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While dusting my PC, I got a bit stupid and tried to pull out the heatsink (with the latches removed) to dust it properly. However, I ended up with the CPU being attached to the heatsink -- apparently the thermal paste became very hard; no damage was done as apparently the AM3 sockets don't have a true lock mechanism.

I wanted to know if it's safe to put the CPU+heatsink back into the cpu socket without damaging the pins, while the socket lock is still on?

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I had the exactly same problem two weeks ago when changing the heatsink of an AM2 CPU. It was "glued" quite well, and I spent an hour trying to detach it.

Not sure about AM3, but I think it has a lock mechanism too. An AM2 has one, but not too good to maintain the CPU when removing a well-glued heatsink.

Removal of a locked CPU is easy: you probably cannot break anything, except probably the link between the CPU base and the motherboard. Putting a CPU on a locked base, on the other hand, is not as safe and easy to do. You may end up with damaged pins on the edges if you force it too much (and if it is similar to AM2, you cannot unlock the base and put the CPU with heatsink on it, so the only way is to force it).

So I strongly recommend detaching the CPU first from the heatsink. The problem is that:

  • You may not force too much if you do not want to damage the CPU (even it's quite difficult).
  • You must not force the pins when detaching the CPU. Damaging the pins is much easier.
  • You may not use water, heat or other things trying to detach your CPU, since those can damage the CPU itself.
  • Using a knife will be an extremely bad idea. By the way, if you damage the surface, the heat will not evacuate well.

To detach the CPU from the heatsink, try to push it to the side, parallel to the surface of the CPU, rotating from time to time. That's what I've done.

What to add? Ah, yes: good luck!

Note: this happens because you (and I) put too much thermal paste. Try putting just a few drops the next time, it's quite enough.

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+1 for the method. Helped me a few times I was cleaning heatsinks in some company. –  AndrejaKo Jul 24 '10 at 17:10
    
@AndrejaKo: did you use other methods? Which one? Does alcohol or acetone help to dissolve the thermal paste? –  MainMa Jul 24 '10 at 17:16
1  
I never used acetone, so I don't know. I used 70% ethanol solution (that's the standard alcohol in my country) and I also used ArctiClean. I usually start by putting the cooler with CPU on it on a work surface. Then I pour some ArctiClean 1 or ethanol around the processor. After that I wait for about a minute. The I slowly start moving the CPU first by rotating it a bit then by pushing it to the side. I repeat last two steps until it detaches. I also use the eyeball method to guestimate when to add alcohol or ArctiClean 1. –  AndrejaKo Jul 24 '10 at 19:45
    
After the CPU is detached, I clean the heatspreader and heatsink with alcohol or ArctiClean 1. If I'm using ArctiClean when I finish removing visible parts of thermal paste I spend some time cleaning the heatsink and CPU with ArctiClean 2. It can remove some more thermal paste and should supposedly prevent corrosion of copper and blah blah blah (there's good propaganda material on product's site, if you're interested). If I'm using alcohol, I usually skip this step because it's too difficult for me to clean the smallest remains of thermal paste with ethanol. –  AndrejaKo Jul 24 '10 at 19:51
    
I wasn't the one who assembled it actually, but really, thanks for the reply :D –  Leafy Jul 25 '10 at 14:26

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