A detailed guide on how to apply thermal paste to your CPU to aid in the cooling and yield positive performance gains.
HOW TO APPLY THERMAL PASTE
In a personal computer (PC), the biggest enemy of performance is heat. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of the central processing unit (CPU). Cooling for the CPU can be accomplished by either air or watercooling, but either way, the CPU is connected to the cooling system by way of a flat metal piece. No matter how hard manufacturers try, neither this metal piece (the bottom of the heat sink in the case of air cooling, and the CPU block in watercooling) nor the top of the CPU will be perfectly flat. The little imperfections in the surfaces of both of these components hold heat in, and in turn affect how well your cooling will cool the processor. Thermal paste fills in these gaps, eliminating the excess heat.
Some heatsinks have a thermal pad on them, furthering the cooling power of the heatsink. In these cases it is not necessary to apply thermal paste, but it will still improve the contact of the heatsink to the CPU. Make sure you remove the plastic cover from the thermal pad first, though.
For most people, the difference in how you apply thermal paste and which type you use will not matter, but for those who insist on getting the utmost power from your rig (and I’m assuming you are one of these people seeing as you are reading this article), the few degrees of heat you save will make a difference.
The most commonly used thermal paste by the end user is Arctic Silver 5. Specific instructions for the application of this product can be found on their website, www.arcticsilver.com.
There are, however, other brands out there, and the application process may differ from brand to brand. This guide is based on Arctic Silver 5, though, as it provides great performance at a low price.
Before starting, you must remove the thermal paste left on from previous applications from both the CPU and the heatsink. NOTE: You may skip this step if using a brand new CPU and heatsink, neither of which have pre-applied thermal paste. Iso-Proply alcohol is highly recommended, although nail varnish remover is also acceptable. Arctic Silver also sells it’s own cleaner in the ArctiClean if you feel this is necessary. Use a clean, lint-free cloth and wipe the surface clean. Be sure not to touch the surface after you have completed the cleaning, as you will then have to repeat the process.
This varies depending upon what type of processor you have, and whether it has an exposed core, or a heat spreader. The basics are the same, in that either way you apply the paste to the CPU and install the clean heatsink/waterblock as the instructions dictate.
When applying thermal paste to an exposed core, simply put a small amount of paste on the top and spread it, ensuring you do so in a thin and even manner. Be careful not to use too much, as this will put more material for the heat to travel through before it reaches the heatsink/waterblock, drastically reducing the cooling performance. Spread it very thin and even. It should be no thicker than half of a grain of uncooked rice. After doing this, simply apply the heatsink/waterblock as the instructions tell you to do so.
SINGLE CORES WITH HEATSPREADER:
Heatspreaders are put in place to aid the heat transfer from the CPU to the heatsink/waterblock. These increase the size of the CPU, however, and as such it is not necessary to cover the entire CPU with thermal paste. Simply put a blob in the center of the heatspreader (the size of one grain of uncooked rice for an Intel CPU, slightly larger for an AMD CPU), and let pressure take care of spreading the paste as you apply the heatsink/waterblock.
DUAL CORE WITH HEATSPREADER:
The process is the same as with single core CPUs, but in this case you want a line as opposed to a blob. This is to aid in the cooling of both cores. To make sure you put the line in the correct direction, make sure the corner with the gold triangle is in the bottom left corner, and then apply from top to bottom.
QUAD CORE WITH HEATSPREADER:
For quad core CPUs, the process is the same as with dual core CPUs, except this time, the line should be horizontal as opposed to vertical.
Please keep in mind that, should the heatsink/waterblock be removed from the CPU, you will need to clean the heatsink/waterblock once again and reapply the thermal paste, as the airtight seal between them will have broken. Thanks for reading to the end, and I hope you enjoy this and other articles I intend to write in the future!