GPU Thermal Paste Replacement Needs and Steps

October 12, 2021

Within a typical gaming or high-quality workstation setup, few elements are more important than the GPU, or graphics card. One particular element of the GPU that’s standard across virtually every computer out there: The requirement for thermal paste, or a thermal compound (they’re effectively the same), to be applied between the Printed Circuit Board and the heatsink, with the goal of effective heat transfer.

At Xidax, we’re happy to offer a wide range of GPU options for our custom gaming desktops, laptops and workstations, ensuring all your graphics needs are met in ways that don’t diminish other features of the machine. When it comes to the GPU, thermal paste is something many gamers have never dealt with before — this sort of thing will only come up rarely, such as if you’re buying an older or used GPU or if your GPU is already an old model that’s begun to have temperature issues. When is replacement of your GPU thermal paste needed or worthwhile, and how can you go about this if you determine there’s a need? Here’s a primer.

Determining Thermal Paste Replacement Need

As we just noted, there aren’t a whole ton of situations where replacing GPU paste is needed — most modern GPUs with stock cooling solutions will not produce even close to dangerous temperatures over time, and the only real reason why you’d want to replace it is if your GPU seems like it’s heating up excessively, which can result in significant performance throttling. This makes taking care of your product extremely important — if you’re buying used or older models that may have been abused, this can be a concern.

Now, for cards that are at least 3-4 years old or have begun noticeable wearing down or showing temperature issues, replacing the thermal paste is recommended. However, even in these situations, there are a few cautionary notes you want to be aware of:

  • Even if your card is older, there’s no guarantee that it’s necessary to do this. Whether replacing thermal past is worthwhile will depend on how dry and hard your existing paste is, how much paste was applied originally, and other factors.
  • If you’re not confident in your ability to handle these components without error, you should either avoid this replacement or call on a repair professional — otherwise you risk damaging your GPU and losing money.
  • If you do plan to DIY this job and disassemble your GPU, be sure to check your warranty status, as you may lose valuable coverage.
  • Finally, beware that replacing GPU paste is not the only way to solve temperature or wear issues on your GPU. Replacing a clogged or damaged cooler may work just as well for you — that said, if the paste was loose/dry or not applied fully, this is likely to have been the issue at play.

If you’ve done all the proper research and have concluded that replacing your GPU paste is the right way to go, here’s a primer on how to perform this process.

Steps for Replacing GPU Paste

For this job, you will need a screwdriver (maybe two), a lint-free cloth or some paper towels, a replacement tube of thermal paste/compound, and a way to apply the compound. Before you begin disassembling your GPU, it’s important that you have all of these items ready to go.

With that being careful planning out of the way, let’s discuss how best to perform this project. First off, understand that there are different approaches to removing the existing paste, which you’ll need to research before proceeding. You can use Xidax’s experience as a general reference point for how best to conduct this project. That said, here are some general steps:

  • Step 1: Unplug power cables: At this point, you need to make sure that any and all power cables connected to your GPU — especially those attached to the motherboard or power supply — have been unplugged from your computer. This is a critical step if you want to avoid electrical damage both for yourself and your components. For additional safety here, consider grounding yourself before starting or wearing an anti-static wrist strap.
  • Step 2: Remove the GPU from the case: Your GPU will be attached to the case with screws, but you’ll need to remove them before proceeding. As a general practice, ensure that all of these screws are securely removed so that you don’t damage anything or force anything back into place once the paste has been replaced. Once this is done, gently lift the card up and out of the slot, holding it by its sides. Place it on a bench or table, with the fans facing downward to allow you to access the back side.
  • Step 3: Unscrew and detach the HSF: On the back side of your card, you’ll see a heatsink — this is where the GPU’s heatspreader and thermal paste reside. To remove these components from your GPU, hold them by their sides and gently rock or pull them away from the PCB until they’re detached. It’s important to take care here so that you don’t damage the components, either through excessive force or by an inaccurate pull. If a purchase is difficult, a gentle rocking motion should free it without too much trouble.
  • Step 4: Clean off the thermal paste from the GPU: The next step is to remove what remains of the old thermal compound from your card’s heat spreader — remember, this is the area that makes contact with the heatsink, so it’s vital to make sure you remove all of the old material. You can use a lint-free microfiber cloth or paper towels for this process — even plain water without any additives should help effectively clean off the heat spreader.
  • Step 5: Clean off dust and any other debris that’s present.
  • Step 6: Apply new thermal paste: For this step, you’ll need to open your new tube of thermal compound or paste. If the product is provided in a syringe applicator (which many are), be careful not to damage it if possible. Once you have the paste ready, apply a small amount to your heat spreader — use around half of what’s included per application. You can spread it out using your finger or a lint-free cloth. Once you’ve applied the paste, put your heat spreader back on top of the GPU — make sure to avoid any air pockets by gently pushing down around the edges until you hear a snap.
  • Step 7: Reattach your heatsink and fan combo: Assuming that your HSF is back in its original position, you can now reconnect it to your GPU. For screwless arrangements, press down around the edges of the heatsink until you hear a click or feel or resistance. If there are screws involved, make sure that all of them are securely fastened — if not, they could become loose during operation.
  • Step 8: Replace your GPU in the case, reconnect power cables, and turn on your computer. Be sure to test it to see if your changes have taken effect.

For more on replacing the thermal past on your computer’s GPU, or to learn about any of our gaming computer setups or other services, speak to the staff at Xidax today.

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