause any issues.

Therefore, it does not matter what thermal paste pattern you use as long as you do not leak any around the processor chip.

Related Questions

Do I Need a Thermal Paste?

Thermal paste fills the small air pocket between the processor chip and the heat sink. If you don’t apply thermal paste, these air pocket acts as an insulator that restricts heat flow. This will cause the processor chip to heat up.

The thermal paste fills these air pockets, allowing heat to transfer more efficiently. Therefore, if you want a normal temperature, we recommend always using a thermal paste.

How Often Should I Re-apply Thermal Paste?

Thermal Paste lasts two to three years, depending on the usage. If you perform GPU or CPU-intensive tasks constantly, you might need to re-apply thermal paste even sooner. If you find that your CPU/GPU runs at a higher temperature even on idle, you might want to change its thermal paste.

You should also always re-apply thermal paste if you remove the heat sink from the processor chip.

What Happens If I Apply Too Much Thermal Paste?

Small leakage on the side of the chip does not really matter if you are using a non-conductive thermal paste. However, too much spillage, either conductive or non-conductive, can cause some serious issues.

If you are using a conductive thermal paste, even a small amount of paste on the motherboard may even cause the board to short circuit.

Tech Enthusiast. Front-end Developer. Casual Gamer. Campfire Guitarist.

How to apply thermal paste

Heat management is an important consideration when it comes to computer maintenance because it can damage sensitive components. That’s why proper cooling is essential by applying thermal paste correctly. Thermal paste is specifically designed to fill in the surface gaps and imperfections you’re joining. There are different methods of thermal paste application, ranging from using a dot, line, “X,” spiral, applying too little or too much, and using your fingers when spreading the thermal paste.

In this post, you’ll learn helpful tips when applying thermal paste.

Remove the Old Thermal Paste First

It’s essential to remove the old thermal paste before applying a new one. The procedure is simple from the ends of the heat sink and the processor. You need to prepare a lint-free or microfiber cloth or cotton swab, isopropyl alcohol, and a replacement thermal compound.

Here’s how to get rid of the old thermal paste:

  • Remove the first layer of the old thermal paste using the lint-free cloth.
  • Wet the microfiber cloth or cotton swab with 70% isopropyl alcohol (the higher the percentage, the better) to remove the thermal paste on the computer chip.
  • Wipe the surface of the CPU, GPU or gaming PC lightly with a cotton swab or alcohol dampened with isopropyl alcohol. Also, do the same step on the end of the heat sink.

Use a Good Thermal Paste

Basic thermal greases have zinc oxide and silicone, which are sufficient to fill in most applications. On the other hand, expensive compounds have heat conductors, such as ceramic or silver, facilitating efficient heat transmission. Get thermal paste containing conductive metals, like copper, silver, or gold if you plan to overclock your computer.

Prepare the Surface Further

If necessary, sand the processor and the heat sink surfaces. The two touching surfaces should be perfectly flat to eliminate using thermal paste. If you have a rough heat sink base, wet-sand it using fine grit paper. An emery cloth can also be used to make it smoother. Unless you’re aiming for ultimate cooling performance, this step is not necessary.

Correctly Apply the Thermal Paste to Circular-Based Coolers

When applying thermal paste to circular-based coolers, use a bead of thermal paste smaller than a grain of rice, not pea-sized, because this amount is too much. It will only mess up your motherboard. When the heat is applied, the thermal paste becomes thinner to spread towards the edges. That’s why only a small amount of paste is required.

Here are the steps when applying thermal paste to the circular-based coolers:

  • Apply bead-sized thermal paste to the circular-based coolers.
  • Using even pressure, install the heat sink with from all sides. You don’t have to spread the thermal paste to the circular coolers because the pressure of application will spread the paste evenly across the surface.
  • Never remove the heatsink once you install it because it will break the seal, and you’ll need to start the process again. Also, it will be harder to check if the paste has been applied correctly.
  • Reconnect the CPU fan to the motherboard. Make sure that the CPU fan wire is plugged into the CPU fan socket to adjust the fan without changing the voltage automatically.
  • Boot the system and check if the fan is spinning. Press F1 or Del to enter the BIOS.
  • The temperature of an idle CPU or GPU should be below 40 degrees Celsius.

Correctly Apply the Thermal Paste to Square-Based Coolers

It is more challenging to apply thermal paste to square-based coolers compared to circular-based coolers. Using a dot and pressure won’t result in full coverage.

Here are some ways that you can apply thermal paste to square-based coolers:

  • Lines Method:On the base of the square-based coolers, apply two parallel thin lines of thermal paste. The lines should be about one-third of the width in length.
  • Cross Method: It is similar to the lines method with an “X” pattern.
  • Spread Method: It’s the most effective and popular method. However, it requires more effort. You can use a plastic finger protector and your finger to spread the thermal paste evenly. Make sure that you cover the surface entirely when you do this.

Conclusion

Make sure to keep these tips in mind when using thermal paste. Applying thermal paste to round coolers is easier because the lines are parallel. On the other hand, square-based coolers can be a little bit more challenging to apply thermal paste on. Make sure to use bead-sized thermal paste because too much will mess up your motherboard.

This post was last modified on February 11, 2020 7:17 AM

Introduction and test procedures

A drop in the middle, a cross, spread it with finger, or use an old credit card to smooth it perfectly? Even simple things like applying a thermal paste under your cooler can be a bit tricky sometimes. Commonly used methods are seemingly different, and if you also consider batching, there comes a question of how to it to achieve the best results.

Introduction and test procedures

As we all know, even the best cooler is ineffective without a thermal paste. There are so many combinations of how to create a thermal bridge between a heatspreader of a chip and a cooler that we thought it definitely deserves a closer look.

We have chosen and compared four methods in our tests. One of the most recommended and used is a drop in the middle of IHS, which is spread by the pressure of a cooler. This pressure is also used with the cross method that can better reach corners in some cases. These corners usually remain dry when using combination of the drop method and less paste.

How to apply thermal paste How to apply thermal paste

It is also very popular to use finger and a foil to spread the paste on the whole surface of IHS. However, this method is often criticized by more experienced users because the layer of the paste is not perfectly smooth and that can lead to creation of air gaps. That is why people who want to avoid this use some applicator (or simply something with a sharp edge, like an old credit card or a razor blade) to precisely smooth the layer.

How to apply thermal paste How to apply thermal paste

When you have decided which technique to use, it is time to think about the amount of paste to be used. We worked with the range of 0.01 – 0.15 ml and we used 0.1 ml, 0.066 ml, and 0.033 ml as reference values for every method.

The paste which was used in our experiment is Noctua NT-H1. We’ve chosen it because it is a part of the accessories of popular coolers Noctua and also because it has an acceptable consistency for equal spreading, despite its higher viscosity. Some pastes tend to tear, which makes it harder to create a smooth consistent layer.

How to apply thermal paste

The choice of the cooler was Scythe Fuma. Because of its suitable base, it was possible to see whether the air gaps reduce effectiveness of the heat transfer.

The heating element was overclocked Intel Core [email protected] GHz (on Gigabyte X99 UD4) with increased Vcore to 1.275 V. We simulated the burn in IntelBurnTest (7500 MB). The waste heat was around 250 W.

How to apply thermal paste How to apply thermal paste

After the initial burn in, the tests took 300 seconds. We used high-flow industrial fans Noctua iPPC NF-F12 2000, so five minutes should be more than enough for temperatures to stabilize. It was crucial to watch if the CPU was working with the same performance the whole time. Even the smallest offset (GLOPS) could affect the final results. We repeated every test twice (new installation included) to make sure that measured values match. The intake air temperature was 21 – 21.3 °C, ensured in our air-conditioned lab.

Before we get to the comparing, we need to add that results can differ with other pastes and configurations. The reason is differences in viscosity, pressure, and contact areas of coolers. Coolers with solid block base can spread the heat differently than coolers that put heatpipes directly on the CPU’s heatspreader.

Here is everything you need to know about thermal paste, including a complete guide full of pictures. Learn how to correctly apply it in order to prevent your CPU from overheating.

The Thermal Paste

Contents

The thermal paste is basically composed of silicone and zinc oxide, but there are more elaborate pastes that can even contain ceramic and silver – noble materials that promise more efficiency in heat transmission.

Its price can range between USD 2 and USD 32 (in pastes that have silver in their composition).

Thermal paste can be found in many kinds of packages and usually comes with the cooler. Figure 3 shows many kinds of packages.

Figure 3: Many kinds of thermal pastes

There are also coolers which have some material applied from the factory. In addition, coolers that come with the processor (“in-a-box”), or even some coolers sold alone, are found on the market with thermal paste already applied.

In the case of coolers that come with the processor and coolers of recognized brands, the quality of the material applied is usually good, and both AMD and Intel recommend the use of those compounds.

Figure 4: Cooler in-a-box for Pentium 4 with pre-applied thermal paste

Figure 5: Cooler in-a-box for Athlon 64 with pre-applied thermal paste

Figure 6: Cooler in-a-box for AMD socket 462 processors with pre-applied thermal paste

All of the above compounds are of good quality and have better efficiency than regular thermal pastes. If you bought a super thermal paste containing silver, you should remove the original compound and apply the new paste instead.

Unfortunately, the use of those compounds “from the factory” has some inconveniences. The first one is that they can be used only once. If you remove the cooler for some reason, you’ll have to clean the old compound and apply the original one again (which is hard to find) or apply thermal paste instead. Another very common problem is that the compound ends up sticking the heatsink to the processor, making cooler removal difficult.

In the case of Intel socket 478 and AMD sockets 754 or 939 processors, it’s very common to pull the cooler and take out the processor at the same time if it is stuck on the heatsink, something that ends up damaging the processor in most cases. The tip here is to use a hairdryer to heat the heatsink a little in order to melt the thermal compound and then remove the heatsink with lateral movements. But don’t use the hairdryer too much.

There are also cheaper coolers that come with a graphite square or thermal tape similar to gum that are terrible heat conductors. In this case, you should remove those compounds and apply thermal paste instead.

Figure 7: Cooler for Socket 7 with graphite compound you should remove

Many people believe that the more thermal paste, the better. A lot of paste turns out to be insulating, not to mention that paste in excess ends up dropping down and reaching motherboard contacts. Remember that most pastes don’t conduct electricity, but there are pastes that contain metal in their composition which turns them into conductors that may cause a short circuit and destroy your equipment.

We will show in detail how to apply thermal paste on several kinds of processors.

Cooling Tutorials

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