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Intel_thermalpaste_101

Clean and re-apply thermal paste for Intel CPU stock Cooler: The Self-Help Guide

This is a step-by-step guide for how to clean and re-apply thermal paste for Intel CPU with the stock CPU cooler that usually comes with its desktop socket processor. For many people, they would rather keep the Intel stock CPU cooler aside and get an aftermarket one which will give a significant boost in cooling performance, especially when you’re running CPU intensive tasks. But for some type of users, it’s good enough for the time being or don’t really care about making that extra investment as long as it does the job.

But as always, maintenance is required. At some point, the processor would be overheating and also even shut down. For people in such scenario once they’ve narrowed it down to CPU temperature issues, they have two choices. Either buy a brand new CPU cooler to get much better cooling and even for overclocking (or simply replacing the Intel CPU cooler simply because it stopped working) or re-apply the thermal paste and keep using it for whatever reason. Fair enough!!

This self-help guide will help you to clean and re-apply a drop (a grain of rice equivalent) of thermal paste on a CPU stock cooler. But for those who want to replace the Intel stock CPU cooler with an aftermarket one, there’s another self-help preparation guide.

[nextpage title=”Introduction” ]

As mentioned in the CPU cooler guide, a thermal paste helps to transfer heat from the CPU’s integrated heatspreader to its cooler’s heatbase. This way the heat exchange can be made as quickly as possible. But thermal pastes have a wear level, which depends on the lifespan of the currently used thermal paste, the load and heat the processor dissipates and the amount of time the CPU is used, along with number cores and that. When you buy a processor-AMD or Intel- the thermal paste is pre-applied on the base itself. When the time is up for that paste, you’ll need to change it.

Intel_thermalpaste_101

Changing the thermal paste is somewhat simple and it’s something that a person can do easily well within an hour. First, a good deal of information and tips will be given on what you need to get the job done.

Why should you change it on your own? If you do it yourself and do it right, then you’re practically half-way there to take off the entire system on your own. I learned how to build PCs by dissembling a PC using an Intel Pentium 4 (Willamette architecture) system and removing the CPU cooler when I was 14. Eventually, I’ve built a system using AMD 3000+ and an MSI something mATX motherboard with onboard ATi graphics, and now here I am!

Another reason is that some PC assemblers may not use a good enough thermal paste for cost cutting reasons. The ones I’ve seen usually use a silicon based filler which isn’t the best choice. A 1.4ml syringe has enough thermal paste for about 8-10 systems and will cost much lesser than what your guy will charge you for the job. If he needs to take the system with him, then the data on your system goes with him. If you want, you can always learn from this guide, get a CPU thermal paste of your choice and ask your preferred PC tech to change it front of you. If he doesn’t mind (and if he’s honest), the tech will not mind. This way you can watch him do the entire process in front of you, relate with the guide all the way and even make sure he’s doing the job properly. The next time, you should be able to do this with full confidence. If this self-help guide gives you that confidence to do-it-yourself, nothing makes me happy.

If you’re doing it yourself, all you need is a faith in yourself, the stuff you require for this process and complete attention with this guide. The time and effort taken to prepare this guide is way more than giving a fresh application of thermal paste. But a lot of effort is taken for this guide so that you won’t be stuck in the process of it.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Identify CPU overheating” ]

A system can shut down just like that for many reasons. Lack of airflow is one of them. Google and download a software called HWInfo. Once you’ve installed and run the software, scroll down to the temperature section.

A PC’s ambient temperature is influenced by the temperature and the amount of airflow it gets inside the case. In traditional case designs, storage drives are usually stacked towards the front panel. If the rest of the components are not as hot as the CPU especially when you’re not doing anything, you need to clean out the CPU area and best to re-apply thermal paste for better heat exchange. The reason to use a thermal paste is explained in the CPU cooler guide.

But before we continue, I need you to get some things to get the job done!

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Things you need” ]

The following items you will need to have for this work:

Intel_thermalpaste_10

There are many people who have their ways to clean and re-apply thermal pastes. The method I am using is also to clean the motherboard and CPU cooler by removing finer dust or dust bunnies. The following items you require:

  • Isopropyl Alcohol
  • Air balloon blower
  • A flat-head screwdriver
  • A thermal Paste of your choice
  • Unscented and preferably non-coloured tissue
  • An anti-static bag to place it under the motherboard
  • A plastic processor cover (usually in Intel CPU’s packaging)
  • A socket cap (Usually on the motherboard at the time of purchase)

Make sure you wash your hands.

Intel_thermalpaste_11

For cleaning, buy a small bottle of isopropyl alcohol with at least 90% alcohol, an air blower balloon and a dry and unscented issue. If you cannot get an air blower balloon, get an anti-static brush.

Do not use a blower or a vacuum since it may create static or short out the motherboard. But you have an ESD safe blower like a Datavac. You could use a compressed air can, but make sure to use very short burst as the can does get cold during a long use and stop working. If a lot of pressure is applied, then some fluid from its base may start to come out. It’s always handy if you keep an anti-static brush or a data vac. Do not use a leaf blower either.

Intel_thermalpaste_13

Socket cap, the processor cover and an anti-static bag. If you don’t have the processor cover, you can always put the processor in a small anti-static bag.

Make sure that the socket cap and the protection cover is clean, dry and free from dust before use.

Intel_thermalpaste_14

A thermal paste of your choice. I have posted some general information about thermal pastes in the CPU cooler guide. Some of them are:

India


US


UK


As an option, keep a flat head screwdriver with you. Though the process of removing the stock CPU cooler does not require it, it best to keep it incase if you are unable to unlock any/all the four pins in each corner.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Stuff you need to know and take care of” ]

Intel uses a term called ‘ILM’ which stands for Independent Loading Mechanism. What it means in layman terms is that the CPU socket assembly which is pre-installed on every Intel chipset based motherboard have a mechanism with a plate that holds the processor in its place once it’s secured using a lever and moves like a hinge.

The following terms will be used in this guide, so do get familiar:
CPU Socket Terms

The ILM mechanism is the only mounting method that Intel uses for a very long time. The one which we’re using is LGA 1150 socket on the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming-GT and 4th generation Haswell refresh Intel Core i7 4790K processor. Intel uses the term ‘LGA 115x’ to differentiate between different processor types but have the same measurements of the mounting hole. At the time of writing, LGA 1156, 1155, 1150 and soon to come LGA 1151 is around. But all the LGA 115x sockets use the same mounting hole measurements.

Pin 1 indicator and Alignment notch

Intel uses LGA (LGA) method for its DIY desktop processors. Which means that the processor has copper points on the base and the motherboard socket has pins. As long as it’s aligned to its respected contact points, the system will function the way it should. There are indicators and a couple of one-sided notches that ensure that you are installing it properly for the pins and contact points to interact.

But one needs to take care of properly removing and reinstalling the CPU because these pins can be bent if handled roughly. Under any circumstances, avoid touching the contacts on the processor socket and at all cost DO NOT touch the pins on the motherboard socket.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Hold the CPU cooler properly” ]

How to hold CPU cooler

The images above indicate the right and the wrong ways to hold the CPU cooler during its removal or installation. Always keep this in mind- the processor is under the CPU cooler and applying force would damage the contact pins on the socket.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 1: Air blowing the motherboard area” ] Motherboard Cleanup

Before you remove the CPU cooler, make sure to clean the motherboard using the air blower balloon or with an anti-static brush. This is the best way of making sure the dust doesn’t come in the middle and stick where it shouldn’t during the process. Make sure you remove the RAMs, graphic card and any add-on cards.

Clean the motherboard area, including in corners around the motherboard, in RAM, PCIe slots and headers. Blow air through the heatsink as much as possible so that the dust on the heatsink will not fall on the processor when you’re removing it. Use a brush to clean the fan blades, especially the part underneath it. Inspect the motherboard to ensure not dust is there before proceeding.

With this CPU cooler, you wouldn’t really need to take it out of your case. But if you want to clean the motherboard (and the PC case) proper and inspect to ensure everything is fine before removing and installing the CPU cooler, do remove them and keep the motherboard over the antistatic bag. 
[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 2: Unplugging CPU fan header” ]

CPU fan pin remove

Unplug the CPU fan header from the motherboard. Make sure you do not pull it out by grabbing the wire as this would either damage the wires, the connector or the header- all of above. Make sure you remove the connector gently.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 3: Twisting the push-pull clip” ]

twist to unlock

The CPU cooler is secured by using 4 plastic push pins in each corner. As a first step, twist the plastic cap towards the arrow.

Make sure you do not put any pressure over the center of the CPU cooler since that’s the location of the processor underneath. Always hold the frame or the push pins.
[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 4: Pull the clips and remove heatsink” ]

pull and remove

After twisting all for plastic push pins, push all the pins upwards by doing it two at a time in a diagonal position. Once you’ve done this, hold the CPU cooler heatsink from the side and remove it gently.

Make sure you do not put any pressure over the center of the CPU cooler since that’s the location of the processor underneath. Always hold the frame or the push pins.
[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 5: Open load plate and install socket cap” ]
Before removing the CPU, keep the CPU cap in handy. 

Press your finger over the load lever towards the motherboard as highlighted above. Then move the lever towards a bit away from the socket and release the lever. Once this is done, the load plate will automatically release from the shoulder screw and open up.

Once the load lever and the plate of opened, install the socket cover on the plate. This way you can close the load plate to its original position and work on cleaning the CPU IHS and the CPU cooler

Make sure the ‘remove’ section faces the shoulder screw and the other side faces the hinge. The cap needs to be installed in such a way that four of the yellow marked area needs to clip on the inner border of the load plate.

You will find two finger access area on the socket. This will allow you to remove the processor from the socket with ease. Just place your thumb in one of the access area and your index finger on the other and simply pick up the processor. Keep the processor on the processor cover or on top of another piece of anti-static bag.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 6: Close Load Plate and secure lever” ]

Closing Load Plate

Once you have removed the processor, put the load lever towards the socket and secure it by re-clipping with the load lever. Your socket is secure and this will protect the pins from any further damage or dust from entering inside.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 7: Cleaning CPU IHS” ]

CPU IHS Cleaning

Put few drops of isopropyl alcohol on the tissue paper. With the wet side of the tissue with one hand and the processor in the other, you can start cleaning the thermal paste. Always hold the processor at the sides. First wipe the thermal paste on the processor’s IHS using the tissue and then clean it. Check the sides of the IHS and clean out the thermal paste as shown above. Check the contact point area to sure is clean and then keep it on the processor cap and close it.

If you did smudge any thermal paste on the contact pin, get a cotton swap, apply 1-2 drops of isopropyl alcohol on it and wipe only the area where the smudge without spreading it around. Isopropyl alcohol will quickly evaporate once it is used to clean any surface, leaving no trace of any liquid.
[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 8: Cleaning Heatsink’s base” ]

Cleaning heat base

Clean the thermal paste from the heat base exactly the same way. It is important that the trace of the older thermal paste is removed properly. The thermal efficiency might be compromised or even reduce the lifespan and maybe even make it electrically conductive.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 9: Cleaning the Intel stock CPU cooler” ]

There will be a cake of dust, fur from your pets or even goo as a result of heavy smoking near the system between the frame and the CPU heatsink, depending on the condition of the CPU cooler and the system. That will block the air flow which is required to cool off the heatsink that is drawing heat from the CPU.

Remove heatsink from frame

You can remove the aluminum heatsink from the plastic frame that holds the CPU by gently pushing one of the clips towards the opposite way while attempting to push the heatsink by pushing using your finger through space between the fan blades from the top side of the CPU cooler. Note that the heatsink and its corners are sharp. If you require, use a glove or wrap a cloth around your finger and push it. If you have fat fingers, push through the gap between the fan blades using a screwdriver. Do not put a lot of force on the plastic frame while removing it.

CPU Cooler dissected

If you’ve done it right, you’ll have two parts- the CPU heatsink and the plastic frame.

One you have removed the plastic frame from the heatsink, you can clean them properly. You can put some drops of isopropyl alcohol on the tissue paper, then wipe the frame of the fan, the fan blades and the CPU heatsink. Removing dust from heatsinks makes sure that the air push by the fan gets through, helping to dissipate heat which then helps to keep the processor as cool as possible.

If you find a lot of sticky goo covering up the CPU cooler similar to how this looks like, that’s because one is smoking near the PC. Get a thick brush and try to scrub it as much as you can and then wipe it clean using a tissue and isopropyl alcohol. You will have to clean the PC case’s front panel fans since its will also be clogged the same way. Do not smoke while using your system.

Re-clipping heatsink

To re-install, balance one side of the heatsink on the plastic frame’s clip and rest the other side on the other clip. Press both sides of the heatsink towards the fan at the same time. Make sure the flat copper base is seen outwards.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 10: Position CPU before re-installing” ]

CPU Reinstallation position

Now that everything is clean, we can now proceed with the reinstallation.

Before we do that, notice the triangle on the cap and on the processor which will only be there in one of the four corners. The triangle will also present in the same corner of the load plate, usually under the cap. You need to make sure that the Pin 1 indicator on the CPU faces the same direction as on the cap/load plate. Also make sure that alignment notches match as well.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 11: Re-installing the CPU” ]

reinstalling CPU

With the marker facing the same angle as on the CPU cap and holding the processor the same direction where the finger access on the socket is simply place the CPU on top of the pins. Do not press the CPU against the pins.  Install the push in a top-down position.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 12: Securing the load plate” ]

resintall cpu socket

Now position the load plate on the motherboard while it’s resting the plate’s support under the head of the shoulder screw. Once it’s done, press the load lever towards the CPU plate and secure it in its place as shown above.

During this process, the CPU cap will automatically come off. Remove the CPU cover and be ready for the next important step.

LGA 1150 ILM Cover and protection socket

You ‘can’ remove the CPU cap before securing the plate if you want to, but there’s nothing wrong in letting it pop out of the load plate. As you can see in the above illustration, Intel designed the socket and the cover in a way the socket cap will pop off if there’s an interference (from the processor) when securing the load lever.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 13: Apply thermal paste” ]

Thermal Paste Reapplication

With the thermal paste of your choice, apply it n the middle of the CPU IHS.

The application method I use is called as a pea method, which means putting a small drop of thermal paste on the middle of the CPU IHS. Once the CPU cooler is installed and once it starts dissipating heat from the processor, the paste will spread evenly. Of course, this is depending on the thermal paste and its viscosity which is what I will address in a separate guide at a later date. Since the stock intel CPU cooler is has a flat surface, a pea method is enough. As a size comparison, it should not be bigger than a grain of rice.

It’s best to use non-metal based thermal pastes like Noctua NT-H1, Artic MX4, Coolermaster Thermal fusion 400 or even Artic Ceramique since it’s not electrically conductive. Even if the thermal paste overspreads and crosses the metal integrated heatspreaders, it will not shorten the processor and motherboard. But it will create a mess. Also, know that too much is not good, but too less is not good either. A pea size application is true to the word for such processors.

If you have touched the thermal paste application, clean and re-apply the thermal paste.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 14: Re-installing stock CPU heatsink” ]

CPU Heatsink ReInstall 1

Align the push pins over the mounting holes on the motherboard and place over the processor in a top-down position to ensure that the thermal paste spreads evenly once it’s installed. Once this is done, push a pair of pins in diagonal position towards the motherboards and then do it for the other two. Make sure the pushpins are in the same height as the frame of the fan.

Position fan in a way that the 4-pin CPU fan connector on the CPU cooler can be installed on the CPU_Header on the motherboard properly while making sure the wires do not come in the way of the fan blades when turned on.
Do not put any pressure over the center of the CPU cooler since that’s the location of the processor underneath. Once the push pins are secure, it will provide the contact required between the heatsink base and the CPU IHS.
[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 15: Lock push-pins and wire management” ]

twist cap and wire management

Lock the processor pins by moving towards the opposite side of the arrow. If you cannot move the lock, use a flat head screwdriver over the push pins instead. Once the CPU cooler is secured, run the wires through the CPU cooler’s wire clips.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 16: Check pins on the back” ]

Check push pins

At the same time, check the pins on the back of the motherboard. If the pin is splitting the clip towards while sticking out, you’re done it right. If not, reseat the CPU cooler again by removing and reinserting it. Its a good step since Intel stock CPU cooler’s mounting mechanism is frowned up by many system builders and PC enthusiasts (apart from cooling capacity).

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 17: Reconnect CPU fan header” ]

replug cpu fan

Once everything is checked, including the wire staying from the fan blades, connect the 4 pin CPU connector on the 4 pin CPU header. All motherboards will have at least 1 4-pin fan header marked for the CPU.

Once this is done, install the motherboard on the case, connect all the cables, reinstall a discrete graphic card and/or other add-on cards (if you have any), close the side panel and boot the system. You’re one step away to make sure everything is good enough for your day-to-day use.

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[nextpage title=”Step 18: Verifying CPU temperatures” ]

Once you have booted the system and loads your operating system, search, download and install AIDA64.

finalware AIDA64

There will be people who will suggest using Prime95 for stress-testing. But Prime95 will produce an unrealistic load on the processor, something that the user may not reach to that point considering the user is using a stock CPU cooler. In any case, AIDA64 benchmark’s System Stability Test puts a 100% load on the CPU, enough for this purpose.

To run the stress testing, open the software. Click on Tools-> System Stability Test. Uncheck the option ‘Test FPU‘ any other except ‘Test CPU‘, option. Below that you will see few check boxes. Check only the CPU options and uncheck the rest. Run the software for 20-30 minutes and do not run any task on the PC during this time. If the test is stable all the way, everything works the way it should.

[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”FAQ” ]
  • The temperatures on 100% load is very high. Should I be concerned?

Depending on the processor’s number of cores and its architecture, if the load temperature is way too high, that’s because the stock CPU cooler isn’t designed for such a workload. Chances might be less for few types of users to run the processor at a higher load (if not 100% constant), especially when running certain applications, games and video/audio edition activity. If you want a better CPU cooling option, there are many aftermarket CPU coolers for many types of users for almost all budget types. It’s a better option to consider for many types of users irrespective whether you’re overclocking or not since it keeps the processor cool even at high and constant load. To know about such aftermarket CPU coolers, check out this guide.

Should you be concerned? If you’re using for general use and the system doesn’t freeze or shut down/restart when the CPU temperatures rise, you shouldn’t. But if it does for any reason, you should do a series of troubleshooting steps to find out the reason. Maybe there is some software might be running the system at 100% load? Or if the system case fan is pushing the air in? Or the airflow around the case is trapped. But if you’ve narrowed it down to the CPU cooler, then you should consider getting a good aftermarket CPU cooler.

  • The fan on the stock CPU cooler is making a lot of a noise. Is there any fix? Or can I replace it?

Check if there’s anything interfering the fan blades. Clean the fan and heatsink using the air blower balloon or anti-static brush. If nothing works, then unfortunately you have no choice but to replace the stock CPU cooler. The frame of the CPU cooler is built with the fan and there is no way to properly mount PC cooling fans on it. You could try changing the CPU fan profile via BIOS to silent. But in the long run, invest in a better CPU cooler for your piece of mind and the health of your investment.

  • Can I use water to clean the IHS of the processor and the CPU cooler’s base.

Absolutely not! This goes for any other liquid that you have in mind.

Isopropyl alcohol (also known with names like rubbing alcohol and surgical spirit) with higher alcohol concentrate does not have any smell and does leave any residue on the processor and heatsink. No matter how flat the IHS and heat base looks, there will always be microstructures containing older residue of the thermal paste. IPA solution helps to clean the processor proper and does not leave any residue or smell.

You get this easily with the chemist. If not, ask the chemist that’s present within a hospital premise. If you cannot get that, see if they have alcohol dipped swabs or alcohol dipped/prepped pads. If for some odd reason you are not able to purchase isopropyl alcohol, dipped pads or swabs, consider purchasing this:

Why is there such a large gap between idle CPU use and on load?

The stock CPU cooler is not made to withstand such workload, depending on the CPU you have. The following graphs will explain just that:

The difference between the Intel stock CPU cooler and aftermarket CPU coolers can be seen above. While the temperature on load (without overclocking) is at 62 degrees Celcius on a dual core based Intel Pentium G3258, its a different story with Intel Core i7 series 4790K, a quad core based Devil’s Canyon (Haswell Refresh) processor.

For those who are wondering when you should clean CPU coolers, it depends more on the system, the amount of dust, pet fur and hair, smoke from cigarettes, etc. the system collects, the number of cores, the amount of load on the CPU, the room temperature, the case ambient temperature, etc. Check the CPU temperature once in a month.

  • Can I use something else other than a thermal paste? even if its for temporary use!

No.

  • How to store CPU thermal paste syringe?

Store it in a cool dry place

  • Are there any other types of CPU cooler?

Yes. Check the CPU cooler guide.

  • Can I use the system without the CPU cooler and/or thermal paste?

Absolutely not! Unless you plan on destroying the CPU and the motherboard, and maybe even some other components. But if you’re feeling adventurous, there are those who have been there and done that! Do check out the consequence of running a processor (obsolete CPUs) without any cooling.

For any specific queries, do post questions in the BBQ Community!

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