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Cleaning thermal paste for the first time

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August 9, 2011 6:10:33 AM

I've been building a computer for the first time; unfortunately, my first mobo needs to be RMA'd, so I'll also be cleaning thermal paste for the first time. Wish motherboards allowed us to remove both heatsink and CPU at the same time but oh well.

I found some 99% isopropyl alcohol in the medicine cabinet, but it expired in 2008. I heard that this isn't that big a deal, so I started wiping the thermal paste off the stock heatsink with lint-free cloth -- it feels like it's all off now but the metal underneath seems discolored, is that normal? Seems like there's also a hair-line scratch on the surface, will that affect performance?

I really wanted to get the Arctic Clean kit, found a great price but the store wouldn't have stock for a few days and I really want to get this computer running asap. I haven't cleaned the CPU yet, so do you think alcohol will be fine for a brand new CPU or should I wait for the Arctic Clean?

I'll also get Arctic Alumina thermal paste tomorrow, but I notice Silver 5 is way more popular and recommended. I probably won't be doing much overclocking, so do you think Alumina will be good enough?

And is there anything else I need to know, common mistakes, etc? I had both my new mobo and RAM fail, so I'm just being super careful with the CPU, the one thing that was actually working! Thanks in advance!

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August 9, 2011 6:25:09 AM

Yes, alcohol will be fine. I don't think the expiration date will matter. Go slowly and gently, though, with Q-tips dipped in alcohol. If you spread a little alcohol on the surface that way, you'll be able to wipe a good amount of paste off with a cloth. Once you've got down to discoloration (I guess that whole preamble was kind of pointless) then just keep gently rubbing with Q-tips. If nothing changes, you're fine.
A hairline crack won't matter; HDT sinks have large notches, and they work very well.
What's the model of the CPU? That could determine the level of performance you need. Regardless, though, you'll almost certainly be fine with that Alumina.
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August 9, 2011 7:36:14 AM

Best answer selected by cheesemon.
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August 9, 2011 7:41:01 AM

Thanks for the advice, kajabla! I was panicking there, Arctic Silver was good at fear-mongering how bad isopopyl was! I was almost thinking of exchanging for a new CPU, but I heard the Alumina may actually be better than the paste that comes with the heatsink?

I'm using an AMD X3 450.
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August 9, 2011 3:18:20 PM

Oh, Alumina will be better than any stock thermal compound. What, does alcohol not work on AS5?
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August 9, 2011 8:43:53 PM

It's important to be careful to keep that thermal compound off of other components which makes q-tips handy. However you should probably use something lint-free once most of the paste is off. The popular choice is coffee filters because they're cheap and disposable. Some people don't think lint-free is necessary and they might be right, but better to be safe than sorry.
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August 9, 2011 9:29:16 PM

I've cleaned off a few and the stuff just wiped right off. I did use alcohol to clean it a bit more but I don't think it mattered. I think people have done tests and the real fancy heatsink compounds might help a degree or two, most people probably wouldn't know the difference. I've built 8 computers in the past couple of years, overclocked a lot, and used the stock Xigmatek heatsink compound on each of them. None of them have temperature problems.

Of course I realize that a couple of degrees might translate to being able to overclock another 0.03GHz higher, but my target overclock was even a bit arbitrary. I wasn't going for a contest to see absolutely how high I could go.

I run- E8500 @ 3.8GHz, Q9400 @ 3.8GHz, E6850 @ stock speed, Q6600 @ 3.5GHz, and 4 machines with the i5-750 at 3.9GHz. (OK so 7 out of 8 were overclocked.)
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August 10, 2011 7:02:39 PM

Thanks again everyone, wish I could choose more than one best answer! I ended up getting the store to clean the CPU. I think they used isopropyl too. Still a bit of discoloration, but I can see the letters now.

Going to apply the Alumina tonight, I read in the manual that just a drop in the middle is the best way to apply right?

What's confusing me is this "tinting the heatsink" instruction that Arctic recommends I do on top of the dot on the CPU. It involves covering the heatsink bottom with paste using a credit card. I've watched several Youtube videos of people applying paste, but I haven't seen anyone tint their heatsink . . is it important?

I also heard a lot of people lap their heatsink, but since I won't be overclocking much, I guess I can skip this? As long as my CPU works and doesn't overheat, I don't need the coolest temps possible. :) 
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August 10, 2011 7:36:54 PM

This topic has been closed by Mousemonkey
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