Knowing how to replace the GPU thermal paste on your graphics card can greatly improve the cooling and the temperature range at which your GPU runs at.
Some of the factory thermal compound or paste that you get when buying a new graphics card isn’t always that great. Yes, it may do the job for a while, but after a bit of time, you may notice GPU operating temperatures increasing.
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 do a poor job after 6 months to a year.
So let’s begin by going through the steps in order to replace the thermal paste on your GPU.
1. Remove the card from your computer
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.
Gently pull the card straight out by keeping the card 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 to work with.
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, there are usually screws on the rear side of the card that must be undone to remove the heatsink.
Some models make use of 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 removal of the heatsink problematic.
4. Clean the GPU and heatsink
To make cleaning the easiest as possible, make sure to use a good thermal paste removal agent. I’ve used other things in the past like rubbing alcohol and it takes a long time in comparison with 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 of the cleaning cloth until both 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 make sure the surface is properly clean and also 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 very important as any small particle of dust contributes to the heatsink not laying 100% flat against the GPU.
This will make sure that you have a very well-prepared surface for optimum cooling.
A great thermal paste remover is ArctiClean (links to Newegg). I like the twin pack that comes with a surface purifier, and the thermal paste remover makes short work of removing any old thermal paste while offering an affordable price tag.
5. Apply the thermal paste
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.
If you want a good thermal paste, I highly recommend Artic Silver AS5 (links to Newegg). It will last longer than most other pasts on the market and will deliver excellent heat transfer performance.
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 turns in.
Now you will be able to 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 be making 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 the card nice and level and carefully line it up as you insert it back into its slot.
If you locking clip at the rear of the card slot was a sliding type, slide it back into the locked position.
Return the screws back 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.
Now that you have replaced the thermal paste on the GPU, you should notice an improvement in the range of operating temperatures. This will aid in improved performance, stability, and longevity.
Now that you have applied good quality thermal paste, you won’t have to be concerned with replacing the compound for a long while.
Just don’t forget to make sure that the card’s fan(s) are spinning up as they should when the GPU starts heating up.
You can read our article on how to speed up graphics card fans to see how to install and configure fan management software for your GPU.