How To Replace GPU Thermal Paste

Replacing the thermal paste on your graphics card’s GPU can greatly improve its cooling and operating temperature range.

Some of the factory thermal compound or paste you get when buying a new graphics card isn’t always that great. Yes, it may do the job for a while, but you may notice GPU operating temperatures increasing after some time.

Using a good quality thermal paste allows for better heat transfer between the GPU and the heatsink and a longer-lasting product that won’t go hard and still does a good job after 6 months to a year.

1. Remove the card from your computer

The graphics card is highlighted inside a PC case.
Remove Graphics Card Screws and Power Connector

Power down your computer and remove any power cables to it. Open the case lid and unplug any power cables from the graphics card.

Remove the screws securing the card to the case.

Press the release clip (or slide it to an open position) at the end of the PCI Express slot, where the graphics card is plugged into your motherboard.

Pull the card straight out by keeping it as level as possible while holding the release clip open if necessary.

Make sure you have a clutter-free work surface prepared so you can work on your card easily and have a few tools by its side to work with.

Important: Never touch the copper connectors of the edge connector once your graphics card has been removed.

2. Blow the card clean with compressed air

Before you can start working on the card properly, use some compressed air from a compressor or compressed air from a can.

This will make working on the card easier by having cleaner parts.

You can also use a small paintbrush to help clean the hard to get to places and use the compressed air afterward.

3. Remove the heatsink assembly

Now, we can begin disassembling the cooler for the GPU. Unplug the fan connector from the graphics card.

For most cards, screws on the rear side must be undone to remove the heatsink.

Some models use plastic clips that can be released using a small pair of pliers.

If you find that the heatsink is stuck onto the GPU and you are sure that you have removed all of the retaining screws, bolts, or clips, use a plastic lever to help pry it loose.

This is seldom the case and is usually caused by an old thermal paste of poor quality that causes it to go hard and makes removing the heatsink problematic.

4. Clean the GPU and heatsink

Use a good thermal paste removal agent to make cleaning as easy as possible. I’ve used other things in the past, like rubbing alcohol, which takes a long time compared to the thermal paste remover.

Use a clean cloth and apply some thermal removal fluid onto it. Then, carefully wipe the surface to remove as much as you can in one wipe.

Repeat this process on a clean area with the cleaning cloth until the GPU and heatsink are nice and clean.

With a new clean cloth, apply some thermal surface purifier and clean the surfaces of the GPU and heatsink a few times.

This will ensure the surface is properly clean and help prevent corrosion from setting in later on.

Take some compressed air and blow away any remaining particles of dust or lint left behind from your cloth.

This is important as any small dust particle contributes to the heatsink not laying 100% flat against the GPU.

This will ensure you have a well-prepared surface for optimum cooling.

5. Apply the thermal paste

Thermal Paste Applied
Thermal Paste Applied

Now, you can apply a small amount of thermal paste, enough to cover the contact area of the GPU, once the heatsink is fitted back and pressed up against the GPU.

Don’t apply too much. You don’t want the compound to ooze over the sides of the intended area, causing a mess on the PCB part of the GPU.

Once the thermal paste has been correctly applied, we need to start the reassembly of the heatsink as soon as possible to avoid any new dust fragments from settling in the compound or anywhere else on the contact surfaces.

6. Reassemble the heatsink

Place the heatsink back in place while having the securing screws ready. While holding the heatsink in place with one hand, use your other hand to put the screws back to secure the heatsink.

Make a start with each screw (don’t tighten any one of them up fully) until you have all of them hand-fitted with a few threads turned in.

Now you can go back with your screwdriver and tighten them up a few turns at a time while rotating through between screws to ensure even tightening up of the heatsink.

Be careful never to overtighten screws. You don’t want them to strip. Trying to repair stripped threads will be difficult and will most likely result in replacing the GPU cooler entirely.

The heatsink should now make good contact with the GPU’s contact surface.

7. Reinstall the graphics card

Reinstall the graphics card the same way you took it out. Keep it nice and level, and carefully line it up as you insert it back into its slot.

If the locking clip at the rear of the card slot was a sliding type, slide it back into the locked position.

Return the screws into place to secure the card properly.

If you need to test your GPU to see if it’s working correctly, read our article on how to test your GPU to see if it’s working.

For laptop GPUs

Look at the model of your laptop and find a disassembly video on YouTube, or look at the manual to see the instructions to open it safely.

Remove the heatsink assembly, being very careful to detach any connectors correctly so you don’t damage the connectors or pin headers on the motherboard.

Clean the heatsink surfaces, CPU, and GPU using thermal compound remover.

Tip: Once you have disassembled the cooling system and removed the old thermal paste, use a brush and some compressed air to clean out all the parts to ensure optimal cooling.

Purify the surfaces and ensure they are clear of dust particles before applying fresh thermal paste.

Be sure not to use too much thermal paste, resulting in an unnecessary mess.

Carefully re-assemble your cooling assembly and the rest of your laptop, and ensure your charger is plugged in to run the first test. You will find a significant improvement in your laptop’s temperature and, most likely, in its overall performance.