If you are into computers and related technology, you must know how important thermal paste is. This material helps to conduct heat away from sensitive components and prevents them from overheating. You can call it ‘thermal interface material’ as well. Thermal paste or thermal gel is made of different materials like zinc oxide, aluminum oxide, silver, and ceramic. Depending on the composition, it can be either electrically conductive or non-conductive.
Thermal paste fills the tiny gaps between a CPU and heatsink so that heat can be conducted away more efficiently.
The choice of thermal paste also depends on the surface of the heatsink. Whatever you call it, knowing how often to change thermal paste is important if you want your computer to function properly.
Some experts believe that using a more expensive thermal paste will help better heat dissipation, while others believe it does not make any difference.
In this article, we will discuss how often you need to change the thermal paste of your computer, what factors contribute to the replacement, and what you can do to prolong its life.
How often to Change Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste should be changed every two to three years or whenever you notice that your computer is not cooling as efficiently as it used to. If you live in a hot climate or use your computer for gaming or other intensive activities, you may need to reapply thermal paste more often. It’s because the thermal paste dries out over time and loses its efficacy and ability to dissipate heat.
If you live in a place with high humidity, then the thermal paste will dry out faster. Similarly, if you live in a place with low humidity, you won’t need to replace thermal paste, and it will last longer.
However, there are other factors as well as many signs that can contribute to the replacement of thermal paste.
Let’s first discuss the signs that indicate how often to change the thermal paste of your computer.
Signs that you should replace the thermal paste
- When Upgrading Parts
If you are upgrading your central processing unit (CPU) or any other component, then it is recommended to change the thermal paste. People don’t understand the importance of thermal paste and how often to change it. They think that the old thermal paste will work fine, but that’s not the case.
Every time you upgrade a component, the old thermal paste will not be able to provide efficient cooling. As a result, your computer will start overheating and can lead to damage.
When you try to change the thermal paste, you will notice that the old thermal paste is hard and cracked. It means that it has lost its efficacy. Make sure to clean the old thermal paste completely before applying the new one.
- Overheating of Computer
One of the primary signs of changing the thermal paste is if your computer starts overheating frequently. If the heat sink cannot dissipate the heat properly, then the temperature of the CPU will increase.
To check whether it’s the thermal paste or something else, you can open the CPU and check the condition of the thermal paste. If it has dried out or there are cracks, you need to replace it.
Remember, if you don’t replace the thermal paste, it can damage the CPU. In extreme cases, it can also start a fire. Though it’s a rare case, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Reduced Performance
If you have been using your computer for a while, and notice it isn’t running as fast as it used to, one of the first things you should check is the condition of your thermal paste. Over time, the thermal paste can dry out, harden, or just become less effective. When this happens, it doesn’t transfer heat as well and can cause your CPU to throttle its speed to avoid overheating.
You’ll notice reduced performance in games and other resource-intensive applications. If you notice this happening, it’s time to disassemble your CPU and check the thermal paste.
If you are playing a game and your computer starts lagging all of a sudden. It can be because of the thermal paste. The best way to check is by monitoring the temperature of the CPU for at least a couple of weeks.
If you notice that the CPU temperatures are increasing to 70-degrees or more and your computer is lagging, then it’s time to change the thermal paste.
Corrosion is one of the main reasons why people have to replace the thermal paste more often. It’s because the thermal paste is an organic compound, and it can start corroding over time.
The best way to check whether the thermal paste has corroded or not is by looking at it. If you notice any change in color or consistency, then it means that the thermal paste has started corroding.
- Change in Appearance
Another way to check whether the thermal paste has dried out or not is by looking at it. If you notice any change in color or consistency, then it means that the thermal paste has started drying out.
When the thermal paste starts drying out, it becomes hard and crusty. As a result, it cannot transfer heat properly, and your computer can start overheating.
If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to change the thermal paste. Make sure to use a high-quality thermal paste for the best results.
Now let’s understand the factors that affect the lifespan of thermal paste.
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Factors That Affect the Lifespan of Thermal Paste
1) The Brand and Quality of Thermal Paste
The brand and quality of the thermal paste play a very important role in determining its lifespan. If you use a high-quality thermal paste, then it will last longer. On the other hand, if you use a cheap and low-quality thermal paste, it will not last long.
2) The Operating Temperature
The ambient temperature is also a factor in deciding how often to change your thermal paste. We talked about it earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again. If you live in a high ambient temperature area, you will need to change your thermal paste more often. This is because the higher the ambient temperature, the more heat your CPU will generate.
3) The Frequency of Use
This factor is pretty self-explanatory. The more you use your computer, the sooner the thermal paste will dry out. It depends on how often you use your computer and for how long. Let’s say you play games for 6 hours every day. In this case, the thermal paste will dry out faster as compared to someone who only uses their computer for 2 hours a day.
4) The Quality of the Cooling System
The quality of the cooling system is also an important factor in deciding how often to change your thermal paste. You can go longer without changing your thermal paste if you have a high-end cooling system. When we say high-end cooling system, we mean one that has a large heat sink and fan combo or a liquid cooling system. This is essential because a high-end cooling system will be able to dissipate heat much better than a lower-quality one.
Overclocking is another factor that affects the lifespan of thermal paste. If you overclock your CPU, it will generate more heat. As a result, the thermal paste will dry out faster.
6) The Quality of the CPU
CPUs with higher quality will generate less heat. As a result, the thermal paste will last longer. Let’s say you have two CPUs, one is a high-end CPU, and the other is a budget CPU. The high-end CPU will generate less heat, and the thermal paste will last longer.
Now you need to understand the concept of undervolting. It’s when you reduce the voltage that goes to your CPU. As a result, your CPU will generate less heat, and the thermal paste will last longer.
What If I Apply Thermal Paste Too Often?
Applying CPU thermal paste too often is not a good idea. This is because every time you remove the heat sink, there is a chance that you will damage the delicate components on the CPU.
To be honest, it’s just a waste of time as well as the product itself because you really don’t need to change your thermal paste that often.
So, instead of changing your thermal paste too often, check it every few months to see if it has dried out or not. If it has, then changes it.
What If I Apply Thermal Paste Too Little and Less Often?
When you apply thermal paste, you need to make sure that you apply just the right amount. If you apply too little, it won’t be effective in dissipating heat. On the other hand, if you prolong intervals between reapplication, your CPU will overheat and may get damaged.
So, ultimately it is important to find a happy medium when reapplying thermal paste. We recommend that you apply thermal paste every 6 months or so.
What if I Apply Too Much Thermal Paste?
Applying too much thermal paste is not a good idea as well. This is because the excess thermal paste will ooze out from the sides and will eventually dry out. Not to mention, it will be a pain to clean up.
So, if you are wondering what the correct amount of thermal paste to apply is. The best way to apply thermal paste is to put a pea-sized amount in the middle of the CPU. Then, use a flat object to spread it out evenly.
Remember, it is always better to err on the side of caution. So, if you are not sure how much to apply, just put a small amount and then spread it out.
However, we have conducted several tests, and we have found that the ideal amount of thermal paste to apply is about 0.5-1 grams. This is just enough to create a thin layer that will be effective in dissipating heat.
Also, putting too much emphasis on the amount of paste can result in suboptimal performance. So don’t worry too much about it and just focus on creating a thin layer.
How to Remove and Re-Apply Thermal Paste?
If you need to remove and re-apply thermal paste, here is a quick guide on how to do it.
- First, you need to turn off your computer and unplug it from the power outlet.
- Then, you need to remove the CPU cooler.
- Next, you need to clean off the old thermal paste. You can use a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol.
- Once the old thermal paste is removed, you can now apply the new thermal paste.
- Finally, you can now re-attach the CPU cooler and plug your computer back in.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should thermal paste last?
Ideally, the thermal paste should last about one year to 2 years. However, this will depend on several factors, such as the quality of the CPU, the quality of the thermal paste, and how often you use your computer.
How long does thermal paste last unused?
Thermal paste can last unused for about 5-6 years. However, this will depend on the quality of the thermal pastes and how they are stored.
How often should you change the thermal paste on your GPU?
How often should you replace the thermal paste on your GPU will depend on several factors such as the quality of your GPU, the quality of the thermal paste, and how often you use your computer.
Usually, you don’t need to change the already applied thermal paste on your GPU that often. This is because the thermal paste on your GPU will last longer than the one on your CPU. However, 5 to 8 years should be good enough if you want an estimated time.