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If I remove the heatsink from my processor temporarily, then later put it back without changing the heatsink or CPU, do I need to reapply thermal paste?

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The thermal paste is there to provide good heat conductivity between the CPU and the heatsink. If you separate the two, it is best for you to reapply some thermal paste (VERY thin layer) in order to maintain good thermal contact between the two.

I usually prefer to clean both the heat sink and the CPU with a Q-Tip and some alcohol before reapplying thermal paste… And I have never experienced any problems doing so but I can't really recommend doing so in case either your heat sink or CPU does not like alcohol.

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    Hmmm. A drunk computer doesn't sound good. Then again, that's what might happen if you don't attach the heat sink correctly; I've had some funny problems with my overheating computer. – Daniel H Dec 18 '09 at 1:37
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    @Daniel I hope you're being sarcastic...pretty sure Shoeless meant to say rubbing alcohol, not drinking alcohol. – Adam Ryan Dec 19 '09 at 22:26
  • Do you have any scientific evidence to backup your assertion that 'it is best for you to reapply'? – niico May 21 '20 at 12:16
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Can you? Yes.

Should you? Probably not.

Do you really want to risk it? A tube of thermal paste costs $15 at a computer repair shop and is good for several applications.

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    Agreed. (I couldn't type in my answer fast enough. :) I've had excellent luck with the Arctic Silver products. They make a cleaning kit called "Arcti-Clean" that includes a solvent to remove the old paste. Paper coffee filters work great for cleaning off the old paste without leaving any lint behind. – Tim Lara Dec 17 '09 at 22:52
  • Nice one on the coffee filters Tim, I gotta try that... might just have to dismantle a PC to give it a shot ;) – Shoeless Dec 17 '09 at 22:54
  • Do you have any scientific evidence to backup your assertion 'probably not'? – niico May 21 '20 at 12:17
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I basically fried my CPU back in Dec 08 and needed to buy a new one due to the fact that, I didn't replace the thermal compound. It was something that I greatly regret and whenever someone now says, "no thermal compound is needed", I would laugh at them and their fried CPU if they actually did replace the heat sink without the thermal compound. It just isn't worth taking the risk! I did and where did it get me?

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    +1, since you are the only one who provided actual data showing that reapplication is wise. – unforgettableidSupportsMonica Nov 22 '13 at 3:34
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    Dear all: how could the user's CPU have been destroyed? And why might his/her PC not have shut off automatically before the destruction took place? – unforgettableidSupportsMonica Nov 22 '13 at 3:35
  • Wait. Are you saying you cleaned the thermal compound off and had none, or just that you lifted the fan off and put it straight back on with all the original thermal paste still there? Vast difference, not clear. – niico May 21 '20 at 12:19
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I just did it. Cleaned my PC removed the heatsink to clean the fan and didn't replace the thermal paste -(which looked like it will need to be replace soon enough)- and my computer is not giving me any troubles yet, so Yes you can do it. It is just not recommended you do so.

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  • Mine worked too, with a little bit of thermal throttling – Suici Doga Mar 14 '16 at 14:35
  • Why is it not recommended? Data required. – niico May 21 '20 at 12:19

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