Graphics card coolers are far better than they were a few years ago, with powerful fans and large heatsinks used to beat the heat in those lengthy gaming sessions. They ensure your graphics card can run cool and quiet, even under heavy sustained loads. However, while the cooler might be up to scratch, cheap thermal paste and thermal pads have regularly been found to hinder cooling, and haven’t even been installed properly at the factory. This can see your graphics card run much hotter and prevent the cooler from doing its job as well as seeingits fans spin up to higher speeds. Using high-performance thermal paste and thermal pads can dramatically cut temperatures and as long as you’re comfortable to dismantle your graphics card, it’s relatively easy to apply them too. If you can’t afford to get an upgrade at the moment, you can at least ensure your current card is running at its absolute best too.
Google PCB Photos
Identify the areas of your graphics card that are cooled with thermal pads before you start, so you can order enough pads of the right size to replace the stock ones. Google for your make and model of graphics card to see if someone else has dismantled it. The cooling configurator on ekwb.com sometimes has PCB images too.
Order Correct Thermal Pads
If the first step proves unsuccessful, proceed to step 6 and dismantle your card, so you can buy enough thermal pads – we recommend the Gelid ones we’re using here. These pads come in a variety of sizes and thicknesses, so you’ll need to match the ones used on your card.
Consider Using Liquid Metal Paste
We’ll be using liquid metal paste in order to get the best performance, but you can also use standard paste that’s non-conductive. The former can offer lower temperatures, but you’ll need to carry out the steps below to ensure it’s safe.
Inspect GPU Area
Check the area around the GPU core in the image of your graphics card’s PCB. This is likely to have exposed components, in which case they’ll need to be insulated if you use liquid metal paste, as this paste can run when it gets hot. Again, if you can’t find photos, you’ll need to dismantle your card first.
Test Graphics Card
To see the results, run Unigine Valley to load your card, with GPU-Z (techpowerup.com) recording the temperature of the GPU core and memory after ten minutes. Set a fixed fan speed such as 50 per cent using MSI Afterburner (msi.com), so you can stop automatic fan control skewing the results.
Remove the screws on the graphics card’s rear side to begin dismantling it. Use a small pot to contain them, as they’ll be easily lost. You’ll very probably need a micro screwdriver to deal with some of them.
Once all the screws have been removed, detach any power and lighting cables you can see on your card. Most of them should be accessible now, but some may have to wait until you lift the heatsink.
Use A Hairdryer
If the heatsink proves tricky to remove, it can help to use a hairdryer from a foot away on a high heat and fan setting. This warms the card, and in turn warms the thermal paste and pads, making it easier to remove the heatsink.
Lift Away Heatsink
Go ahead and lift the heatsink away from the PCB, but do it gently and watch out for any cables that need to be detached.
Detach Slot Bracket
You may need to remove the expansion slot bracket at the end of the card in order to fully dismantle it. This is easy to do, as the bracket will only be held in place by a few screws.
Remove Thermal Pads
With the key parts separated, remove any thermal pads that are located on the VRMs and memory chips, taking note of any size differences, so you can replace them with pads of the same size and thickness.
With the pads removed, use thermal paste cleaner orisopropyl alcohol, plus a microfibre cloth to clean the surfaces of the GPU core, memory and heatsink. Pads can leave behind a residue, so be sure to clean the areas underneath the pads too.
Remove Other Pads
Now inspect the heatsink and backplate. Remove any remaining thermal pads on these parts, and clean the contact areas here too. If the backplate is metal yet lacks thermal pads by default, it’s worth adding some pads above the rear of the memory modules and GPU core.
Now is a great time to clean your heatsink, as it can pick up dust and detritus over time, even if your case is well protected against it. An air duster is great for this job, but do it outside, as a lot of dust can be ejected if your card is particularly dirty.
Polish GPU Contact
The part of the heatsink that makes contact with the GPU core can often benefit from being polished if it’s become tarnished. Use a metal polish such as Autosol with a microfibre cloth to buffitto a shine, then use thermal paste cleaner to prepare it afterwards.
Use New Pads To Size
Use scissors to cut the new thermal pads to size, mirroring the shapes of the original pads with the same thicknesses. Be sure to identify any small chips or other components that need pads as well.
Fit Pads To Memory And VRMs
Remove one side of the protective film on the thermal pads and place the pads onto the memory and VRMs. Press them in place, as this will help them stick to the surface and not move around.
Use Nail Varnish
If you plan to use liquid metal paste, you’ll need to insulate the area around the GPU core in order to prevent short circuits should the paste run when it gets hot. Apply a thin layer of nail varnish (clear top coat) over the area immediately around the core-atleast 10mm.
Apply Liquid Metal Paste
Now you can apply your thermal paste. You only need a very small amount – half the size of a grain of rice will be ample to cover the GPU core whether you’re using liquid metal or normal thermal paste.
Spread Paste Over GPU
Liquid metal paste needs to be rubbed into the GPU core using the included applicators. It will start to bind with the surface, eventually covering it. If you’re using a standard ceramic thermal paste, you can leave it to spread on its own using the pressure from the heatsink.
Reassemble And Test Graphics Card
Finally you can reassemble your graphics card. We found the GPU core temperature on our card fell from 75°C to 58°C under load with the new liquid metal paste applied, and the peak fan speed after five minutes was 300rpm lower than before our tweaking as well.
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