How to Apply Thermal Paste on GPU?

Your GPU is one of the most fragile and costly components in your PC build. Thermal paste also known as heat paste or thermal gel is an important fluid to protect your graphic card from excessive heating.

Thermal paste application is a must-have skill for any aspiring PC builder. If this is your first time using thermal paste, you’ve probably heard a lot of horror stories about hardware that heats up.

Don’t worry, the task of applying thermal paste to the GPU or CPU may appear difficult to someone who has never done it before, but this article can guide you to properly apply the thermal paste in an adequate amount and also choose the correct type of paste.

What is a Thermal Paste?

Thermal paste is a conductive material that aids heat transfer between two surfaces (such as a heat sink and a CPU). Thermal paste is responsible for transporting heat from the chip to the heat sink and does not have adhesive properties.

Some of the reasons to apply thermal paste on CPU or GPU:

  1. Due to small irregularities in the surface, tiny air bubbles appear when two metal surfaces are rubbed against each other. Since air is a poor heat conductor, thermal paste is put between the surfaces to fill air gaps and improve heat transfer rates.
  2. It helps in preventing your investment from burning up in flames.

When Should You Apply Thermal Paste to CPU?

The most common situations to change or upgrade thermal paste are:

Most CPUs and GPUs come with some kind of compound already applied to the stock fan. This is probably sufficient for the average user, but if you’re overclocking or looking to get the most out of your computer, we recommend removing it and replacing it with an aftermarket cooler which costs around $40 only.

It is advised to change the thermal paste between the GPU and the heat sink when the GPU has been mining for a long period, or even if the GPU is a little older. The paste will harden over time, and the GPU will eventually overheat, causing permanent damage to it.

On GPUs that are at least 3 years old or older, second-hand GPUs, and GPUs that overheat, we recommend updating the thermal paste.

If you’re a gamer and use your PC in an intense manner then you will be required to change it every 3 years. You can go for a longer time span if you don’t face any overheating issues.

Thermal paste usually lasts at least 5 years, and in rare cases, up to 10. People have replaced their CPU/GPU (or even their entire computer) much before that happens in the regular course of things.

Using images, different methods of applying thermal paste are illustrated below.

Put a dot of thermal paste in the middle of the processor and spread it evenly on the surface carefully as there would be heatsinks already installed.

You can also apply the paste by marking a ‘cross’ approach. Pull a vertical line from the corners to mark a cross as shown in the picture using the paste.

How to Apply the Thermal Paste?

Carefully, remove the older thermal paste from the processor’s surface using cotton or any other delicate material. Apply isopropyl alcohol to the swab or microfiber to remove the remaining thermal paste on the chip. To remove the old paste, we recommend using at least 90% alcohol.

Carry on this until you’ve removed all of the thermal paste from the chip. Don’t forget to do the same thing on the heat sink’s end. Once the card is neat and clean, you can apply the thermal paste using the dot or cross method as mentioned above.

After the paste has been applied, carefully place the heatsink on the CPU.

Ensure that everything appears to be in order.  Thermal paste should be applied wisely as larger amounts can lead to leakage over other components.

Once you are done with the process, fix the screws and turn your PC. You should notice the difference in temp during intense use of the computers.

What Else You Need to Know About Thermal Paste?

Thermal paste can be applied to your CPU and GPU in a variety of methods.

Certain kinds of toothpaste can technically be used as thermal pastes. Some people mix toothpaste with Vaseline to combat the fast-drying qualities, but even so, it will need to be replaced every 30 days or so.

But using toothpaste, vaseline, or anything on your sensitive computer hardware, is not a good idea. Because the thermal paste is rarely cheap, you’re better off investing in a specialty compound and reserving your toothpaste for your pearly teeth.

Moreover, applying too much thermal paste isn’t actually a problem in terms of performance. It should perform the job just as well as if you applied the perfect pea-sized amount if it’s evenly placed beneath the cooler’s contact plate.

If you’re using a non-conductive thermal paste, the last thing you want to happen is to damage your costly gear. If you’re using a high-performance conductive paste, though, spilling it over the edges of your base plate may cause it to short surrounding components, which could result in irreversible GPU damage.

Therefore, if you follow the methods and recommendations above, you’ll be able to rest assured that you’re not just applying thermal paste correctly, but that your PC’s performance will increase as well. And your computer will thank you!

About the author

Shubham Yadav

Shubham is a mechanical engineer by profession. Computer geek at heart he loves to explore new aspects of circuits, motherboards and general PC components.