Technique: Applying Thermal Paste

Featured Guide

Featured Guide

This guide has been found to be exceptionally cool by the iFixit staff.

Application of thermal paste is essential to keep the processor cool and happy. Follow this general guide to reapply thermal paste after removing a heat sink or CPU during a repair. For more advanced directions, specific to your CPU, check out Arctic Silver's page of application methods.

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Edit Step 1 Applying Thermal Paste  ¶ 

  • Thermal paste is responsible for conducting heat from the processor to the heat sink. Reassembling a computer without applying thermal paste will cause the processor to overheat, resulting in permanent damage.

  • Before applying a new layer of thermal paste, you must first remove any old thermal paste from both the processor surface and the heat sink.

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Edit Step 2  ¶ 

  • Use the flat end of a spudger to scrape off as much solidified thermal paste from the copper core(s) of the heat sink as possible.

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Edit Step 3  ¶ 

  • After scraping off the solidified thermal paste, a residue is still present on the copper core(s).

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Edit Step 4  ¶ 

  • Use a coffee filter or a lint-free cloth with a drop of ArctiClean Thermal Material Remover to clean the thermal paste residue off the thermal contact surface of your heat sink.

  • Once the surface is clean, use a new coffee filter or cloth to apply a drop of ArctiClean Thermal Surface Purifier to remove any oils and prepare the surface.

  • Do not touch either the chip or the heatsink, or allow any dust or debris to get on them. Even a fingerprint can be a major obstacle to thermal transfer on a chip.

  • Allow the heat sink(s) to dry completely!

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Edit Step 5  ¶ 

  • Use the flat end of a plastic spudger to remove any solidified thermal paste from the surface of the processor(s).

  • Do not use any metal objects for this procedure. Be careful not to break any components on the processor's surface, or get any thermal compound loose on any components (conductive pastes could cause problems)

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Edit Step 6  ¶ 

  • Again, use a coffee filter or lint-free cloth and a drop of ArctiClean Thermal Material Remover to clean any thermal paste residue off the processor surface.

  • Use a new coffee filter or cloth to apply a drop of ArctiClean Thermal Surface Purifier to remove any oils and prepare the surface.

  • Allow the processor(s) to dry completely!

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Edit Step 7  ¶ 

  • Wrap the tip of your index finger with a piece of plastic (such as a sandwich bag or Saran wrap).

  • Dispense a very small amount of thermal paste onto processor core(s).

  • Use your finger to gently smear the thermal paste over the entire processor core(s).

  • If you accidentally apply a small amount of thermal paste on the green surface of the processor, it will not cause any harm.

  • The processor(s) is now ready for heat sink installation.

  • You do not need to apply any thermal paste on the heat sink(s), although Arctic Silver gives instructions on "tinting" the heat sink to reduce the break-in time of the thermal compound.

To reassemble your device, follow these instructions in reverse order.

For more information, check out the Computer Hardware device page.

Required Tools

Spudger

$2.95 · 50+ In stock

Arctic Silver Thermal Paste

$8.95 · 50+ In stock

Arctic Silver ArctiClean

$7.95 · 50+ In stock

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Comments Comments are onturn off

For heat sinks with a spring on the screws: Wonder why there are springs on the heat sink screws? Do not over tighten them, the springs are there to help you apply the correct amount of pressure on to the CPU and GPU. If you tighten them all the way, it may not be the correct pressure! Leave maybe 1 mm of space, just before the screw stops turning. iFixit forgot to mention this important part, and also in the heat paste guide!!

m3kw, · Reply

This is completely untrue. The holes bored in the heat sinks are in fact a larger diameter than both the threads and the shoulder of the heat sink screws. The screws should be fully tightened (as they were from the factory) to maintain correct pressure against the processors.

Andrew Bookholt,

It didn't help my crashing MBP, NVidia bug.

gustmoge, · Reply

Actually, Tom's Hardware's guide said not to spread the paste out, but to have a solid line of paste vertically across the longest part of the metal cap and let the heat sink spread it out as it gets tightened. This method supposedly reduces the risk of air bubbles. My only curiousity is with processors that have little resistors or some such things placed around the metal heat cap, should those be pasted as well or not? Dell's processor came completely covered with paste, onto the chips as well, but I'm wondering if I should re-apply to the chips or just to the cap.

Frank, · Reply

the best way to clean a CPU or a GPU is to use a spudger and ISOPROPYL its an alcohol that dries fast

USE WITH CAREFULLY DO NOT DRINK OR USE IT FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE.

YOU CAN USE ISOPROPYL TO CLEAN WOUNDS OR CPU'S OR GPU'S

ISOPROPYL

What is isopropyl

Ronald, · Reply

you can also use a junk credit card or similar, or a plastic spoon

Gaspard Leon, · Reply

Obsolete business cards are good too.

Robert Calhoun, · Reply

Some people apply a little dab in the center, and then install the heat sink. It spreads it evenly unlike a finger, and is much cleaner. I use this method on cpus with a heat spreader, and ones with the bare die. You can also apply a dab, and use a razor blade to spread it evenly too. The finger method tends to leave air bubbles, and doesn't spread evenly. I use Arctic Silver 5, but sometimes have to spread it with a blade as it is so thick. I hear that Arctic Cooling MX-3 is suppose to be better. I hate that AS5 can be electrically conductive. It makes me nervous that i will short something out. I hate AS5 200 hour curing time. MX-3 is claimed to not need any curing time, and not electrically conductive, So if you apply the amount that Apple did with the 2006 MacBooks, you will still have a working computer. If apple applied AS5, like they applied thermal paste in 2006, I bet the laptop would be DOA.

Just my little thoughts on thermal compound.

Nicholas Ouimet, · Reply

Swapping out the heatsink on my 15" MBP seemed to go fine. The instructions were clear and easy to follow. My computer had been shutting down immediately and was unusable. I did some research and it sounded like the heatsink was the problem. After reassembling the computer, when I started it up, there was a little puff of smoke from the back left of the keyboard... and... no screen backlight came on.

The repair solved the problem of my computer constantly shutting down, but now I can only see my screen if I shine a bright light on it.

Does anyone know what could have happened? If the thermal compound was touching some little wire or something, could it have caused a short?

jonahwy, · Reply

Quote from jonahwy:

Swapping out the heatsink on my 15" MBP seemed to go fine. The instructions were clear and easy to follow. My computer had been shutting down immediately and was unusable. I did some research and it sounded like the heatsink was the problem. After reassembling the computer, when I started it up, there was a little puff of smoke from the back left of the keyboard... and... no screen backlight came on.

The repair solved the problem of my computer constantly shutting down, but now I can only see my screen if I shine a bright light on it.

Does anyone know what could have happened? If the thermal compound was touching some little wire or something, could it have caused a short?

Did you use Arctic Silver? It's possible something shorted, but I'm leaning more toward a lose display cable. Try re-seating the cable.

Nicholas Ouimet, · Reply

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