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I have obtained an unopened, sealed, boxed CPU dating back to 2009. It’s an Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 with heatsink + thermal compound pre-applied. Is the stock thermal compound still OK to use after five years on the shelf?

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Yes; it came with a plastic cover and since if was sealed very little air would be present and even if there was the stock paste isn't your typical paste – Ramhound Apr 30 '14 at 0:47
up vote 16 down vote accepted

It should be, given that in the same amount of time, it could've been attached to a CPU and has to enure that as well.

If you don't trust it, just scrape it off and apply fresh coolingpaste (which is different than those strips. The paste can actually dry out.

Journeyman Geek points out that if its slightly hard it should be ok, if it crumbles like dried toothpaste, you need a fresh coat of the stuff.

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I have older systems with installed heat sink compound. If its slightly hard it should be ok, if it crumbles like dried toothpaste, you need a fresh coat of the stuff – Journeyman Geek Apr 29 '14 at 23:46
It should only happen if exposed too long to sunlight. Given that his is mint-in-box, I doubt its dried out. But good addition. I'll add it to the solution just to be thorough. – LPChip Apr 29 '14 at 23:50
Agree, but if your being meticulous and very alert to your seating/matching of the surfaces the intel stock compound is not very good. It serves best the purpose of blind install, lots of thick fill. – Psycogeek Apr 30 '14 at 0:30
"They" say it happens, but I have never seen thermal paste go bad. Or even if it did, cause an issue. – Keltari Apr 30 '14 at 1:24
I did see termal paste go bad, but it was because of too much sunlight exposure. – LPChip Apr 30 '14 at 12:54

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