As anyone who has built a computer before knows, CPU thermal paste is one of the most important components for keeping the processor cool and running smoothly. The dense compound material (also known as thermal grease, heat paste, or thermal interface material) helps improve the contact between the CPU and the cooler’s heat sink by filling the microscopic imperfections between them that would otherwise retain air particles (see figure 1a). This allows for improved thermal conductivity.
When correctly applied, a pea-sized dot or line of thermal paste is enough to properly maintain CPU temperatures. However, too much can reduce the efficacy of the material by causing the metal surfaces to be too far apart to transfer heat effectively and by potentially spilling out onto the motherboard during installation, which could result in a short circuit and damage to the CPU and other components.
The good news is that reapplying thermal paste isn’t as difficult or as messy as it may seem. You can use a fresh piece of the product (ideally after cleaning the old residue with a 99% Isopropyl Alcohol solution or something like KLEAN-01 paste cleaner) and follow our step-by-step guide to apply it in a way that should result in your CPU maintaining its ideal temperature and performance.
It’s also worth noting that reapplying thermal paste is important for reasons other than just keeping the processor running at its optimal performance. Many people don’t realize it, but the thermal paste dries out over time, which will cause the chip to run hotter than it should and will often result in poor performance or even damage.