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Tom's Hardware's Custom Core i9 De-Lidder

To Delid At Any Price

Several generations ago, Intel stopped using solder between the die and the IHS for all of its processors. That doesn't help average users, and it certainly penalizes overclockers.

Without getting into the details, processor temperatures have greatly increased since Intel switched to thermal paste instead of solder. Initially, this change only affected the Socket 11xx processors. Intel spared processors with more than four cores, but that changed with the Skylake-X generation. Now, whether you like it or not, it's thermal paste for everyone!

"Delidding" is becoming more and more popular, and tools to facilitate manipulation have emerged. Unfortunately (or not), the latest Core i9 processors are very new, and we haven't found any tools available on the market. No problem, let's make one!

So we will take you through a small journey spanning the design and testing of our tool, and you will see that we made it indestructible!


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Modeling The CPU

Drawing the processor is the first step of our design flow. We grabbed our i7-7800X, the cheapest of the Skylake-X processors, to model (and risk). There's no need to dwell on unnecessary details such as engravings or gold contacts. On the other hand, it is essential to respect the dimensions so we don't damage the chip when we place it in the tool. We detailed the small components in front of the IHS: we will have to be very careful not to destroy them.


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Simple, But Risky

Technically the operation isn't that complicated. We just need to hold the PCB (in green on the diagram) stationary and then push the IHS (in gray) with a slide and a screw (in purple). The IHS will start to move forward if you place enough force on it, and the glue that binds the two parts together will gradually give. Then you can disassemble the processor and replace the thermal paste. We will have to be especially careful not to advance the IHS too much, or it will tear off the black components!


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Careful Design

The main part of the tool will have several components: In green: the surface where the processor will rest - In yellow: a pocket to allow movement of the capacitors under the processor - In dark blue: a stop to prevent the processor from sliding when we tighten the screw - In orange: openings for your fingers that facilitate the installation and removal of the CPU - In light blue: the surface that slides inside the tool - In pink: the guide surface that prevents the slide from moving at an angle.

This all sounds simple, but the slightest error will cost us a processor and more than 10 hours of work, so we must be cautious.


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The Constraints of Machines

With a traditional machine, each pocket has to be designed and machined with rectilinear trajectories. The blue overlay indicates the moving tool. The process is relatively simple but time-consuming. Luckily that machine was not available, and we were able to secure a small time slot on a CNC machine.


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Final Preview

This is what the tool looks like when we model it with CAD tools (computer-aided design). Here the tool is in its CPU delidding configuration. The CPU is blocked in by the black part underneath, and the red "X" prevents it from moving upward.


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Multipurpose Component

This is the configuration to reattach the processor once you have replaced the thermal paste. As you can see, for reasons of cost and machining time, we use the red part for both configurations.


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Programming The Machine

Now that we've designed the tool, it is necessary to create the program that we will use on the production machine. FAO (computer-aided manufacturing) makes life simpler, but it still requires some human work. Ludovic, a friend and colleague, and I worked hard on the design. More than ever, alertness is required: a wrong safety distance or a poor tool parameter could damage the production machine during machining. Once we have instructed the computer the order in which we want to perform the operations, we define the tools, speeds, and finishing passes. A program is generated with hundreds of lines of code that will tell the machine what to do, where to go, how fast to go, and what tool to use.


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Calibration

We move on to serious things. After we completed the programs defining the trajectories, we have to tell the machine where the part is located. Again, the operator must not be distracted. Otherwise, thousands of euros of equipment will be damaged.


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Machining and Finishing

To save time, the initial machining is done with a larger tool that works quickly. The surfaces are coarse, but the bulk of the work is done. This is what the tool looks like at the end of the rough sketches. Then it is the finishing tool's turn (visible in this image) to take action.


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Job Done!

Once finished, we can remove the part from the machine so we can move on to building the slide assembly and the retention mechanism. Ludovic sticks to it while I rework the freshly machined piece. Savvy machinists will probably grind their teeth when they see this assembly, but bear in mind that our goal was to make a single prototype and not a mass production part. The machine could not be "decommissioned" from its usual activity.


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