How Often Should I Change My Thermal Paste?

So, you have just finished building your PC or upgrading your CPU’s cooler, and you’re left with one question. When do I need to replace my CPU’s thermal paste? This seems to be a common question for many as there simply is no definite answer. While replacing it is a very easy task, it may be an unnecessary one. Most thermal compounds are built to last many years, in some cases outliving your PC’s lifespan. However, it does still need to be replaced in some situations. In this article, I will cover when you actually need to replace your thermal paste.

After Numerous Years

Overtime your CPU’s thermal paste can begin to breakdown or change in viscosity for a variety of factors. However, this does not necessarily mean that it has lost its effectiveness. I advise taking a look at your CPU’s temperature to better identify whether or not it needs to be changed. If your CPU is running hotter than it should be, you may want to consider applying some new thermal paste. But, as a general rule of thumb, only change it if you strongly believe it will lower your CPUs operating temperature.

There may be other factors that can contribute to higher temperatures as well. It could be caused by an insufficient CPU cooler, lack of overall PC airflow, or even higher ambient room temperatures. These are important factors to consider as well.

Personally, I end up changing my thermal paste once every 1-2 years. While I know this may not be necessary, I usually do a deep PC clean around the same time. It only takes me a few extra minutes to do this extra step and it keeps my PC running at an optimal state.

old thermal grease on CPU

Incorrect Thermal Compound Applications

Despite our best efforts, sometimes we can apply thermal paste incorrectly. This can provide insufficient coverage on the CPU block leading to its cores overheating. When you apply thermal paste, it is important to install it correctly as incorrect applications may lead to future problems. Again, take a look to see whether or not your CPU is running hotter than it should be. More specifically, take a look at the individual core temperatures. If you notice one core is running a lot hotter (10+ degrees) than the rest, this is a potential indicator of an incorrect application. If this is the case you should remove the CPU heatsink and old compound, reapplying new thermal paste. In the end, this should resolve the issue.

After Removing Your CPU Cooler

Any time you remove or even loosen your CPUs heat sink, you need to replace the thermal paste. If you do not, air bubbles and particles have the potential to get trapped. While this may not sound like too big of an issue, it can have a big impact on your computer. This can lead to the CPU running far hotter than it needs to be, potentially overheating.

So again, whenever you remove or loosen your CPUs heatsink, please reapply your thermal paste.

Upgrades

There is a lot of debate behind this whether certain thermal pastes provide improved performance. In my opinion, it depends. On a pre-built computer, you will be usually getting a stock cooler and compound on the CPU. I personally advise switching out these two as they tend to lack in quality and are relatively inexpensive upgrades. It is also worth mentioning that it is not unheard of for manufactures to incorrectly apply the CPU thermal paste. As mentioned above, any time you remove or loosen your CPUs heatsink, you need to reapply thermal paste. So, if you are changing the heatsink, you will have to do the latter.

upgraded CPU cooler in computer

While the difference in performance between thermal pastes might be marginal, give or take a few degrees. It might be worth it, especially if you are looking to overclock your device. The extra few degrees might just allow you to push your system a little extra further. I recommend doing some research on a few different brands. Usually, amongst gamers and enthusiasts, this will be a personal preference. So, choose one that suits your system the best.

What to Expect After Reapplying

If you ended up deciding to replace it, you should expect your CPUs temperatures to drop substantially. This is of course if your system was having problems related to the thermal paste. This can result in better overall performance for your PC leading to an improved experience. However, if problems were not directly related to it, don’t expect much. You may notice a slight reduction of a few degrees.

NZXT’s CAM software is perfect in order to monitor your components operating temps if you currently do not use an application for this. But there are many other applications out their that will do the same thing. They will allow you easily to compare and identify if any improvements have been made.

Final Words

Overall, replacing your thermal paste is a very easy and simple process to do. It should take you no longer than 10-15 minutes from start to finish. However, you may not even need to replace it, to begin with. If you have applied a high-quality paste, it should even outlive your PC. As a basic guideline, you should only replace it if you absolutely have to.