How Often Should You Replace Thermal Paste | Keep Your PC Cooling Optimized

Updated: July 6th, 2020By: BrantonGuidesLeave a Comment

computer components

If you discovered the wonderful uses of thermal paste and how a simple-looking compound could be the reason why your computer is heating up, you're probably wondering how often should you replace thermal paste and how long does thermal paste last?

You'd be surprised how common this question is from both beginner and advanced computer users. Even hardcore PC users like gamers may be at a loss when asked about the frequency of replacing thermal paste and how much is too much thermal paste.  

Simply put, the answer doesn't rely on you using the best thermal paste, but it is often on a case-to-case basis. This post should clear up your worries about when should you replace thermal paste. 

How Often Should You Replace Thermal Paste on CPU, GPU & Laptop

It doesn't matter if you're working on your laptop, CPU or GPU. Some computers live up to 10 years without the need to replace thermal paste.

Of course, this depends on several factors, such as what you use the computer for (are you a gamer, or standard PC user), and type of cooling system, among others.

If this is the case, when or how to tell if thermal paste needs replacing? There are 3 scenarios where thermal paste reapplication is absolutely required:  

  • If you loosen, reseat, or replace any of the heat sinks or cooler,
  • If the heat sink or cooler accidentally loosens or gets unseat,
  • If the temperature of your laptop, CPU or GPU remains high, but the fan is working and you've tested the CPU/GPU as having abnormally high temperatures
  • We'll discuss the reasons why these scenarios occur below. 

    What Is Thermal Paste & What Does it Do?

    But first, what is thermal paste and what does it do? 

    Thermal paste, or thermal compound is a material used in installing your computer's cooling solution. This is used in the CPU, graphics card, or any processor that requires some kind thermal solution to operate at optimal efficiency.   

    When you buy a new graphics card, manufacturers already placed a layer of thermal paste on it, so you no longer have to do it on your own. If you're making a custom gaming rig and planning to install liquid cooling, you would need to buy your own tube of thermal paste and apply it yourself. 

    The DIY thermal paste application is also essential if the original cooler or heatsink had to be removed due to the scenarios listed above. 

    If you very closely look at the metal base of the cooler or heat sink, you'll see that these surfaces aren't really flat. These tiny gaps, even if it isn't visible to the naked eye, could cause poor heat transfer. The bigger the gaps between the two surfaces you're connecting, the less they are able to connect and results in lesser heat transfer as well.

    Thermal paste helps in filling those gaps.  

    How Often Should You Reapply Thermal Paste On Your GPU and CPU?

    If you understand why thermal paste can help your GPU or CPU cooler do its job, you shouldn't be wondering how often should you replace thermal paste on CPU anymore. 

    In most cases, replacing GPU thermal paste will only be necessary after 5 to 10 years. And even then, if you are an advanced user, there's a chance that you may be upgrading your GPU completely and would no longer need to reapply any thermal solution. 

    Your goal should be to follow certain precautions and maintenance, so there is a slim chance worrying about replacing thermal paste on GPU or CPU anytime soon. 

    Example precautions include:

    • Ensuring your GPU and CPU environment is clean of dust and within optimal temperatures
    • Clearing out your dust filters
    • Cleaning your PC case regularly
    • Ensuring the GPU or CPU has proper cooling
    • Learning how to replace thermal paste on CPU or GPU properly

    If you do follow these maintenance tasks religiously, the CPU or GPU would remain at the required cool temperature and suffer less performance issues. This also means you'd spend less money and time troubleshooting your system.  

    GPU and CPU Environment

    You might think that the answer to the dilemma of how often should you replace thermal paste lies only on the components inside your PC. This is an assumption that could lead to a lot of headache. 

    Understand that processors like the GPU and CPU produce extraordinary levels of heat, which is why they are designed to pair with some kind of cooling system. This cooling system, which is often a fan placed right beside them, or even around the CPU case, keeps the processor from overheating.  

    As such, you should make sure that this fan (or any other cooling system) remains clean.  

    Imagine a traditional fan and how quick it is to absorb dirt or dust. Now imagine the fan inside your PC sucking in all the dust from your room. See? Even the environment outside your computer affects the performance of its cooling system. And once this fan or cooler gets blocked by dirt, all hell will break loose and it could be the start of your GPU or CPU's heating problem.  

    This is the easiest maintenance of all: clean your room, office, or any area where your computer or laptop is located. Clean it regularly.  

    However, one environmental factor that you have no control over is the climate. Are you living in a country or region with hot climates? The only solution for this is to use air-conditioning where your computer/laptop is situated, or opt to use the computer at nighttime when the climate gets a bit friendlier.  

    Your PC Case & Dust Filters

    Sometimes, the solution to overheating may not be connected to replacing thermal paste on CPU or GPU. It may simply be due to your PC case. 

    The generic case that comes with computer packages usually don't have many bells and whistles that are available on advanced gaming rigs. Sometimes, regular users are unaware that the case, its fans and how a CPU collects dust are three factors that could cause overheating.  

    If you're buying or replacing your PC case, the most ideal ones are equipped with: 

    • Dust filters - As you know by now, keeping your PC room dust-free is important and could affect how often to replace thermal paste. If your CPU is clogged with dust, dirt, hair, or any other gunk, the chances of your computer running hot and throttling increases. Having a case with dust filters could solve this problem, or at least reduce the chances of debris from reaching inside the CPU. 
    • Multiple fans - As a general rule of thumb, the more fans your PC case and CPU has installed, the better your system's airflow would be. One fan doesn't cut it, so make sure yours have at least a pair of fans to keep the temperatures low.

    If possible, stay away from cases made of tempered glass and other materials that could block airflow if not designed efficiently.

    This doesn't mean you can't have a PC case without dust filters and two (or more) fans. It is entirely possible to use it without overheating, as long as you are not using resources that contribute to increasing the system's temperature. 

    Condition of Your GPU and CPU

     The condition of your CPU or GPU will also dictate when to replace thermal paste.  

    Most average computer users do not have to upgrade or change CPU until it dies on them and no longer runs. But in the case of gamers and heavy users (graphic designers, programmers, and so on), this decision could based on any of these things: 

    • If temperature of your computer increases when use
    • If you are experienced lower performance than what your system used to handle
    • If you want to play a game or run a program that requires a higher-performance GPU or CPU 

    Obviously, if either of your CPU or GPU no longer works at an optimal level, it directly affects your cooling system because damaged components generate more heat than they should.  

    CPU
    The (graphics processing unit

    GPU and CPU Cooling Requirements

    Computer parts usually generate quite an amount of heat even during normal use. This is the reason even the most basic computer has a fan built into its case, and why gamers opt for advanced cooling systems for their set-ups. 

    Try to cover your CPU's vent and you'll literally feel it working harder than it should. The reason for this is that the heat-generating components of your computer rely on proper airflow to work optimally. This means that the case, fans and other cooling components must work together so that cooler air could be drawn from outside, while hot air generated inside the CPU is expelled. 

    Your GPU (graphics processing unit) and CPU (central processing unit) are the biggest heat generators in your system, which is why most manufacturers design them with their own built-in cooling systems. It's the reason why a heatsink is connected to the CPU and why a typical GPU has a fan and an exhaust to keep it cool. 

    If you buy a new graphics card or CPU, check for cooling requirements. This requirement varies between brands and models, so make sure to read the manual.  

    Disassembling the GPU and CPU

     Almost all CPU coolers require thermal paste to "stick" to the other surface, but some components already have this pre-applied. If you're unsure, look at the bottom of your CPU cooler's base plate (this is the side that attaches to the CPU). If you see a thin layer of silver thermal paste, then you don't need to apply it anymore. 

    However, if for any reason you must disassemble your GPU or CPU, reapplying the thermal paste is a necessary step. 

    For first-timers, replacing thermal paste on CPU can be tricky. You can follow my guide for proper thermal paste application

    For visual learners, good thing there are hundreds of videos on YouTube that could guide you through this step-by-step.  As long as you follow instructions to the T, and are careful not to bend pins or spread too much thermal paste all over your system, then all is good. 

    Just make sure to follow the steps in reverse when reinstalling, reseating everything. Not securing your CPU or GPU in place is just as bad as leaving them loose or unseated.  

    The Quality of the Thermal Paste

    If you're installing a brand new GPU, there's a huge chance that it comes with pre-applied thermal paste. If this GPU is from a reputable brand, I'm betting that the thermal paste they used for their component is also high quality. 

    How to know if a thermal paste needs replacing? If you aren't installing a new component and is just reapplying thermal paste after troubleshooting or fixing loose heatsinks or coolers, then this is where it becomes tricky. You will need a tube of thermal paste to get the job done. 

    Thermal paste

    You'll need to consider three things when buying thermal paste: 


  • Manufacturer: Thermal paste manufacturers do not really reveal the composition of their thermal pastes, but they do disclose the type of paste per brand.
  • Type of thermal paste: This varies largely from the most common silicone to graphite, liquid metal, ceramic, carbon-based, and so on. Liquid metal thermal pastes are electrically conductive, which can damage other components if spread accidentally.
  • Viscosity: How thick or thin the thermal paste is designed will affect how challenging the actual application is.
  • Choose from a known brand and splurge for quality. If you choose based on price and end up using a low-quality thermal paste, it could dry out quickly and force you to reapply within a year or so. Thermal paste alternatives which we covered in this post do not last that long.

    Having Issues with Your GPU and CPU?

    You have several clues if the issues you're experiencing with your GPU or CPU is due to heat transfer problems. They might include:

    • Unstable CPU or GPU's temperature when checking BIOS or GPU settings
    • PC freezing while your play video games
    • GPU fan spinning too fast, too slow, or too noisily every time you boot the PC
    • PC not performing as optimally as it used to
    • Your CPU is hot to touch when using resource-demanding tasks such as rendering videos, editing photos/videos, gaming, programming, and so on. 

    If you are experiencing any of these issues, the first thing you should check is your CPU or GPU's cooling system. Prepare to clean off old thermal paste, reinstall your GPU/CPU, dot or line a new application of thermal paste, and put all the cables and components back in its original place.

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    Branton

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    Hey there! I'm Branton, the founder and lead editor here at PC Game Haven. Since our launch in 2015, we've helped thousands upon thousands of gamers build their dream desktops, find the perfect peripherals, and more. Thanks for stopping by and feel free to get in tough!

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