When your graphics card gets too hot, noisy or slow, it’s time to replace the thermal paste!
Although your computer may no longer be brand new, it’s not particularly old yet either. You nevertheless consistently experience problems with the graphics card. It even shut down completely once in the middle of an exciting new game you were playing. It surely can’t be possible that you need a new graphics card again, can it? Don’t worry: the problem is more likely to be the thermal paste rather than the graphics card. You can learn what exactly the thermal paste is, what it is needed for and how you can easily renew it in our guide.
- What does thermal paste do?
- How should you remove old thermal paste?
- What is the best way to apply thermal paste?
- When should you apply thermal paste?
- How often should the thermal paste be replaced?
- What will happen if you don’t use thermal paste?
- What is the best thermal paste?
- Can thermal paste dry out?
- Can thermal paste be reused?
Thermal paste is quite viscous. It is used to improve thermal conductivity between hardware components and the cooler. Thermal paste compensates for small irregularities on the surface of the cooler and the contact surface of the respective hardware component, thus establishing an optimal connection between the cooler and the heat source. Thermal paste is used wherever a cooler is used in PCs, which means mostly in conjunction with the processor and of course the graphics card. However, it can also be used for motherboard chipsets. Thermal paste is available in different variants. Alongside thermoplastic-based pastes and silicone-based variants, the “liquid metal” variant is currently very popular. It’s just a matter of taste, as they are all suitable.
What are the necessary preparations?
You should make a few preparations before replacing the thermal paste. The appropriate tools should of course be at hand. In addition to a screwdriver with various bits, you will also need alcohol or a special agent to remove the old thermal paste as well as cloths for cleaning or drying components. Make sure you thoroughly remove the old thermal paste before applying the new one.
As you will not be able to apply the new thermal past if the old paste is still present, it is absolutely necessary to remove it. Doing so requires a soft cloth (microfiber cloths are well suited). You will also need a highly concentrated alcohol, i.e. isopropanol or isopropyl alcohol. A special remover can also be used as an alternative.
Instructions for removing thermal paste
- First disconnect your PC from the power supply.
- The next step is to remove the graphics card.
- Then remove the cooling unit of the graphics card. You will have to remove the screws on the cooler to do so. They are usually located on the bottom of the card.
- After that you can carefully remove the cooler. As the fan may also be attached to the board by hooks or even the fan cable, it is important to proceed with extreme caution. If you feel any resistance, you should immediately look for the cause and remove it before continuing.
- Dampen the cloth with isopropanol and use it to carefully remove the thermal paste on the graphics chip and the base plate of the cooler. It is important to be very gentle. Going over the relevant spots several times is better than rubbing them too vigorously. The thermal paste should be removed completely without leaving any residue. Make sure you give the surfaces time to dry off completely afterwards.
Once the old thermal paste has been completely removed, the new paste can be applied. Although thermal paste usually comes in the form of tubes, it is also available in syringes. Since very little is actually needed, they usually contain only a few milliliters of paste.
Instructions for applying thermal paste
- The first step is to apply the thermal paste. Take care to apply only a very thin film. Using a little spatula or other blunt tool, spread the paste until the surface is covered by an even film. As an alternative you can deposit some paste in the center of the graphics chip and mount the fan. Although the paste will usually spread evenly, it is better to play it safe and spread the paste with a spatula. Applying thermal paste correctly is not as difficult as it may first seem.
- As soon as you are finished you can already place the fan in the center and mount it again. Make sure you place the cooler and the chip squarely on top of each other at the first try in order to avoid smearing the thermal paste.
As it tends to last quite long, thermal paste usually does not need to be reapplied very often. We nevertheless recommend replacing it if the graphics card gets unusually hot, is quite noisy or also very slow. This indicates that the thermal paste is probably getting too old and should be replaced. Even if components have been newly installed and the fan separated from the graphics card or the processor and mounted again, a new thermal paste has to be applied again.
Although thermal paste tends to last quite long (several years on average), if you are planning to have your computer reassembled or the thermal paste has dried out, it must be replaced. Thermal paste does not usually dry out very quickly. However, some circumstances cause the paste to dry out faster than usual, such as when the paste is constantly subjected to high temperatures. This can also happen if the manufacturer of the computer has used a very low-quality thermal paste. The same applies in the event that individual components are allowed to reach an unusually high temperature. Many manufacturers recommend replacing the graphics card’s thermal paste after three years at the latest, and already after two years for gaming PCs. Other manufacturers recommend that you only replace the thermal paste if really necessary, for example if the graphics card overheats or components are rebuilt.
Not using any thermal paste at all will result in high levels of heat build-up. This can cause the overheated component, such as the graphics card or processor, to shut down. Lack of thermal paste does not allow the heat to be transferred to the cooler correctly. Thermal paste ensures that the heat can be properly dissipated by filling in any irregularities on the two metal surfaces. It is responsible for the continuous dissipation of heat into the heat sink. Long-term use of the computer cannot be guaranteed without thermal paste, especially when the computer has to deliver maximum performance. When heat exposure get too high, the component not only shuts down, but it is even possible for the graphics card and cooler to practically function as if they were welded together. This may result in damage to the graphics card or the processor.
There are different types of thermal pastes depending on the various ingredients used. Although generally speaking any thermal paste can be used, most people end up developing a preference for a particular thermal paste. The following variants are available:
Liquid metal thermal paste
Metal-based thermal pastes are best at conducting heat from the graphics card’s chip to the cooler. A mixture of different metals is used for this purpose and ensures proper functioning. This liquid metal paste is ideal for professional hobbyists and passionate gamers.
Ceramic thermal paste
The most popular thermal paste next to the liquid metal variant is ceramic thermal paste. Although it is cheaper than liquid metal thermal paste and does not provide the same level of temperature reduction, this variant is very popular because it is particularly easy and safe to use, while still delivering very good results.
Silicone thermal paste
Silicone pastes are the third most popular variant. Although thermal pastes made of this material are very easy to use because they are very soft and easy to apply, they are not comparable to the other two variants in terms of effectiveness. One plus, however, is that silicone pastes do not dry out as quickly.
Yes, thermal paste can indeed dry out. It can dry out both in the computer and in the tube. Exposure to heat in the computer usually causes the paste to gradually dry out until it is completely desiccated and needs to be replaced. Since these pastes also contain solvents, their properties even gradually change while still in the tube. The durability of thermal pastes differs depending on type and manufacturer.
Although thermal paste could theoretically be reused if it has not dried up yet, this is not recommended. When the heatsink is removed from the graphics chip or processor, the thermal paste should be replaced. If the old paste is reused, so-called air bridges may form, resulting in improper heat dissipation. As this can reduce performance and, in the worst case, cause the relevant component to overheat and sustain damage, we do not recommend reusing thermal paste.
If your graphics card gets noisy or very hot, this does not always mean that you have to buy an expensive new graphics card. You can often easily fix the problem with a tube of thermal paste. Just check the heat build-up and renew the thermal paste if necessary. This is easy to do and your graphics card will run as if it were new.