i have used alcohol and acetone since you have a p4 you really have nothing to worry about...because you never come in contact with the actually chip...just a heat spreader on top of the cpu's core...acetone works the best for me.
You'll hear a lot of suggestions, but I just rub it with a paper towel. The rubbing action heats up the compound and makes it come off.
Yes, that does leave an invisable film of interface material. No, I don't think it matters.
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i find that with the gummy stuff, its best just to take the fan off and run the thing under hot water. it just melts right off. much easyer. make sure you dry it with a hair dryer, if you let it air dry slowly you will get water spots on it and maybe even mineral deposits.