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I recently pull the heatsink/fan assembly off my laptop (a Dell Inspiron 1121). The CPU had heat sink compound on it, but the southbridge and GPU had a square of grey putty. What is the putty? Should I replace it?

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It's thermal paste. –  Blender Mar 18 '13 at 22:24
    
@Blender: I don't think so. I'm used to thermal paste being almost thin enough to flow (like this stuff: newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835100017). What I see on the GPU and SB is thick like a putty. –  Jay Bazuzi Mar 18 '13 at 22:29
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@JayBazuzi It is thermal compound, paste, putty etc.. You need to replace it, although you do not have to use the same stuff that came with it. Artic Silver or any other compound will do. The pads and putty are the easiest to apply, because they are measured from the factory and eliminate the human variable of how much is "pea sized" or enough. –  AthomSfere Mar 18 '13 at 23:34
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2 Answers

The putty is probably some kind of thermal transfer pad, it's not quite as good as heat sink compound but it doesn't need to be because it is intended to shift a lower amount of heat.

A larger heatsink that requires better thermal transfer which is afforded by being closer to the heat source and the heatsink compound which fills the gaps between the heatsink and heat source.

If there was a thermal transfer pad between the south bridge and heatsink assembly then you should replace it so the device does not overheat, while you should try to find a good pad that fits well, the selection is not as important as the heat sink compound.

3M have a range of pads and other suppliers can give you putty-like pads, choose something thick enough to make contact with both surfaces without too much pressure and with reasonable thermal transfer specs.

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Is this the right sort of thing? (amazon.com/Gino-202mm-Silicone-Thermal-Heatsink/dp/B008X0UKV8). Way more than I need... –  Jay Bazuzi Mar 18 '13 at 22:39
    
Certainly something along those lines would be good. It is difficult to say for certain that that is exactly what you need as it gives no specs apart from that it is 2mm thick, but it could well do the job. 2mm might be too thick, it depends on the size of the gap between the chip and the heatsink, you don't want too thick a thermal pad. –  Mokubai Mar 18 '13 at 23:03
    
Then again silicone pads tend to squash more than others so it could well be fine. –  Mokubai Mar 18 '13 at 23:10
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It could be Thermally conductive tape.

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I'd say it's important to either leave the compound as intact as possible, or get new stuff that is designed for the intended surface and heat levels. I failed to replace those heat-conductors on the memory of a video card once, and it gave me rendering artifacts in return a few months later.

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