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How to Apply Thermal Paste
October 09 2008

How to Apply Thermal Paste Correctly

Correctly installing thermal paste on your CPU cooler is essential is creating strong thermal heat dissipation for your CPU. So many times I have people emailing me stating that their CPU's are running too hot and come to find out they recently removed and/or installed a CPU cooler and didn't take the time to apply the thermal paste properly, or sometimes didn't apply any at all because they didn't realize they needed to.

If you've every bought a brand new retail boxed CPU, you notice that the included retail heatsink usually comes with pre-applied thermal paste on the bottom of the CPU cooler where it would contact the CPU itself during installation. Now if you asked 10 people if they would rather have the thermal paste applied to the heatsink first, or the CPU first, you'd probably have 5 people on each side.

Well I can tell you from experience that it doesn't matter if you apply it to the heatsink first or the CPU first, as long as you don't apply thermal paste to BOTH. That will certainly hurt your temps because you'll end up with too much thermal paste between the CPU and heatsink.

I'm going to show you how to properly apply thermal paste (in this case "Arctic Silver 5") to a stock retail heatsink that recently came with my new Intel Core 2 Duo CPU. As far as I know it's the same exact heatsink that comes with all Intel Pentium-D's also. However the exact heatsink used is not the focus here. What's important is that you take notice on how to apply the thermal paste to your particular hardware.

Stock Intel Core 2 Duo Heatsink.

Alcohol and Q-tips for cleaning the copper base of the heatsink.

The Alcohol is very important to remove grease and contaminates from the application area prior to spreading thermal paste on the surface. Just as you would scrape old paint off before you apply new paint. You can substitute or interchange Q-tips, tissues or paper towels as long as it's clean and white preferably so you can see as you're taking contaminates off the surface. Continue cleaning it until you see no more dirt on the cleaning "cloth".

Applying the Thermal Paste

To apply the thermal paste in this scenario, I'll be applying it directly to the base of the stock Intel heatsink. The main reason for this is because the Intel socket 775 is a bit more tricky then most because of the locking socket design. Also because the base of the stock Intel cooler is round, and the CPU is square, therefore if I cover the entire surface area of the CPU itself, the base of the heatsink will not make contact with the entire CPU. Picture putting a small round peg into a larger square hole).

Thermal Paste Correctly Applied.

Here you see the thermal paste correctly applied in a very thin layer across the entire surface of the heatsink base. What I like to do personally is squeeze out a small line of thermal paste across the center of the heatsink base and then use a razor blade at a 45 degree angle, some firm pressure, and slide it over the paste heading out in a few different directions until you get a nice even layer across the entire surface. What's nice about using a razor blade is it pretty much collects the excess paste onto the underside of the blade.


That's about all there is too it. As with all things pertaining to computer hardware; take your time and plan your next move. Sometimes re-installing some quality thermal paste every now and then can really help in keeping temps in check. However there is no substitute for a quality CPU cooler. Thermal paste can only do so much. A good copper CPU heatsink and some quality thermal paste is the best combination. Take a look around here at and you're sure to find something you like.