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Modern computers are quite robust, but they still contain some sensitive electronic components that are necessary for great performance.
If you’re into any activities that require heavy use of the microprocessor and other parts, overheating could be a concern for you.
Thermal paste is one way you can mitigate this issue, and we’ll cover some common questions many new users might have about it in our article below.
Can Using Bad or Dried Thermal Paste Cause Overheating?
Thermal paste is used widely by people who build or modify their own PCs, and a common question that crops up is the idea of “bad” thermal paste and what it might do to the computer’s components.
Some people worry that old or dried out paste could do more harm than good. There are a few key points to keep in mind here.
The primary focus of thermal paste is to siphon heat away from the various chips in computers or gaming consoles. These things build up a lot of heat as they do their jobs, and we don’t want them to burn out.
If thermal paste dries out too much, it may be unable to transfer heat properly. When this happens, the chips in your computer may not get the cooling effect they need.
Therefore, in these rare cases, it is possible that “bad” or very dry thermal paste can fail to siphon heat, causing a buildup in the chips.
It doesn’t so much cause overheating itself, but it can go bad in a way that makes it fail to perform.
In cases where thermal paste might not be working, one of the more likely scenarios is that your PC or console will just crank up the internal fan to compensate for the added heating problem.
Many modern devices have shutoffs that will turn them off if too much heat is detected, too.
Other than overheating, it is important to note that old or dried up thermal paste doesn’t really cause any other issues in computerized devices.
If you are experiencing other problems, they are almost certainly not caused by old thermal paste. The paste has one function.
Will Using a New Thermal Paste Fix Overheating?
If you notice that your CPU is overheating, checking the status of your thermal paste is one of the first things you should do.
Most manufacturers will tell you that the thermal paste they applied to the product should last from 3 to 5 years in total.
This is also true of extra thermal paste you might buy along with your computer or console. Although this benchmark is fine, it will depend strongly on many factors.
Your computer’s thermal paste may not last as long, or it may be fine well after this date.
We recommend you check your computer’s heat buildup under a full load if you have not swapped out your original thermal paste for some of the new stuff within about 3 years.
If your computer is running close to or above 85 degrees Celsius when operating high-end games or other renders, consider changing out the thermal paste as soon as you can.
Should you find your machine is overheating, switching out the thermal paste can be the first and best solution, and it will usually fix overheating issues. This may not be true in every single case, but with this being the primary purpose of thermal paste, it is a safe bet.
Furthermore, we also recommend not to skimp on cheap thermal paste. It’s a good idea to spend a bit more to buy the quality stuff or well-known brands.
Overheating could cause your machine’s failsafe to kick in prematurely, and that would shut it down. This might happen just a few seconds or minutes after booting up the device.
In other cases, you could have a damaged computer on your hands. It’s best to go with good thermal paste that you know will work.
Do I Need To Replace Thermal Paste After Removing the Heatsink?
The answer to this question depends on a couple of things.
Was the thermal paste new or relatively new when you removed or refitted the heatsink? If so, you shouldn’t necessarily need to replace the existing thermal paste with a brand new application of it.
In these cases, you would notice a difference of one or two degrees at most. This might be worth it to you, but it is not strictly necessary.
Did the thermal paste get disturbed or knocked out of place when you were removing or replacing the heatsink? If so, you may want to go with a new application of the paste.
However, it depends on just how much things changed during your heatsink removal process. Again, if your paste is new, you should be able to spread it out evenly into the places it needs to go.
There’s nothing wrong with playing it safe and replacing the existing paste with a new layer of it, and this might be particularly important if you’re planning on going for overclocking after you get everything up and running.
As always, check the performance of your machine just to be sure. If you aren’t getting the levels or specs that you want, consider a new application of thermal paste for proper cooling.
What Happens If You Don’t Reapply Thermal Paste?
For this question, we’ll assume that your thermal paste is old, dried out, or perhaps not there at all because of modifications of some sort.
Remember that thermal paste has one job: taking the brunt of the heat between the sink and the microprocessor.
If you need to run your computer at high settings for any reason, a lack of thermal paste can increase the risk of parts overheating. This will either cause a shutdown in order to protect the device, or it could lead to eventual failure.
If you run your machine at minimal levels only, all the time, it may be possible that thermal paste is unnecessary in your specific case.
However, it is likely that you’ll need to use your computer more fully at various points, so it is not recommended that you skip out on reapplying thermal paste.
In short, no thermal paste means more air bubbles between the CPU and the heatsink. These gaps can trap particles that could impede the function of your computer. Additionally, it won’t be able to siphon heat as efficiently.
How Often Should I Apply New Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste can dry out over time, and this drying process can cause it to lose some effectiveness. For best results, it is a good idea to reapply thermal paste every so often.
Good thermal paste should be able to last several years. As long as the thermal paste itself is still relatively new, anywhere between three to five years is quite normal.
Because of its shelf life, reapplying thermal paste very often will not necessarily improve your computer’s performance. In other words, there is no need to apply new thermal paste every few months.
A good rule of thumb is to change out the thermal paste whenever you remove the CPU’s cooler for a good cleaning. However, this also depends on how often you remove the cooler.
In most cases, you will only see substantial differences in cooling if you haven’t changed your paste in about five years or so.
If you are noticing a dip in performance or excessive temperatures in your machine even though you have changed out the paste in the last couple of years, this is a case where you might need to reapply more if it sooner than you would otherwise.
How Long Does Thermal Paste Last Once Applied?
We’ve mentioned that most people who build, modify, or otherwise work with computers seem to agree that thermal paste should be good for at least three years once it is applied.
Many people are comfortable using thermal paste for up to five years minimum. However, there are a few things to keep in mind here.
The general climate, your computer’s cooling system, and the quality of the paste you purchase can all affect its longevity once you apply it.
It’s a good idea to use the thermal paste that is recommended for the specific CPU you are using. While you can go with any paste, using recommended options could increase the life or effectiveness of the paste.
The average life of your paste might be shorter if you overclock your computer or play games with high-end graphics frequently.
Paste has a shelf life whether you store it or apply it. You can check to see if your stored paste is still good by examining its texture. If the paste is very hard or seems watery, it is a good idea to get a new tube of paste before applying it to your computer.
Thermal paste is an excellent product designed for one purpose, and it can do its job very well if you use it properly.
It won’t fix any issue with your computer’s internals, but it is often the easiest and best solution to an overheating problem.
Keep in mind that using the right kind of paste and applying it correctly is important.
Furthermore, only use the recommended amount of paste when it is time to reapply it. Too much paste won’t increase the cooling effect, and it could lead to damaging the chip instead.