Everyone who has ever built a computer knows that thermal paste is used to transfer heat from a hot CPU or GPU into a heatsink. This allows for better cooling and higher overclocks, as the lower the temperatures that components run at, the higher they can safely be clocked.
Because of this fact, it’s common knowledge that thermal paste is a consumable product and should be replaced to prevent damage from excess heat. Most people figure that this means the life of standard pastes is somewhere between 2-3 years, but how accurate is this idea?
With modern CPUs and GPUs reaching unprecedented levels in terms of power consumption and heat output, cooling has become one of the most important aspects to consider when buying parts for your next build or upgrade. While stock coolers often get the job done, enthusiasts typically prefer aftermarket units like heatsinks and water-cooling setups due to their superior noise characteristics, lower temperatures, and overall higher performance.
The downside? Replacing poor-quality paste with high-performance alternatives requires disassembling components and removing the old paste from both the heatsink and CPU/GPU. This is a time-consuming process that many users would prefer to skip if they can get just a little bit more performance out of their system while simultaneously avoiding any permanent damage.
While it’s clear that thermal paste does dry up, just how long it takes for this to happen depends on several factors including:
The quality of the paste (cheap pastes will dry out faster than expensive ones) The type of packaging (tubed pastes will dry out faster than syringes or ‘spreads’) How often you use your computer (idle computers experience less heat cycling than 4 hours gaming sessions) Ambient (the hotter it is, the faster paste will dry out).
Interesting: What is thermal paste?
When you remove the heatsink from a CPU, what you have left is a processor with exposed metal squiggles and grooves. In order to effectively conduct heat away from the CPU into the heatsink, these tight spaces need to be filled with a substance that has better thermal conduction properties than air or other substances found in nature.
This substance is thermal paste.
In the past, the thermal paste was made from silver-based material which performed very well compared to other substances in terms of conduction performance and low cost. Unfortunately, silver has one major drawback: it’s a myth that it’s conductive. In reality, most silver compounds are semiconductors with low levels of electrical resistance. Although this is good for the environment by not producing large amounts of waste, it’s bad for your CPU since electrical resistance creates another layer of heat which you must remove in order to keep everything operating within an optimal temperature range
Solder TIMs (Thermal Interface Material) like Promilatech PK-3 is not affected by atmospheric conditions, but we only tested a small range of pastes in this article. If you intend to use thermal paste that requires disassembly and re-application every time, be sure to check the manufacturer’s website for information on how long it lasts under different conditions.
Even if your paste dries out, it isn’t necessarily garbage. As long as you remove all the old paste with rubbing alcohol or some other high purity solvent ( even dishwashing liquid diluted in waterworks), most pastes can be reactivated using a little bit of isopropyl alcohol and a toothpick. Just add 5-10 drops to your syringe/tube and mix until you notice the color change. Depending on the concentration and type of solution used, this could take a couple of minutes or several hours.
Reasons of expiration of thermal paste:
There are some of the few reasons by which your thermal paste can be expired; therefore, be aware of it!
Time is the most common reason for the expiration of thermal paste. Generally, it can be expired in a year from the manufacturing date on its package. In some cases, the length of time-based on type and method of packaging varies based on a manufacturer’s guidelines for use and storage conditions. Depending on your usage, you need to check or replace it after a year.
Thermal paste starts drying at around 70°C and generally will expire in one year if left unopened and at room temperature. If you use it in overclocking, the thermal paste may dry out in just several days due to excessive heat produced by overclocking components.
Oils in the skin
If you touch thermal paste with oily fingers or leave finger marks when installing it, it may expire faster than usual. It also decreases its performance over time because oils are not good conductors.
Generally, anti-oxidant is added in the thermal paste to prevent it from oxidization, but some manufactures add silicon oil or even water to reduce its viscosity and lower its cost. If you use contaminated paste without wiping before installation, it may expire faster than usual.
Temperature and humidity
Thermal paste generally works well in normal conditions of temperature and humidity, but it may expire in case of extreme conditions. If you store the thermal paste in a hot or humid place for an extended period, it breaks down faster than normal storage conditions.
If you use components with integrated heat-spreaders (IHS) like Intel’s Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge CPU, you must remove the IHS to use standard thermal paste instead of soldering. Though it decreases the maximum power density, soldering can increase the average operating temperature.
If you reapply thermal paste after removing it for cleaning or re-applying, most probably its performance will decrease because the microstructures are broken again. After removing the thermal paste, it should be completely neutralized with high-purity solvent before applying another thermal compound to prevent contamination.
Generally, thermal paste expires after a year from the manufacturing date on its package. Manufacturers may recommend you not to use paste after expiration even if it is still liquid because it decreases the performance and quality of thermal contact between CPU and heat sink.
You need to clean the CPU and heat sink thoroughly before applying thermal paste to remove residue of metals like copper, aluminum, or nickel which may remain on the surface because you can not apply it over such materials as silver conductive epoxy.
Is too much thermal paste good or bad?
There are many cheap thermal pastes available that can damage your computer if you apply too much or less. The main purpose of the paste is to conduct heat between CPU and heatsink, so either applying more than needed or not enough will prevent it from doing its job.
If you have a high-quality thermal paste but don’t use the proper amount then there’s a higher chance of overheating which could permanently harm your device! So take care while applying thermal past because neither doing nothing nor adding way more than needed are okay solutions either!
Is it possible to use a PC without using thermal paste?
Without the right thermal paste, your computer’s CPU will become very hot and can even burst. If you love your PC (or CPU), then don’t cheap out on quality or apply it incorrectly! Overclocking without applying proper thermal paste is not a good idea because of how dangerous that would be for our precious PCs.
The input text describes what happens if one does not use any sort of heat conductive product between their central processing unit (CPU) and its surrounding material to prevent excess heating due to high activity levels during graphical rendering processes like gaming, etc., which may lead to something as catastrophic as total system failure via fire-related incidents brought about by poor performance in terms of cooling capacity–in other words, insufficient dissipating power
Now that you know how long different types of paste last, does it affect your choice when selecting thermal compounds? Be sure to share your experiences in the comment section below!
Frequently Asked Questions
Does thermal paste have an expiry date?
Thermal paste is a compound that serves as an interface between your CPU and the heat sink. It ensures optimal thermal conductivity by filling air gaps or spaces in contact with each other. There are different types of thermal pastes available on the market today, some made famous only because they claim to have expiry dates for users who may want to replace them after certain periods of time; however, cheap quality ones do not come with any such information so you can use them indefinitely until you find it isn’t working anymore.
Can thermal paste last 10 years?
Yes, you can use thermal paste for 10 to 15 years; however, it depends on the quality of your product. You should change out this material periodically if you want your computer or device to run smoothly in a long-term period.
Can thermal paste ruin a CPU?
The answer to this question is difficult, but it’s unlikely that excess thermal paste will ruin your CPU. It may overheat the processor and shut down your computer though!
Can I use toothpaste instead of thermal paste?
Thermal paste is a compound that helps dissipate heat from your computer’s processor. While it looks like toothpaste, they are not interchangeable – in fact, replacing thermal paste with regular toothpaste will actually damage the cooling system by trapping excess heat inside! Some YouTubers have tried to prove this wrong though.