When your Intel stock CPU cooler couldn’t do the best job in cooling for you, that’s when you know you must upgrade to a good enough aftermarket CPU air coolers. Despite DIY and sealed liquid CPU coolers being around the market, CPU air coolers are still maintaining its position with most brands released newer variants time after time, improving upon older designs. In my opinion, it’s much easier to maintain and clean CPU coolers, and many good CPU coolers can match or even provide better cooling, depending on the CPU and its TDP output. CPU air coolers have various form factors, and while the water blocks are technically ‘low profile’, it requires you to install the radiator somewhere.
Not that I am saying a closed loop or any liquid cooling loop is a bad thing, but rather it hold certain cooling benefits and even aesthetics. But every product has pros and cons. Liquid cooling also has a set of pros and cons. This guide concentrates on installing CPU air coolers, typically the variant that uses a backplate design for mounting it on the motherboard.
There are many variants, designs, purpose, size and specifically made for processors with a certain heat output rating (TDP). There is a basic checklist that first timers can use to make the right decisions. But for those who have already made that decision, this is the next time. Installing a brand new aftermarket CPU coolers is a pretty exciting experience. But while aftermarket CPU air cooler manufacturers have instruction manuals for installation, they usually don’t mention what needs to be done before and during installation. This guide carries a small part of the thermal paste application guide for Intel stock coolers since the cleaning process is the same and you will need all the stuff mentioned there for this upgrade.
As a recommendation, its also best to search for the best aftermarket CPU cooling you get in your area or via online purchase. Check for the reviews from multiple websites to get as much information about compatibility, pros and cons as much as possible. If the cooling performance, along with the bundled fan, thermal paste and mounting method is to your liking, along with a good enough warranty period, go for it. If you still cannot make any decisions, you can ask in the forums and we’ll help you out.[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. The last time, I posted a guide on how to change the thermal paste and apply a new coat on an Intel stock CPU cooler. Though it should improve or sustain some amount of heat exchange, Intel stock coolers at the end of the day have a lot of restrictions.
Why does Intel give such coolers?
Because it’s simply meant for general users who are unlikely to run CPU intensive task for a certain time. The cost of manufacturing and shipping the unit increases, and a possibility of the size of the actual packaging. It becomes a non-feasible option for users. Between the people who need and don’t need, it’s tricky to take sides. Besides, the CPU cooler bundled with the processor if of low-profile design, ensuring that its compatible irrespective of the motherboard layout and the case’s form factor.
Intel at one point did have a different CPU design, but specifically for LGA 1366- Intel DBX-B as an ‘advanced thermal solution’ over the standard variant which uses a U-type tower design with four copper heatpipes and a flat copper base. As an aftermarket option, Intel also had a 120mm radiator based liquid cooler made by Asetek (model: TS13X) for a bit older architecture socket processors, but it was sold separately. In a way, it’s good because it keeps the cost of the processor lower and gives the flexibility to use that saved money on buying a CPU cooler of their preference.
AMD also has a similar heatsink and also at times have a flat aluminum base with a retention mounting method which requires motherboard manufacturer to have a bracket and a backplate securing it. But to its credit, the cooling fan over the AMD heatsink can be swapped for another 80mm. In Intel’s case, the fan is one with the plastic frame itself. AMD also uses a retention clip based mounting which is more reliable than Intel’s plastic push pin.
Another benefit is that most of these aftermarket CPU coolers have cross-platform compatibility, hence providing a certain value for a bit older/present and future readiness to a good extent. While each Intel 115x variant have different socket design, the mounting holes are of the same size. Most of the CPU cooler manufacturers also provide mounting support for LGA 2011/2011-V3, older Intel sockets such as LGA 775 and 1366.
Usually the aftermarket CPU coolers are bundled with removable fans, which is either of good quality or of decent value (or noisy plasticky ones in worse case scenario)- but almost all aftermarket CPU air coolers provide a flexibility to swap fans and even the option to install more than one fan on the CPU cooler to provide more active cooling. When and if the user chooses to jump ship, CPU manufacturers also bundle an AMD socket mounts as well. Depending on the CPU cooler design, the ability to draw out and dissipate heat and its TDP rating, aftermarket CPU coolers are future ready.
For many experienced users, changing CPU coolers is easy. For first timers, it could be a little tricky. While aftermarket CPU manufacturers give instruction manuals on how to install its CPU cooler on the motherboard of your preference, they don’t really talk about what to do before that and tips to consider during installation.
This guide will help you with that.
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. But if you decide to stick with your stock CPU cooler for whatever reason, but simply want to clean and change the thermal paste, check out this guide.
Installing an aftermarket CPU cooler is also easy. But before you make any purchase plans, do read the CPU guide as it gives various information about CPU coolers and the points to need to know before purchasing. It’s important to do some self-research based on the system you have.
The time and effort taken to prepare this guide was more time consuming than the guide for fresh application of thermal paste with stock CPU coolers. But a lot of effort is taken for this guide so that you won’t be stuck in the process of it and left in the dark. Still, always read the instruction manual as different cooler have different mounting method- either installing the bracket on the motherboard- or on the CPU cooler.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Things you need” ]
The following items you will need to have for this work:
- Isopropyl Alcohol
- Air balloon blower
- A CPU cooler of your choice
- A flat-head and a Phillips-head screwdriver
- Unscented and preferably non-coloured tissues
- 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)
- A thermal Paste of your choice (optional if not bundled with the aftermarket CPU or if you have another preference)
Make sure you wash your hands and have a cloth for cleaning your hands in case you have sweaty palms.
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.
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.
A thermal paste of your choice or the one which is bundled with the aftermarket cooler. I have posted some general information about thermal pastes in the CPU cooler guide.
If you do wish to purchase a different thermal paste, some of them are:
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 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.
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=”About aftermarket CPU cooler backplate” ]
Most aftermarket CPU coolers use a backplate mounting system that requires the user to install a support plate with the threaded screw ends from the rear of the motherboard. Once this is done, the threaded support can be seen towards the motherboard’s top area where you can continue with the installation.
To support the ILM, there’s a backplate installed on the other side, along with screw threads and shoulder screw protruding a little through the ILM backplate. LGA backplates for aftermarket CPU coolers are designed in a way that it sits over the ILM backplate while overlapping avoiding contact with the ILM screw threads.
The ILM backplate is metal, and it needs a plastic backplate or a metal one with a washer type plastic film throughout the plate. Depending on the design of the CPU cooler backplate, it either provides cushioning using a soft gel type pad or a soft plastic pad and avoids any chances of shorting out.
Some even have backplates designed in a way that it maintains a space between the rear PCB of the motherboard and the backplate while having proper support on all four holes. Still, it’s always good if CPU cooler manufacturers provide a checklist for compatibility issues. To my knowledge, Noctua checks this for all of its CPU coolers and notes any blocks or incompatibility for any motherboards (if any). For this guide, I am using a U-type 120mm design based Noctua NH-U12S and the manufacturer checked with most of the known motherboards for each CPU coolers and compatibility list for an easy piece of mind while purchasing. In my opinion, this should be a standard practice for giving assurances to its buyers.
The images above indicate the right and the wrong ways to hold the CPU cooler during its removal. Always keep this in mind- the processor is under the CPU cooler and applying force would damage the contact pins on the socket. This applied for both Intel stock coolers and aftermarket variants.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 1: Air blowing the motherboard area” ]
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.
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” ]
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.
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.
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” ]
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” ]
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.
Clean the thermal from the stock CPU heatsink and store it somewhere if you require it in the future for any reason.
Turn the motherboard around and dust the entire PCB area using an anti-static brush or an air blower balloon. Inspect the motherboard one last time to make sure the board clean.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 9: Cleaning the edges of ILM backplate” ]
Sometimes an amount of dust can accumulate on the motherboard, especially around the ILM backplate. Just take a dry side of the tissue paper and carefully run it around the border. If you still can’t remove the dirt, put a couple of drops on the tissue and gently clean it until it’s removed as much as possible.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 10: Backplate Installation” ]
Once you’re all done with it, take out the Intel backplate from your new CPU cooler’s pack and install it. Note that LGA 115x and LGA 2011/2011-V3 have different mounting methods so always follow their instructions for installation from here onwards. The reason I am doing this is to show that once you’ve installed the backplate, make sure to check the surrounding area of the backplate for any obstacles and the backplate lies down against the surface. Once you see its all secure on the motherboard, hold the backplate and turn it around.
But if there is something that is causing an imbalance for the backplate to be flat, check the area underneath, but do not force it. If it’s something that’s not compatible, send an email to the CPU cooler manufacturer for a possible chance of getting another backplate design (if any) or asked for authorization from the company to return the unit for an exchange or refund. If they do that, ask within the same email for the list of compatible CPU coolers for your motherboard. If there are none, ask for a replacement. You should note that this shouldn’t be a problem for most of the motherboards out there. But if the seemingly unlikely solution does come up, at least you’ll know what to do. It’s not advisable to use other backplates or do some ghetto mod to support the CPU cooler. It is important that CPU coolers have proper contact and support. If you plan to do otherwise, make sure you take care of it and acknowledge that you’re doing it at your risk.
And this is one of the reasons why CPU compatibility list is required.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 11: Clean the new CPU cooler’s base” ]
Remove the protection cap or sticker on the heatbase (if any) to proceed further.
Many people will say this is unnecessary. I do this as a regular practice sure that no debris or machine milled bits are present on the surface. No matter how flat it may seemingly look, just dip a few drops of isopropyl alcohol and wipe it clean.
If there are any pores like damage on the on the flat surface, get a replacement.
In case the thermal paste is pre-applied on the cooler’s heat base, you can choose to wipe it off if you have your own thermal paste. If not, you can go head and use the pre-applied solution. Make sure you do not touch the pre-applied thermal paste with your bare finger.
The rest of the CPU cooler should be clean, but inspect the cooler one time and use the air blower balloon if required.
If it’s a heatsink with a direct heatpipe contact, make sure you clean it properly, including both sides of each heatpipes.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 12: Re-open CPU load plate” ]
Once everything is ready for installation, gently press the load lever towards the motherboard and pull it up. Once you’ve done that, rest the load plate all the way to the back. Keep the processor handy for immediate installation. Note the Pin 1 indicator on the socket cap and hold the processor in a way that Pin 1 points towards the same direction as on the cap.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 13: Re-install CPU” ]
Note the finger plate placement access on the motherboard and hold the processor to match the same way. Once you’re sure that the Pin 1 indicator is matching the indicator on the cap, put the processor in a top-down placement position.
Do no apply any pressure on the processor. All you have to do is to place the processor over it.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 14: Reseat CPU Load Plate” ]
Once you’re done with the previous step, rest the load plate on the motherboard, pull the lever behind until the front area of the plate touches the PCB and push the lever towards the motherboard. Once the plate is resting against the processor, the cap will pop out.
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.
Almost all mounting systems with a backplate have a spacer which maintains support for the bracket. Some are threaded metal pieces. Some are plastic. In case of metal, make sure that there is some sort of a washer provided to ensure the metal component does not touch the motherboard. If the washer is adhesive-based, align and stick the washer on the spacer will be facing towards the motherboard PCB.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 16: Install new cooler’s brackets” ]
Proceed with the installation of the brackets and/or screws/bolts. Different CPU cooler/ its manufacturers/type have a different mounting system. So you need to follow the instructions provided with the CPU cooler.
Note that some CPU cooler mounting system require you to install the brackets on the bracket first and then secure it. With such mounting methods, typically the bracket is screwed on the heatsink using a flat or Phillips head screw provided with the CPU cooler.
The heatsink’s weight will be held by those brackets. Make sure you tighten them with a screw even if they seem tightened with your hands. This will ensure proper contact between the base and the CPU, and also ensure that it won’t fall off at some point and potentially damage the system and its components. Always use the same screws, nuts, spacers and brackets provided by the manufacturer.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 17: Bracket Position” ]
Since the mounting holes are squared, most of the brackets allow you to install towards any side. Note that you should install according to the design of the CPU cooler, spacing around the motherboard and also your preference of airflow. In relation with Noctua NH-U12S, the next page will show the two types of airflow.
For heatsinks that require you to install the bracket on the heatsink, you can place it towards either of the two directions unless something or your RAM/GPU blocks the heatsink.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 18: Heatsink Position” ]
The first and the most common type of installation is the heatsink fins facing towards the rear I/O where the case fan pushes air out. Since many cases have open vents on the top panel, you can install the CPU cooler facing up.
In any cases, make sure the direction does not potentially block to any slots from preventing you to install it.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 19: Apply thermal paste” ]
Unless you have chosen to use the pre-applied thermal paste on the heatsink base, you need to apply a fresh application of thermal paste on the processor. I usually prefer pea method on the center of the IHS. The thermal paste application should be bigger than a small pea size. Once you install the heatsink and use the system, the paste will spread flat and expand across the IHS.
Make sure you place the heatsink in a post down position while matching the screws/bolts on the brackets.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 20: Secure the heatsink” ]
Securing the heatsink against the bracket will require you to do it slowly. Turn the both side of the screw one thread at a time so that it has higher chances of securing the screws properly while maintaining the balance on the CPU.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 21: Proper way to secure heatsink” ]
If you screw in too much on the side of the CPU cooler, unscrew it and try it again one thread and a time on both sides. Do not force the CPU cooler or else it may damage either the cooler, its brackets, screws or worse the loading plate and maybe the processor.
Do note put any force on the CPU cooler since the processor is directly under the heatsink. Any excessive force may damage the pins under it.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 22: Install CPU fan(s)” ]
Once the CPU cooler is properly installed, go ahead and installed the bundled fans or the fans of your preference. Note that open section of the fan pushes air in and the one where the frame connects to the center is where the air pushes out. There are arrow indicators on the side of the frame shoe the direction of the airflow.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 23: Install CPU fan header” ]
Once you have installed the fans, go ahead and install the CPU fan connectors on the CPU fan header. Almost all mainstream to enthusiast (and gamer-centric) motherboards usually have two CPU fan headers in case the CPU cooler allows dual fan installation and/or if it’s provided with the CPU cooler or if the user chooses to use the second fan. If the motherboard has only one CPU fan header, get a Y-cable adapter. Some CPU cooler/cooling fan manufacturer pre-bundle it.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 24: Install RAM” ]
Go ahead and install the RAM. In the case of excess CPU fan cable length, just stuff it underneath the fan’s frame. Once this is ready, go ahead and install the motherboard on the case and install the rest of the cables and the graphic card unless you’re relying on the onboard graphic.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Step 25: Verifying CPU temperatures” ]
Once you have booted the system and loads your operating system, search, download and install AIDA64.
You can also run other testing softwares such as OCCT or Prime 95, depending on the preference. These stress testing software put more (and seemingly unrealistic depending on the purpose for the system and if its overclocked) stress on the processor’s clock speed which will generate more heat for the CPU cooler to dissipate.
With AIDA64 software as a choice to test for temperature, 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?
The idea of getting a better CPU cooler is to get better performance especially when you’re running it at 100% of the processor’s ability. But do make sure that the case fans can push fresh air in and the CPU cooler can push out the warm air out of the case. If the exhaust fan facing the exhaust side of the CPU cooler, make sure it pushes the air out. You can try increasing the fan speed via fan speed profiles on the BIOS for the CPU fan(s) and the exhaust fans. Note that depending on the bearing of the fan, full speed may result in more noise.
If you are using a pre-applied thermal paste solution or a thermal paste that has a cure-in time, run the system normally for few days and check if it has improved. Most of the non-metallic thermal pastes do not have a cure-in time, but we woudn’t know what kind of thermal paste is used if its a pre-applied solution. The ambient temperature inside the case and around the case is also important, so atleast make sure that there’s enough space around the for air to move. Seal the sidepanels to make sure that the airflow in the case is contained for optimal air circulation around the case.
If there’s still any problem, assuming the CPU cooler choice is good enough and you made the decision based on CPU cooler reviews, Try reseating the CPU cooler and make sure its properly mounted. If not, clean and reapply the thermal paste. Make sure the old thermal paste is cleaned, even if its the same.
The fan on the after 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:
Can I use something else other than a thermal paste? even if its for temporary use!
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.
How to clean heat fins?
Clean it using a brush or an air blower balloon. If you have an ESD-free blower like a Davatac, be free to use it! Make sure there are no dust or anything else which would block the airflow through the heat fins. Do not smoke while you’re sitting near the system as your PC would collect the smoke and gets deposited as a very sticky substance. Having a good ESD blower like Datavac will help you to clean your system clean from dust.
There are stains on the heat fins. How to remove them?
Use isopropyl alcohol. It should remove some stains and even fingerprints. Don’t use polish or stain layer which leaves a protective coating behind.
For any specific queries, do post questions in the BBQ Community![/nextpage]