Thermal pads are boundaries between sensitive computer chips and heat sinks, used to draw heat away from those chips. Heat sinks are metal blocks with fins or other protrusions, made of copper or aluminum. Do-it-yourself thermal pads are commonly made from thermal paste, properly applied to fill the small gaps between the components. These gaps are formed from small machining imperfections or minute differences in flatness that can result when the two pieces are set together. Making an effective pad requires using the right application tool the right amount of paste, and a steady hand. Novices may want to practice on old or retired equipment to to get a feel for the process prior to tackling the job on delicate in-use hardware.
Things You'll Need
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Foam-tipped swabs
- Thermal paste
- Thermal paste applicator
- Screwdrivers (Phillips-head, Torx, standard or Allen)
Completely clean the sides of the computer chip and heat sink that face one another when clamped together. Use a foam-tip swab with isopropyl alcohol, wiping the surfaces down until both are clean and shiny.
Allow the alcohol to flash, or dry. Wipe any excess grease away from surrounding areas using additional alcohol-tipped swabs as needed. This is important, especially if the old paste happens to have metal content, which can cause short circuits if it ends up in the wrong places on the board.
Make the thermal pad by applying a rice grain-sized bead of ceramic or silver-impregnated thermal paste to the chip. Spread the layer as thinly as possible using the thermal paste applicator.
Repeat the process of removing any excess paste that may have accidentally been applied around the very top surface of the chip, taking care to not remove paste from the chip itself.
Press the heat sink directly straight down onto the chip. Tighten any clips or screws needed to affix the heat sink to the chip using the appropriate screwdriver(s).
Tips & Warnings
- Thinner is always better when applying thermal paste. Too much and heat fails to properly transfer between the chip and the heat sink.
- Chips requiring heat sinks must use thermal pads. Without these pads in place delicate components quickly heat up, resulting in poor operation, short lifespans and eventually failure. This may result in a small fire and/or noxious fumes being emitted from smoldering circuit board components in a worst-case scenario.
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