Your new CPU isn't going to last long if you don't apply any thermal paste to help dissipate the heat. Getting it wrong can also have disastrous consequences too. So here's how to remove and apply you own thermal paste correctly.
Who and what is TIM?
TIM is acronym for Thermal Interface Material and it plays an important part of the cooling your CPU. The surface of the CPU and HSF look smooth but looking under a microscope, you would see tiny pits of imperfections. Although not visible to the naked eye, these pits are gaps which fill with air and restrict full contact between the CPU and the HSF. As a result, the heat can't dissipate effectively enough through HSF which will cause the CPU to overheat. TIM (or thermal grease) fills these imperfections of the surface on both the HSF and the processor guaranteeing optimal heat dispensation.
You must make sure you have adequate Thermal Interface Material (TIM). Failing to apply any or the correct amount of can result in damaging the CPU. There are plenty of TIM products on the market but the one that comes highly recommended is Artic Silver 5. This is a highly conductive compound which is ideal for high end systems.
Most HSF come with a supplied TIM pad which is normally a grey sticky pad on the underneath. Although the supplied pad is fine, most enthusiasts will choose to replace this in favour of a higher conductive paste, such Artic Silver 5 to obtain greater cooling. If this is the case, make sure you have adequate TIM remover beforehand. However, if you are going to use the supplied TIM, then do not touch it or remove the film until you are ready to fit the HSF.
If you are using a new HSF with the supplied TIM, then you do not need to remove the pad. However, you must make sure the CPU (if not new) is completely clean before installation.
If you are refitting a used or an existing CPU/HSF then you must remove all traces of older TIM before applying a fresh layer each time. Never re-use TIM as you will likely to cause you CPU to overheat.
TIM, TIM pads or thermal grease can be removed from a CPU and / or HSF by gently applying a small amount of TIM remover, acetone, ethanol (denatured Alcohol such as mentholated spirits) or any other organic solvent using a dry lint free cloth. Do not use any paraffin based products such as white spirit. Try not to get the TIM on any electrical component because the paste is conductive and may cause a short if handled carelessly. Once all the TIM is off, then leave to dry.
Removal of standard TIM using TIM remover but any denatured Alcohol product will do just as well.
If you are using a new HSF with the supplied TIM, then you do not need to worry about applying TIM. Never add TIM where a TIM pad has already been supplied.
Before commencing, make sure both the contact surfaces of the HSF and CPU are clean, dry and free from any dust. If there any traces of dirt or previously applied TIM, then repeat the process above. It's also a good idea to take ESD precautions. Do not be tempted to apply the TIM with the CPU in the Motherboard! TIM is conductive so if this gets on any circuits, you could short your motherboard.
Place the CPU on a clean, dry and flat surface. If the CPU has pins underneath then take extra care not to apply any pressure on the CPU. Depending on the age of the CPU, it may come with the die (the actual processor) exposed or it may be encased in a IHS (Integrated Heat Spreader). Whichever the type, the procedure is the same Although a little less TIM is required on the former.
When you are ready, place a small amount of TIM about the size of a grain of rice in the middle of the CPU. Remember, all the paste is doing is filling the imperfections that are not visible to the naked eye. So more is not always better. The picture below shows the amount of AS5 I applied to an Intel Q6600 just before installation:
Many people use a credit card like spreader or allow the pressure of the HSF installation to naturally spread over the surface area. However, I prefer to apply a thin even spread myself. For this you'll need a clean sheet of cling film (say about a foot squared). Pull the cling film tightly over your index finger and hold the rest in the palm of your hand (see picture below) or use a rubber band. This helps keep the cling film tight at the tip of your finger leaving no room for slipping.
When you are ready, gently spread the TIM in vertical movement towards you turning the CPU with the other hand. Do not exert too much pressure or you'll break the pins underneath (if there are any), bend the IHS or break the die.
The TIM is a little thick and not easy to spread but be patient, do not be tempted to apply more TIM. Too much TIM can actually negate its affect. Do not spread in circular movements either as you will find stretching it out to the corners much harder. The aim here is to get an even coverage all over the die or IHS. Eventually, the coverage will start to shine like a mirror. When the whole surface is covered and shines, you are done.
Notice the soft shine - The CPU and HSF can now be installed.
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