How to Apply Thermal Paste to Your CPU

If you’re into PC building or just generally into keeping your computer cool, you’ve likely heard of Thermal paste. It’s also known as CPU paste, thermal gel or thermal interface material (TIM), and its correct application is an important part of ensuring your processor runs at peak performance.

The exact makeup of standard thermal pastes varies, though most are based on metal oxides and ceramic materials with a silicone binding agent. These materials, referred to as TIMs, are engineered to flow into microscopic gaps between the surface of your CPU and the heat sink, boosting thermal transfer and making the difference between an overheated machine and one running at its optimal temperature.

As far as application goes, you’ll want to start with a clean surface on both the cooler and the CPU. That means wiping away any old paste with a non-lint cloth and some 70% or higher isopropyl alcohol.

After that, squeeze out a small dot of the paste, a few millimeters in diameter at most. It’s possible to apply too much, so be careful not to blot it over the entire surface. Some people prefer a cross shape, while others like a line; it’s really up to you and what looks best to you.

Next, press the cooler onto the CPU using light pressure to avoid bending the motherboard or damaging the CPU. Secure the cooler with the mounting mechanism – typically screws, but sometimes clips – and make sure there are no areas of missing paste. If you notice any, remove the cooler and wipe off any excess with alcohol before re-applying and trying again.

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