Reseat the CPU Cooler

There are many fun things we can do with a computer but there are also many boring things we should do with them. Cleaning one isn’t that fun and reseating the CPU cooler can be downright stressful. If you want to keep your computer running it’s best you’ll want to keep your CPU running as cool as possible. The CPU cooler (or heatsink) is vital for this and without one your processor would quickly overheat and burn itself out. You should fully clean and reseat your CPU cooler occasionally to make sure it’s doing the best job possible. Even if you clean the dust out of your case on a regular basis, it’s still important to reseat your CPU cooler from time to time in order to protect your CPU from damaging heat.

What is a CPU Cooler?

CPU Coolers prevent flames like thisThe job of the CPU cooler is to suck up all the heat coming from the processor and wick it away. Usually this done with a large block of aluminum with fins that allow the most airflow possible. A fan on top or set in the middle draws air through the fins then pushes it away to get sucked out of the case by the exhaust fan. The tricky place is down where the aluminum block, otherwise known as the heatsink, comes into contact with the processor itself. There is always a small gap between the two that needs to be filled in otherwise the heat isn’t transferred and you end up with a toasty processor.

To fill in this gap a thermal paste is used. When you reseat the CPU cooler, the main job is to clean away the old paste and apply fresh stuff. Over time the paste becomes hard and lacks the heat transferring power it once had. By getting new paste in there you’re making sure your processor has the longest lifespan possible.

Getting Ready to Reseat the CPU Cooler

Cotton swabsYou’ll need some supplies before you reseat the CPU cooler. If you haven’t cleaned your computer for awhile the full setup should be required. Get canned air, lint-free wipes, cotton swabs, a clean paintbrush and some 99% solution rubbing alcohol. It’s quite a list but they all come in handy for the cleaning. You’ll want a standard phillips and flathead screwdriver to get the case apart and remove the CPU cooler.

Finally you’ll want to get that all important thermal paste. Reseating the CPU cooler is all about applying new thermal paste. It’s available at computer shops, some electronics stores and of course online. You’ll want to spring for the good stuff which is around eight dollars. Not very expensive. It comes in a variety of formulas but anything high quality should work.

Clean the CPU Cooler

Once you have everything, clean off a workspace like the kitchen table or a large coffee table. Shutdown your computer, disconnect all the cables then open it up. You’ll want to do a quick cleaning of all the general dust first with the canned air and wipes. Then you can get to actually reseating the CPU cooler. The cooler is fairly hard to miss, being a giant metal tower sitting in the middle of your motherboard.

Screws around the CPU CoolerFirst, you’ll want to unplug the cooler’s fan from the motherboard and remove it from the heatsink. Clean this fan thoroughly with the brush and cotton swabs with a little alcohol for the tough stuff. Put it aside for now. Next you’ll need to remove the heatsink itself which can be the frustrating part of the CPU cooler reseat.

Be Careful!!

Depending on the type of motherboard you have, either remove any screws that hold down the heatsink or gently flip the release switch if you have a mechanical latch. This is the tricky part of reseating the CPU cooler since the thermal paste has started to dry out and may have glued the heatsink to the processor.

Don’t pry it off with tools! Lift gently, wiggle it a little if needed but make sure you don’t rip the processor out with it. If you do you may bend pins on the processor. Once it comes loose you should see the top of the processor underneath which will be coated in thermal paste.

Use your wipes to clean off all of the old thermal paste on the heatsink and the top of the processor. Careful not to get old paste smeared on other parts of the motherboard. This can be one of the most time consuming parts of reseating your CPU cooler. Take your time and make sure you thoroughly get everything. You can thoroughly clean the heatsink now and get all that nasty dirt out of the fins.

Putting the paste on the CPU Cooler

When reseating a CPU cooler, exactly how to put on thermal paste is a highly debated topic. There are a variety of recommended methods but I prefer a two step process that covers all the bases. Obviously you’ll need thermal compound for this, if you don’t have any you can always order Arctic Silver 5 from Amazon. It’s the one we use, anyway.

First find an old credit card or something else similar to use as a scraper. Next dab a tiny pea sized amount of your new thermal paste on the bottom of the heatsink where it comes in contact with the processor. Then use your scraper to lightly remove the paste, pulling it across the face of the heatsink in every direction. The idea is to get paste into any imperfections or scratches that are in the metal. You should end up with a surface with almost no paste left on it except for anything that has been caught up low spots.

After you’ve done that, put a pea sized amount of thermal paste on the top of the processor, directly in the center. Then set the heatsink back on top, making sure to press down slowly and try to keep it straight up and down. Reseating the heatsink will spread out the paste evenly across the face of the processor. If you’ve put on too much it will ooze out the sides. If that happens, remove the heatsink, thoroughly clean the paste off and start again.

Wrapping Up

SnowflakeSecure the heatsink, reinstall the fan and make sure you plug it into the motherboard. You’re done reseating the CPU cooler. Double check that you haven’t left any globs of paste anywhere or that you’ve accidently loosened any other cords during your work. Close up the case and set everything back up. There’s a small chance you’ll notice an improvement in performance but the real benefit is a cooler running computer.

If you’re curious about how hot your processor is actually running, there are temperature monitors you can use to keep an eye on things. These can tell you if the reseating of your CPU cooler was done correctly and warn you of future problems that would require another cleaning. The best rule of thumb of course is to reseat your CPU cooler every two years and yearly if you don’t have the best cleaning habits or pets in the house.