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What is Thermal Paste, and Why do Processors Need It?

Helping Keep Processors Cool

Learn why processors need this paste, and how to apply it correctly.

Episode #4-32 released on April 26, 2014

Most people do not build their own computers, and many of you may have never thought about this question before, but for those who have, this episode will enlighten you, and teach you more about thermal transfer and surface textures than you thought you knew.

First, no surface is absolutely flat. If you think the service is flat and even, think again. It is virtually impossible to make a surface absolutely flat, and even harder when the very same surface will undergo a change of temperature and be held under pressure. Think about how that annoying housefly can walk up the wall, well the very same texture can exist in even the best conditions on the processor and heat sink.

Secondly, an uneven surface can't effectively transfer heat. This means that all that heat risks being trapped in sensitive electronics that can be seriously damaged if the heat is not dissipated. Even with the best materials available like copper for heat sinks, an uneven heat sink, and processor may not have enough surface in contact to move the heat from the processor to the heat sink.

Knowing this, we can start understanding that we need something to help the transfer of heat, and prevent our electronics from over heating for no valid reason. This is where Thermal Paste comes into play. However, very few people know how to effectively apply it onto a processor and many more don't know how much.

The first thing to know about thermal paste is, too much is like having none at all. Thermal paste is a thermal transfer agent but can be used to insulate. Adding too much can keep all the heat in the processor and ruin your computer.

Second thing to know about thermal paste, adding too little won't do anything for the processor. The surface of the processor and heat sink is porous it needs to filled out to allow for heat to transfer effectively.

How much Thermal Paste do I need to apply to a processor?

The correct amount of thermal paste is about the size of a BB pellet, and you can either put it dead center to the processor, and spread by slightly twisting the heat sink, and allowing the resulting compression to spread the rest, or for those like me, you can use a plastic finger protector and spread it over the processor. I spread enough to just hide the identification information on the processor.

It may take several hundred hours for the thermal paste to burn in, or set. For setting to occur properly you must power off the computer when not in use. Cycling is the process of heating up and cooling down the thermal paste. Note: Only servers and NAS drives are designed for 24 hour operation.

If you need to clean the processor. You may use a drop or two of Isopropyl Alcohol, at 97% or higher percent, to allow the previous thermal paste to unset and wipe it off from the processor using a lint free cloth, or coffee filter, if no lint free cloth is available, from both the processor and heat sink.

Host : Steve Smith | Music : Jonny Lee Hart | Editor : Steve Smith | Producer : Zed Axis Productions

Sources & Resources