If there is one component your computer’s health depends on other than the processor and Ram, it is the thermal paste.
Thermal paste is composed of several materials, and depending upon the composition, they can go solid or completely liquid after expiration. If you have been facing heat issues and wonder how long does thermal paste last, you are in the right place. This guide will cover everything you need to know about thermal pastes, their composition, and longevity.
So, without any further ado, let’s get straight into it.
What is Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste is a CPU cooling compound that improves the system performance by allowing the processor to work efficiently.
Heat sink compound, normally known as thermal compound, acts as a way to transfer heat in a computer. If you wonder why some computers last longer than the others, they have better heat transferring capabilities.
Thermal Compound helps CPU coolers do a better job by allowing a more efficient transfer of heat.
Thermal paste is applied in the area between the sink. It acts as a bridge for heat transfer, as it enables the heat from the processor to flow smoothly into the heatsink. The thermal conductor also fills in the microscopic imperfections that can trap the air particles between the CPU and the heatsink, and hence is vital.
It not just lowers the thermal resistance between the heat sink and the microprocessor but also helps to cool the temperature of the CPU down.
This allows the user to keep using the computer for long hours.
If you are buying a pre-built computer, you will not have to apply a thermal grease as pre-built computers have a stock thermal paste. The stock paste is not as effective, so it is best to replace the thermal conductor after a while.
Most thermal compounds are made out of Aluminum Nitride, while some are made of metal. Metallic pastes are good conductors, which enables them to conduct the transfer efficiently. However, too much metallic paste can cause a short circuit and destroy your entire machine. This is why it is best to use ceramic paste, as those are safer to use and cheaper as well.
It is important to understand that these compounds are not adhesives. These are designed to fill the air gaps by expanding simply. Thermal compounds are of different kinds. Listed below are the most common ones:
Metal-based thermal paste is different in composition and properties than the other pastes. The main component of the liquid metal is Gallium, which is a soft metal with low melting and high boiling points. This type is electrically conductive, which makes it difficult to apply and use. If you spill it over while applying, it can lead to a short circuit and even component failure.
Ceramic pastes are one of the easiest pastes to apply and use. These are made of ceramic and are very affordable. These pastes are thermally conducted instead of being electrically conducted like the metal-based pastes.
Carbon-based and Diamond Carbon Paste
This type of thermal paste consists of small carbon fibers. This paste is not conductive and is safe and easy to use for beginners. Some thermal compounds also contain diamond powder alongside carbon fibers.
This changes the composition of the paste and gives it thermally conductive properties. If you are worried about the diamond particles scratching the sphere, don’t be. These particles only fill the potential gaps in the sphere. The paste featuring diamond powder are more expensive than the rest.
Liquid Metal-based Thermal paste
If you want your PC to run like it’s brand new even after years, liquid metal-based thermal paste is worth investing your money in. The components of your PC are more likely to run smooth and fast when this paste is applied as it contains rare kinds of metal alloys in liquid form. The application of liquid metal-based thermal paste benefits both the PCs and their consoles.
However, if not restricted to the applied area only, the liquid compounds have the potential to destroy your whole interface.
Does Thermal Paste Expire?
The simplest answer to this complex question is yes.
Thermal paste does expire, whether it is in a tube or applied on the heat sink.
If you have an unopened thermal tube, its expiration date depends upon the composition material. Typically, the shelf life of an unopened thermal paste is around 3 to 5 years. This is only the case if the paste sits under optimal conditions, which might not be the case for everyone.
If it has been sealed tight and properly stored in a relatively normal temperature area, it should last 5 years.
You can check the consistency of the paste by putting some on a metallic surface and spreading it to see how smooth it is. The thermal grease will come out as clumpy or watery if it has separated. It is best to throw it away and get a new paste.
When thermal grease expires, its fluidity deteriorates, and it would not be able to fill the space and eliminate the air gaps between the surfaces. This affects the thermal conductivity badly. Therefore, it is better not to use even the recently expired thermal grease if you have not stored it properly.
The expiration date of the thermal compound is written on the backside of the box.
How Long Does Thermal Paste Last?
One of the most obvious questions that might occur in your mind while using the thermal paste is how long does thermal paste last. Usually, you would think that thermal paste will only expire at the specific time that is mentioned on the packaging, but that is not the case most of the time.
The lifespan greatly depends upon its components and the way of application. Each thermal compound has a specific thermal conductivity rating, which impacts the life span. It also depends upon the components of the paste.
If your paste has a high thermal conductivity rating, it will expire faster, and you will have to replace it soon. Similarly, if you properly apply it, it shall last longer than the paste applied by a non-professional.
The shelf life of thermal paste is around 3 to 5 years if it is properly stored.
Why Does Thermal Paste Expire?
During thermal paste application on the CPU, it is a liquid form. Due to continuous exposure to heat, the paste gets dry over time and becomes rock solid after a few years.
Similarly, if you do not store the tube of the paste properly, it can dry out and become inefficient only in a few months. One of the leading causes behind this is the unstable room temperature.
How to Store Thermal Paste Correctly?
If you have been wondering about the proper storage procedure for the paste, we got you covered. Listed below are a few tips that would help you increase the lifespan of a thermal paste by storing it correctly.
- After the application, put the cap back on the tube of the paste and twist it tightly to stop airflow through the paste. If you have lost the cap or cannot put it back on due to any other reason, it is best to put the tube in a Ziplock bag.
- Store the tube or the Ziplock bag in a cool and dry place. Make sure that the room is not too cold or too hot. An extremely cold or extremely hot place will make it solid, and it will lose its effectiveness.
- Try not to expose thermal compound to oxidation. This often happens when users pull the plunger back. As a result, the air is introduced in the barrel, and thermal grease dries out faster.
- Find a container to place the paste inside. If you have placed the cap back on the tube, it is best to find a sealed tank and place the tube in it. This will avoid exposure to sunlight and heat and increase the shelf life of the paste. You can also use a shelf drawer to place the tube.
How Often Should You Replace Thermal Paste?
It would be best if you replaced the old paste with a fresh one every time you remove your processor’s heatsink.
As mentioned earlier, exposure to heat or air can damage the components of a thermal paste, which results in ineffectiveness.
When you remove the heatsink/CPU cooler of your computer, the paste applied to it gets exposed to air. If you place the heatsink back in the CPU without replacing the thermal paste, the thermal paste will cause heat-dissipating issues, which can damage the processor.
Experts also recommend replacing the old thermal paste with a new one after every 2 to 3 years, whether to remove the heatsink often or not. This is highly suggested for the individuals who purchase pre-built processors. The manufacturers apply cheap thermal to cut costs, which is the main reason behind the slow performance of these processors.
If you have removed the heatsink from the processor and want to replace thermal paste, it is best to clean the processor and the heatsink first. Take a cotton pad or a cotton swab and dip into isopropyl alcohol. Wipe the surfaces of the heatsink and the processor where the thermal is applied and let it dry. Once the area is dry and clean, properly apply thermal paste again and spread it evenly.
This would increase both the performance and the lifespan of the processor.
However, it is essential to make sure that you don’t apply too much paste. It might seem like a good option if you want to increase the heat dissipation, but it certainly is not. This can reduce the dissipation in your processor and can be very dangerous.
Whats best is to properly apply a pea-sized amount on the heatsink and spread it evenly on the surface. If you are using a liquid thermal compound, you can also apply a paper-thin amount on the CPU, but you do not have prior experience with thermal paste application. It is suggested not to try this.
To push the paste into the CPU, you should use the weight of both thermal grease and heatsink.
You can learn more about removing thermal grease here: How To Remove Thermal Paste?
Is it Safe to Use Old Thermal Paste?
If you are wondering whether you can use thermal paste after its expiration date or not, we have a piece of good news for you. It is safe to use thermal paste after expiration, but only if you have stored it correctly. If not, then the paste might not be as effective and is likely to dry out faster when placed on the heatsink.
For this, it is best to shake the bottle of thermal compound well before applying it. If possible, take some of it out of the bottle or tube by squeezing it. Keep squeezing until the liquid coming out of the bottle or tube is no longer clear. The colored liquid is fine for thermal paste application.
Throw away the clear liquid and use the paste as per the directions by the manufacturer.
What Happens When You Don’t Use Thermal Paste?
Some people might think that thermal paste isn’t necessary for every processor. It is not true. Without a thermal compound, your processor will get heated quickly, and it will affect the overall performance of your computer. Thermal also help cup coolers perform efficiently.
Luckily, you do not have to spend an entire fortune on the paste. The price of the pastes depends upon the type you are purchasing, but some thermal pastes are very cheap. Just make sure to store and apply them properly, and you’re good to go!
This wraps up our guide on How Long Does Thermal Paste Last. We hope this guide helped solve your issues and clear misunderstandings. Thermal paste is one of the main components that affect CPU performance. It works as a CPU heat cooler and allows other CPU coolers to do their job in a better way. If you want to ensure the smooth performance of your CPU without any heating issues, you should get your hands on some good-quality thermal paste. Don’t forget to store it properly as well.
If you still have any confusion, feel free to drop them down in the comment section below.