How to Know When to Change the Thermal Paste

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The role of thermal paste

Thermal paste is a essential element for cooling our systemsince it will help enormously in the task of the heat transmission between the source, which is usually a chip, and heatsink from heat, which are the large aluminum and copper structures that are placed on top of the processors or, failing that, a liquid cooling system.

If the thermal paste is in poor condition we can see how the temperatures of our processor or graphics card increase to higher values ​​than normalsince the heat will not be able to pass correctly from the chip to the heatsink, causing the temperatures to increase in the processor to the point of reaching affect performance and to the experience of using our system.

That’s why having thermal paste in good condition and of the right kind it is essential for good refrigeration and we may have doubts about how to identify if the thermal paste is in good condition, how long does it last the thermal paste once applied or how to identify when it should be changedwhich we will try to answer in this article.

Signs that it is necessary to change the thermal paste

Unlike other components or parts of the computer, knowing the state of the thermal paste is quite difficultgiven that there is no meter or probe let us know if there is a problem with it.

The best way to know the state of the thermal paste is to see how solid it iswhen stiffer this in worst state will be found and less heat will be transmitted, but if, on the contrary, is in a liquid state more or less dense, it will be in good condition and will be transmitting heat correctly. The only problem with having the thermal paste evaluated in this way is that to do so we will have to open the computerbeing then forced to change the thermal paste to be able to reinstall the heatsink and use the device, so we are going to explain another less reliable way, but that will also help us to get an idea of ​​the state of our thermal paste: temperature.

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When to see the temperature we are interested in the behavior more than the value it achieves. In a dissipation system we have a heat generator, which is the chip that we want to cool, and a heatsink that transfers the heat from the chip to another medium such as air or water depending on the system. Between these two elements will be the thermal paste, since as we mentioned before, its function is improve heat transfer between them. The different physical elements have a property called heat capacity, which is the capacity of each element to store energy in the form of heat, as the amount of energy in that element increases, its temperature increases.

This is important because of how a dissipation system works, since chips generate a lot of heat, but they have a very small heat capacity for its sizeso that, if the chip is not capable of transmitting the heat it generates to the heatsink, most of it will remain on the chip doing your temperature rises rapidly. For this reason, as we said before, the important thing It is not the temperature that is reached but how fast it is reached, if we run a stress test on the processor and it rises in a few seconds or minutes to 80-90c or more it will mean that it cannot transmit its heat and, therefore, that there is a problem with the thermal paste who is in charge of this process.

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The elements tend to stabilize their temperature with the elements around them, the better their contact the faster and more efficiently they will equalize their temperatures.

Basically, if the temperature takes little time to stabilize at a dangerous value it will be a problem with the thermal paste in most cases, but as take longer to stabilize in that dangerous range or at other temperatures will mean that the thermal paste is in good condition and is transmitting all or most of the heat to the heatsink by the physical principle that we explained previously.

What we have just explained will always be true, but even so, we are going to study different cases according to the device we have In order to know better if we need to change or not the thermal paste in each case:

  • In office laptops. In these cases it is difficult to observe the deterioration of the thermal pastesince they generally incorporate processors with very low power consumption and therefore with very little cooling needs to the point that some do not even use a fan to cool them. The only way to find out that the thermal paste is in poor condition is if a long time has passed since its purchase or the last change and when performing stress tests on the processor we see that the temperature rises rapidly the fan starts to sound a lot if you have it and the processor begins to lower its operating frequency when it reaches its limit operating temperature, which depending on the model is between 85-105c.
  • On gaming laptops. Something similar to the previous ones happens in Gaming laptops, only here it is more difficult to identify the problem because these models generally have more complex dissipation systems and they include several elements in the same system, such as the processor and the graphics card or GPU that usually share the same heatsink circuit, as we can see in this guide in which we explain How to open and change the thermal paste of a laptop.
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    Although it is not a gaming laptop, this MacBook Pro uses a similar cooling arrangement, with the CPU and graphics card sharing a heatpipe that is cooled by the two turbines at either end.

    In addition, in these systems it is normal to observe high temperatures in normal “gaming” use due to the great power and consumption that they usually have in relation to their small size so that they are portable systems. This translates into that a high temperature does not have to indicate a problem with the thermal paste, so the best option to know if you have to change it is to see if the processor and graphics card slow down by temperature (throtling) to a great extent.

  • On desktop processors. This is perhaps the most complicated case, since the user you can pair any heatsink with any processor, and the performance of the heatsink may not adapt to the TDP of the processor and in that case not satisfy its cooling needs. This means that a high temperature on the chip can mean or a bad state of thermal paste or a heatsink unable to dissipate so much heat, that it is defective or even misconfigured if we include multi-fan, dirty or liquid-cooled systems in the equation.

    That is why in this case we will have to look at the phenomenon that we mentioned before, and see how fast the temperature of our processor rises and before changing the thermal paste, verify that we have the heatsink configured correctly, that it is suitable for our CPU and that it is in good condition.

  • On desktop graphics cards. In these devices it is much easier to see if there is a problem with the thermal paste, because in the vast majority of cases We can assume that the heatsink that incorporates the serial graphics card has been designed to be enough to cool it down. and keep it away from dangerous temperatures.

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    That’s why there will be a problem with the thermal paste if when doing a stress test we see that your temperature rises rapidlythe core speed starts to drop and the fans make a lot of noise.

What to do if we need a change of thermal paste

We hope that with the previous explanations we have been able to shed some light on the subject of thermal paste, its function and How to identify if its replacement is necessary somewhere in our system.

If we have detected that a change of thermal paste is necessary in our system, the first thing we have to do is choose a good thermal paste that suits your needs. There are many different types of thermal paste, but usually with an inexpensive one like MX4 or MX6 or any similar will be more than enough for all cases.

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You also have to remember that It is not always easy to open our device to change the thermal paste, especially on Gaming computers that may have a complex interior that requires removing many parts that will later have to be reassembled, so if we are not sure how to make the change in our system, it is best to find out and if we do not see it clearly, contact an expert.

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Written by Editor TLN

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