How to apply thermal paste to a GPU or CPU – step-by-step guide

Optimizing thermal mangement - we show you how

Thermal Paste GPU

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One of the simplest ways to revamp your computer and ensure your CPU/GPU maintains a good performance is by reapplying the thermal paste found on the IHS/heatsink. Thermal paste is an essential component of the cooling process in a CPU/GPU; allowing for an efficient transfer of heat to the cooler, which keeps temperatures below the thermal limit. Managing the thermal issues of your CPU/GPU could be the change you need in order the improve the performance of your computer; which is why, in this article, we’re guiding you through how to apply thermal paste to your CPU/GPU.

Manufacturers usually apply a thermal paste (built with longevity in mind) during production, meaning you won’t have to think about application for at least a year after your purchase, or until you encounter issues with your product. It may be time to reapply if you notice excessive heat, noise, or a significant decrease in your computer’s performance.

The step-by-step guide below outlines where to apply the thermal paste, how to remove the existing paste, and how to reapply fresh paste to your graphics card/processor. Before we make a start, there are a few things to gather; a screwdriver, isopropyl alcohol, a lint-free cloth/paper towel, and a plastic spreader. Once you’ve found all the necessary tools, you’re ready to begin!

How to apply thermal paste to a GPU or CPU – step-by-step guide



Power down and open case

Ensure the computer is completely off and disconnected from any power source to prevent electrostatic discharge (ESD) damage. Then, open up the side panel of the case.



Remove existing cooler

Locate the existing CPU or GPU cooler and carefully unscrew it, keeping track of the screws and their placement.

If the cooler is stuck, due to old thermal paste, gently twist it until it becomes loose.



Clean old thermal paste

Once the cooler is removed you should be able to see the existing paste, this is removed by applying isopropyl alcohol to a lint-free cloth or paper towel and gently rubbing until all traces are gone. Make sure entire CPU and GPU is clean with no remnants of excess paste.

Using gloves can be advisable here.


Avoid Contamination: Ensure your hands and tools are clean to prevent contamination of the thermal paste.



Apply thermal paste to CPU or GPU

Apply a small amount of new thermal paste onto the center of the CPU (IHS) or GPU chip (heatsink).

Apply an amount the size of a pea / small drop (or a small line or X shape for larger CPUs) is usually sufficient. Don’t apply too much paste.

Quality of Paste: Use a high-quality thermal paste for better thermal conductivity.

Amount Matters: Too much thermal paste can cause poor heat transfer; too little may not cover the entire chip.



Spread paste evenly (optional)

Use a plastic spreader or a clean, flat tool to evenly spread the paste across the chip surface (optional).

This step is optional as pressure from the cooler typically spreads the paste. Some prefer manual spreading for even coverage.

No Metal Tools: Use a plastic spreader or tool to spread the paste, as metal tools can cause damage.



Reattach the cooler

Carefully place the cooler back onto the CPU/GPU, ensuring it’s properly aligned. Apply evenly with pressure, avoiding excessive force. Then, secure the cooler with screws in a diagonal pattern for even pressure distribution.



Connect cooler cables

Reconnect any cables or fans that were disconnected from the cooler.



Close the case and power on

Close the case and reconnect the power. Finally, power on your computer and monitor temperatures to ensure the thermal paste is effectively conducting heat away from the CPU/GPU.

Regular maintenance: Replace thermal paste every few years or when temperatures seem abnormally high.

✓ Eve’s thoughts

Amount of thermal paste

Deciding on how much thermal paste to apply is arguably the most important step of this process; too much or too little won’t be effective in improving heat transfer. So, make sure you take extra care and time at this point in the procedure to ensure you’ve got just the right amount to improve the efficiency of your CPU/GPU.

Can you use the same thermal paste for the CPU and GPU?

Good quality thermal paste is crucial for enhancing heat conductivity between a device and its respective heat sinks, and luckily the same thermal paste can be used for both CPU and GPU. Although there are various types of thermal pastes, all are designed to serve the fundamental purpose of improving thermal transfer; meaning, you’ll only have to purchase one thermal paste for both your CPU and GPU – an easy way to save money while buying hardware for your PC. Remember to apply a pea-size amount only.

Is too much thermal paste bad for GPU?

Applying too much thermal paste can be harmful to a GPU. Excessive thermal paste can act as an insulating layer, hindering heat transfer from the GPU to the heat sink. Additionally, it can overflow and potentially cause short circuits if it spills onto other components. Make sure to use a small amount of thermal paste. A thin, even layer covering the GPU’s surface without overflowing is ideal for optimal heat transfer. Pea-size method is advised.

How to apply thermal paste to a GPU or CPU – Conclusion

So, there you have it! We hope this article has answered all your questions surrounding the application of a thermal paste to a CPU/GPU. Knowing how to complete this task safely is useful if you’re looking for ways to enhance your computer’s performance. Follow each step of this guide with care to ensure a smooth application and great results!

Eve is a writer and copy editor at PC Guide, who focuses on a broad range of topics but main interest lies in the development of AI technology.