Like all things, thermal paste will not last forever. it has a shelf life, beyond which its performance deteriorates rapidly. Lots of manufacturers state that their thermal paste will last between 3-5 years but this can vary massively depending on your use conditions. Join us as we dive in and investigate why your thermal paste may last more or less than the manufacturer’s guidelines.
What is thermal paste?
Thermal paste is a thermal compound which sits between your CPU cooler and your CPU. I know, I know, it isn’t just used on CPU’s but this is the use case where most casual users will come across thermal paste. It can in fact be used in any situation where a heat spreader or heat sink is used.
The idea of thermal paste is that it is a great thermal compound which allows heat to pass very efficiently from your component into a cooler or heat sink. This helps to reduce the temperature of your components as efficiently as possible.
How to tell if your thermal paste needs to be replaced
If you have found an old tube of thermal paste lurking at the back of a drawer and are wondering if it is still good then we have a few quick tests you can do to see if it has expired. First of all, squeeze a little out and check the consistency, if it is too hard or goes the other way and is really watery and runny then don’t use it.
In most cases it will be worth your while to just buy a new tube of thermal paste, the stuff isn’t expensive and can make a massive difference to the cooling performance of your CPU.
How often should I replace the thermal paste on my CPU?
To be perfectly honest I have never had to replace the thermal paste on my computer. Whether this is down to constant upgrades or the fact that it just doesn’t need to be done that often is up for debate. I would not say there is a strict time guideline where you need to replace the thermal paste after so many years. Rather look at the thermal performance of your CPU. Keep an eye on your temps and if you notice your CPU getting warmer as the years roll by or suddenly start spiking then it may be time to replace the thermal paste.
I wouldn’t get into the habit of changing the paste for the sake of it as every time you do it you risk damaging components. I know this is only a small risk but if your some kind of madman that likes to change the thermal compound every few months then you are massively raising the chances you will do something stupid and damage your CPU.
A lot of high-quality coolers will now include thermal pads so you don’t need paste at all. These pads come already attached to the cooler so you don’t really need to do anything. You can also purchase these pads to use to connect the metal base of any cooler you like. The advantage of thermal pads is that they are perfectly spread and don’t allow for imperfections in the application of thermal paste.
Does thermal paste wear out?
Yes, it will wear out over time. This can vary depending on a lot of factors so I just like to look out for a reduction in cooling performance, this can be a good sign that your thermal paste may have expired and it is time to replace it.
What happens if you don’t use thermal paste?
This depends on the application but it is probably going to be a large problem. Both the metal on the bottom of your cooler and the top of your CPU or GPU will have imperfections. Because of this when they are mounted together there will be gaps, leading to poor heat transfer. therefore your components will overheat, probably very quickly!
Can you use rubbing alcohol to clean thermal paste?
Yes, in fact, this is the way I would recommend. Alcohol cleaners are great for cleaning computer components as the alcohol will evaporate so you don’t need to worry about getting your computer wet and causing damage.
Can you use too much thermal paste?
Again yes, you definitely can. Applying the correct amount of thermal paste is crucial to extracting the most efficient performance out of your cooler.
How much difference will applying thermal past make to an overheating laptop?
this depends on why the laptop is over heating. Applying new paste is a quick and easy method to try so it is worthwhile trying first and seeing what effect it has. If the root cause of the overheating is poor paste then this will obviously make a huge difference. However, there is a good chance the problem lies elsewhere and therefore it may not have much of an impact at all. However due to the low cost of thermal paste this definitely something I would recommend trying.