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Can I remove and put back the heatsink of my processor without reapplying thermal paste

I recently remove the CPU and fan from my motherboard overnight. When I went to reinstall them, I noticed the thermal compound looked kind of dried up. Do I absolutely need to go out and buy some more thermal compound for my CPU to work OK? Will it overheat if the thermal compound is like this?

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What is your CPU and socket, and are you using an aftermarket cooling solution? –  G Koe Mar 16 '12 at 22:48
    
i5-2500K LGA 1155 socket. Using stock cooling. No overclocking. –  Isaiah Bugarin Mar 16 '12 at 22:49
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marked as duplicate by DragonLord, random Mar 17 '12 at 1:13

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3 Answers

Yes, if you remove the heatsink from the CPU, you need to clean off the CPU (you can buy dedicated cleaners for this, or use some isopropyl alcohol) and apply more thermal paste.

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Ok... Will it be safe for me to use the CPU for a few hours while I install Windows. I'm going to the store to buy some in a few hours, but I'd like to at least install Windows on my new build so it's ready to use after I apply the thermal compound. –  Isaiah Bugarin Mar 16 '12 at 22:51
    
I use acetone - it's a much better solvent for most TIMs, just be careful to keep it off the PCB –  Shinrai Mar 16 '12 at 22:56
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It might be "safe" in the sense that it probably won't fry your CPU (modern processors are supposed to shut off quickly if they start to overheat too much), but I wouldn't risk it (and I really doubt that it would run cool enough to actually boot Windows anyway). –  user55325 Mar 16 '12 at 22:57
    
Absolutely do not run the computer with no thermal paste. –  Paperlantern Mar 17 '12 at 0:58
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In general, thermal paste should be reapplied every time the heatsink/fan assembly is removed from the CPU. The old thermal paste may dry up and will not conduct heat as effectively as before. The CPU may overheat and shut down as a result; even if it does not, temperatures will be higher than they should be.

This applies regardless of the processor type. Remove any dried-up paste before you add new thermal paste, as described by user55325's answer.

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Ok... Will it be safe for me to use the CPU for a few hours while I install Windows. I'm going to the store to buy some in a few hours, but I'd like to at least install Windows on my new build so it's ready to use after I apply the thermal compound. –  Isaiah Bugarin Mar 16 '12 at 22:54
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This is a CPU-intensive operation; you should replace the thermal compound first. –  DragonLord Mar 16 '12 at 22:55
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The first line isn't universal - that depends on the thermal paste, but if it looks DRIED then yeah, it needs to be replaced. –  Shinrai Mar 16 '12 at 22:56
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You can moisten the thermal paste with a tiny amount of isopropyl alcohol (or, if all else fails, a microscopic amount of water) and remount your CPU with the existing paste. You won't get full performance, as the CPU will throttle and won't turbo boost if it gets too hot, but it's not supposed to be possible to damage anything on a CPU like yours with an integral heat spreader.

The CPU is specifically intended to run at maximum temperature when it's under full load. Under normal conditions, it will boost its clock rate until it reaches maximum temperature.

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