Keeping your GPU cool can extend it’s life and give you years of use before you have to replace it. Thermal paste is one of the mechanisms that graphics cards employ to lower their temperatures and help keep performance high without damaging the card.
While your GPU should already have thermal paste applied correctly when you purchase it, problems with the card or buying a used one might lead you to need to re-apply it at some point.
What is Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste is a kind of grease that helps conduct heat away from specific components in your computer. Most people know that thermal paste is applied to CPUs before they are installed on the motherboard, but it’s less common knowledge that it is applied to GPUs too.
Thermal paste has a few properties that make it ideal for helping in transferring heat away from computer components. First, it helps grab the heat from the CPU or GPU and moves it to the heat sink, further reducing the temperature.
Next, it helps create more contact points because it oozes into the gaps and smashes up against the space where you apply it.
Thermal paste can also cut down on the air transfer between the heatsink and component by reducing any gaps where the air gets in. Since the air transfer makes the heatsink less effective, this is another way thermal paste can help lower temperatures.
How Does Thermal Paste Help My GPU?
Heat is one of the primary sources of wear on a graphics card. Too much heat can severely reduce the lifespan of the card. It also limits how much performance the GPU delivers. As temperatures rise, the card will eventually shut down or limit its performance to protect itself.
Adding fresh thermal paste to your GPU can significantly lower the temperatures. If you’re experiencing issues, it’s one great solution. For example, when I got my 1080 TI from EVGA, I ordered it from the B Stock because I knew I could probably fix any issues with it.
When it arrived, a test revealed that it would shut down when trying to play games like ARK on high graphics. The temperatures would zoom up to over 85 degrees before the game shut down – all within moments of starting the game.
We took the card apart, cleaned off the old thermal paste, and applied new thermal paste. Once the card was put together again, we reinstalled it and ran a stress test.
It worked in the same game with temperatures under 80 degrees, and I had no heat-related issues with it. It isn’t my primary GPU anymore, but I still use it occasionally, and it works fantastically years after applying that thermal paste.
How to Apply Thermal Paste to a Graphics Card
You should take a few precautions before applying thermal paste to a GPU. It’s a little different from doing it on a CPU because you have to take the card apart.
Make sure you understand how to take your card apart before you start. You may have to look up a teardown video or check your manual, depending. Don’t follow the instructions from another card or one made by a different manufacturer.
Remember how you took the card apart and where each piece goes to reassemble it. Put a small box or bag nearby to hold the screws, so you don’t lose them. When we took it apart, we were just playing it by ear, so we videoed the process to have a reference once we were done.
- Create a workspace where you won’t lose small pieces or have any mess that might damage the graphics card. Set up a basket or bag to hold your small parts.
- Grab an appropriate screwdriver for your card, your new thermal paste, lint-free cotton rounds, and 99 percent isopropyl alcohol.
- Take apart your graphics card by unscrewing the screws on the body. Set them to the side, and don’t lose them. Be careful while you’re taking it apart not to break the connections to the fans or to unnecessarily touch the card’s internals.
- Dab the cotton round with isopropyl alcohol until it’s damp but not dripping. Use that to clean the chip in the GPU and the place where the heatsink connects.
- Dab a dot of thermal paste onto the chip. It should be in the middle and not so large that it goes to the edge of the card. The pressure of the heatsink will help spread the thermal paste.
- Press the card back together firmly, and don’t separate it once you do. You want the heatsink to press down on the thermal paste and spread it over the chip.
- Replace the screws. It’s essential to screw them in firmly. Graphics cards that aren’t held together well can experience issues, including skyrocketing temperatures. You don’t want to bend the card or twist incredibly hard, but you want firm placement.
- Reinstall the graphics card and try it out. Watch the temperatures to see whether it gets hotter. If it does, take it apart and put it back together. Sometimes the issue is the tension of the screws.
While putting thermal paste on a graphics card isn’t difficult, it pays to go slow and be careful as you work on it. Graphics cards are expensive, and mistakes can completely ruin the card.
Thermal Paste Tips and Tricks
Knowing a few tips about using thermal paste can help you have the best experience when you apply thermal paste to your GPU.
Should I Apply Thermal Paste to my Graphics Card?
If your temperatures are hot or you have a preferred brand you want to use, there’s nothing wrong with putting new thermal paste on your card.
However, there is no reason to do so if you aren’t having issues with your temperatures. If your card is working exactly as it should, taking it apart to add new paste could cause more problems than it’s worth.
Think carefully about whether the risk is worth the reward.
Are There Any Benefits to Thermal Pads Over Thermal Paste?
One of the main benefits of thermal pads is that you don’t have to worry about the paste oozing away from the chip you use it on. It stays where you put it.
However, a thermal pad won’t fill the gaps as well as thermal paste. If you’re adding something to your GPU, go a little slower and use paste instead of a pad.
What’s the Best Shape to Apply the Thermal Paste in?
For novices, just put a dot in the middle of the chip. It’s better to ensure it doesn’t ooze out the sides once you press the heat sink on. Some people prefer to draw a little X over the chip with a bit more in the center. Others like to use a thin line back and forth over it.
Ultimately, it’s a matter of preference more than anything else. The dot in the center should work fine.
How Long Does Thermal Paste Last on a GPU?
Most people believe it lasts two to three years. The lifespan of a graphics card is often much longer than that, so it’s not unlikely that you’ll need to replace the thermal paste at some point.
If you aren’t comfortable taking apart your GPU, reach out to a certified computer repair technician and discuss pricing. You can probably get the service for a reasonable cost.
How Much Thermal Paste Should I Use?
You don’t need to use very much at all. A grain of rice or two sized dollops should be more than enough. You can always clean off the paste and reapply if necessary. However, it’s much harder to clean it if it drips down onto other components. Err on the side of caution, and don’t use too much at once.
Does Thermal Paste Expire?
Don’t expect your thermal paste to last forever. Like most other things, it eventually becomes less effective. If it’s more than two years old, consider purchasing another tube.