How Does a Thermal Paste Work?

How Does a Thermal Paste Work?

Modern computer components are becoming more and more powerful every year. Every new generation of components has an improved heat management system than the predecessor. However, the technology is not yet progressed enough to dissipate the heat on its own. Therefore, you need a thermal paste to transfer the heat from the CPU/GPU to the heatsink.

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A thermal paste is a semi-conductor-based compound that catches the heat from the component and transfers it to the heatsink and, ultimately, the cooling fan. Most people think of thermal pastes as cooling compounds. In reality, the thermal paste only ensures that the heatsink is fully in contact with the CPU. For instance, even if the heatsink is tightly sealed on the CPU or GPU, some microscopic air bubbles are still present. As you know, the air is a poor heat conductor; the air bubbles prevent heat transfer from the respective areas on the hardware. However, a thermal paste ensures that little to no air bubbles are left between the heatsink and the component, thus ensuring lower temperatures.

When to Change the Thermal Paste of the CPU?

When to Change the Thermal Paste of the CPU

People with appropriate computer knowledge understand the importance of keeping your thermal paste fresh. The thermal paste is like other liquid compounds that dry under immense temperature due to several conditions. However, people only notice the need to refresh the thermal paste when the PC starts causing problems. Generally, the lifespan of a thermal paste is between 1-2 years.

What Damages the Thermal Paste?

Certain conditions significantly affect the life of a thermal paste. Sometimes, even a good quality paste lasts only six months due to these conditions.

Here are a few techniques to ensure that your thermal paste remains fresh:

Clean the Ventilators:

Modern PC builds use multiple cooling fans to keep the system cool. The cooling systems include a CPU cooling fan, case fans, and a power supply cooling fan. These fans take the hot air from inside the case and replace it with the fresh air from the room. The room’s air is full of dirt, debris, and other pollutants that clog the fans very quickly. In fact, even cigarette smoke clogs the ventilators. A clogged cooling system doesn’t cool the system down as efficiently, so the components are prone to damage as the thermal paste dries out under high temperatures.

Don’t Forget the Thermal Paste:

People often forget that the thermal paste is only a seal between the cooler and the CPU. As a result, they don’t replace the thermal paste whenever lifting the CPU cooler. In order to keep the thermal paste fresh, the rule of thumb is to refresh it whenever you break the thermal seal. Even if the CPU fan loosens up, you have to clean the old thermal paste and replace it with a high-quality new paste.

Be on the lookout for Signs:

The thermal paste doesn’t get dried out suddenly. Instead, it is a long-term process. The heat generated from the CPU and GPU dry out the thermal paste gradually over a span of two years. A great way to keep your thermal paste fresh is to keep an eye on your CPU and GPU temperatures. Usually, a good quality thermal paste keeps your CPU and GPU temperature around 35 to 50 degrees Celsius. However, a PC with a dry thermal paste can reach up to 60 degrees centigrade when using the same applications as before. Therefore, if you notice any abnormal temperature rise in the system, it is time to change the thermal paste.

How to Change the Thermal Paste of the CPU?

How to Change the Thermal Paste of the CPU

Replacing the thermal paste of your system can be a DIY project if you have the right tools. Beware! Changing the thermal paste improperly can short-circuit the system. Here is how to properly change the thermal paste of the CPU:

  • Disconnect the PC from the power socket and remove the power cable from the power supply.
  • Open the side panel of your PC case or disassemble the laptop (refer to YouTube).
  • Lift the CPU cooling fan of your PC by removing the screws and disconnecting the motherboard cables.
  • Put some rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip (earbud) or on a microfiber cloth.
  • Gently wipe the processor and the heatsink to remove the thermal paste completely.
  • Take some high-quality thermal paste and gently squeeze one drop (size of a pea) on the processor.
  • Some people prefer to spread it using a Q-tip; you can skip this step without any side effects.
  • Gently place the heatsink, tighten the screws and connect all the cables.
  • It is a good idea to clean your PC case, the fans, and the dust filters every time you open the case by using compressed air or a blower.

Do I Need a Thermal Paste with Water Cooling?

Yes, the AIO-based water cooling systems only provide a more efficient way to cool the system. However, it doesn’t seal the heatsink completely to catch a maximum amount of heat. Therefore, you need to apply thermal paste every 1 to 2 years, even if you are using a water-cooling system on your PC.

Can I Replace Liquid Metal-based Thermal Paste at Home?

Liquid metal-based thermal pastes are more effective than silicon-based pastes. However, the metal-based paste can short-circuit your PC if they spill on the motherboard. Therefore, it would be best to ask a professional to apply such thermal pastes for you.