Opening a CPU cooler can be intimidating for many users, especially if you haven’t done the process before. Whether you want to install a brand-new CPU or reapply the thermal paste, you should be aware of certain things before doing it yourself.
This article will show you the best practices for opening a CPU case safely and hassle-free. The guide works for any of the default Intel and RYZEN CPU coolers as well as for custom third-party CPU coolers.
Precautions Before Attempting to Remove a CPU Cooler
When you handle hardware parts yourself, you are always doing so at your own risk. If a component is not repaired or replaced by a licensed repair shop, you should proceed with great caution.
Here is a list of the most common mistakes when attempting to remove a CPU cooler yourself, so don’t skip applying these steps below since they might prevent hardware damage.
- Avoid working on a surface such as a carpet since it can generate static electricity and ruin sensitive electronic components.
- Remove any built-up static electricity on your hands by touching a grounded metal object (such as the PC case)
- It is highly encouraged that you use an anti-static wrist wrap when coming in contact with the motherboard or CPU
- Avoid using power tools since they can destroy your hardware via static electricity or by using too much torque or force. Always use a basic handheld screwdriver if you need, since that way you can feel if you are applying too much pressure on the screws
- Some laptop manufacturers will void your warranty if you try to tamper by removing the heat transfer copper pipes or the CPU cooler. It’s not generally advised to remove the CPU coolers on laptops yourself; this guide only focuses on desktop CPU coolers.
- If you are trying to remove a liquid-cooled CPU cooler, be especially cautious of potential water damage.
- Never overtighten screws since this can cause physical damage to the motherboard. Screws and clamps should be snug and tight but not overly tightened.
How to Remove a CPU Cooler With Spring Screws?
Generally, there are two types of CPU coolers: Stock manufacturer ones, which come installed by default, or custom third-party CPU coolers.
Most of the stock Intel and AMD/RYZEN coolers use bolts that hold the cooler unit tight to the CPU. If your CPU cooler is held in place by four screws, then follow these steps:
- Let your PC run for at least 10 minutes so that the thermal paste doesn’t stick
- Shut your computer down and disconnect any cables from the PC case. Never attempt to open the CPU cooler with power still running.
- Disconnect the CPU cooler fan cable from the motherboard and unplug any other RGB wires attached to the cooler if present.
- Start to unscrew the CPU cooler screws in a diagonal pattern using an appropriate screwdriver. If you feel too much resistance, don’t use too much force and gently try to loosen the screws up. Continue until each screw is entirely separated from the motherboard.
- Using minimal force, twist the CPU cooler to the sides until it becomes loose and the link between the heat sink and the CPU socket is undone. If you let your PC warm-up, breaking the thermal paste seal shouldn’t take much force.
- Gently remove the CPU cooler from the CPU by lifting it, be careful not to pull or twist the CPU itself during this process.
How to Remove a CPU Cooler With Retention Brackets?
Some CPU coolers are held in place by a snap-on metal bracket; follow these steps to remove it properly:
- Ensure that your CPU has been running for some time to soften up any hardened thermal paste
- Power your PC down and remove all connected cables to the PC case
- Using a little pressure, pull the cam lever to open the CPU cooler
- Disconnect any retention clips on the sides of the CPU cooler
- Lightly twist the CPU cooler sideways to loosen the thermal paste between
- Lift the CPU cooler using as little force as possible
How to Remove a CPU Cooler That Is Hard Stuck to the Heat Sink?
If you notice that you can’t remove the CPU cooler from the CPU, even if all screws are removed, and any clamps are disabled, you have to take a unique approach.
Never use sharp metal objects to try and pry the processor off from the stuck cooler under any circumstances. Use these steps instead:
- Ensure your PC is completely unplugged from any power source (or battery, in case of laptops)
- Start by slightly twisting the processor; never apply too much force or pressure
- Take Isopropyl alcohol concentrate and soak the processor along with the heat sink for at least 10 minutes. This will soften the thermal paste, no matter how strong is “glued” to the processor
- Take a long piece of dental floss string and start prying the CPU with the string by using up-down pulling motions. Start at any corner of the CPU where the string can easily enter in between
- Go from one corner to the other by gently drawing the dental floss string up and down
- Once you have worked the floss completely down, try and remove the stucked heat sink from the processor
- Gently try separating the CPU from the cooler unit by using a sideways twisting motion
- Before putting the CPU / Cooler back, ensure it is completely dry from the alcohol solution
How to Remove a Liquid CPU Cooler?
Removing a liquid CPU cooler is the same as any other cooler. Most liquid CPU coolers are held to the CPU with four screws, so the same steps apply to remove a liquid CPU cooler.
When handling a water-cooled CPU block, be extremely cautious to prevent permanent hardware damage from cooling liquid spills.
How to Install a CPU Cooler Back?
To install the CPU cooler back, once it was removed, follow these steps instead:
- Ensure your PC is powered down, and any power cables are disconnected from the PC case
- Before installing the CPU cooler back, ensure that a new, fresh layer of thermal paste is evenly applied (Check our full guide below on how to reapply thermal paste properly)
- Gently put the CPU cooler on top of the CPU
- Check that the direction of the cooler and fans are pointed in the proper direction
- Place all screws back in their place, and start tightening them in a diagonal pattern, so that no side receives too much pressure at once (it’s vital that you screw them back this way)
- In case there is a lever, snap it back on until it clicks firmly, and the CPU cooler rests firmly
- Connect all power cables of the CPU cooler to the motherboard CPU fan ports.
If you feel that the CPU cooler is too loose at any point after this process, stop the process and repeat from the start until the CPU is held securely in place.
How to Reapply Thermal Paste After the Cooler Is Removed?
If the thermal paste between your CPU and the cooler is depleted or dried out, it needs to be replaced. The common symptoms of this are if your PC freezes up due to extremely high CPU temperatures. Even if your case is dust-free, having poor thermal paste conductivity can prevent your CPU from running normally.
To replace your thermal paste with a new one, follow these steps:
- Let your PC run for about 10 minutes to warm up the old thermal paste.
- Disconnect any power sources from your PC case and ensure it’s powered down; for laptops, check if the battery has been removed before.
- Remove the CPU cooler with the steps provided above
- Take a piece of cloth and dip it in an alcohol solution
- Using slight circular motions, rub the thermal paste off until it is completely removed
- Take your new thermal paste container and apply an X-shaped pattern of thermal paste from end to end of each corner on the CPU cover
- Carefully put the CPU cooler back on top
- Place and tighten all four screws in a diagonal pattern, or fasten the CPU cooler clamps until they snap back on
- Test your PC for stability to ensure that all temperatures of the CPU are within normal limits
Alright, if you’ve followed our guidelines properly, you’ve probably managed to remove the CPU cooler. But before we end this guide, here’ are few word of caution:
- Always do your due diligence and follow general safety precautions when attempting to alter or change any PC hardware part.
- Never, under any circumstances, put a CPU cooler on top of a CPU without applying thermal paste beforehand.
- Always check if the screws or clamps are fully and firmly secured to the motherboard. A single loose screw can result in CPU overheating.