Replacing the Thermal Paste on an AMD Graphics Card

With our R9 290 not in warranty and starting to misbehave (fluctuating clock speeds and constantly hitting 95 degrees celsius as well as black screen crashes if we had two monitors plugged in), we decided to take it upon ourselves to replace the thermal paste. At first this sounded absolutely terrifying but it turned out to be much easier than we expected. So here’s a brief guide on how to do it. Please realise that this will void your warranty. If you’re still in warranty just send it back to the retailer.

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Why would you do this?

Thermal paste is the material that is sticking the processor of your GPU to the heatsink of whatever is cooling it. If you have a normal card this will usually be either a series of heatpipes, or possible a set of metal fins behind some fans. The thermal compound is designed to draw as much heat as possible away from the processor. It’s much more efficient at doing this than air is, so the idea is that it creates a complete seal between the processor and the heatsink, without any air bubbles at all. If your compound was put on badly (as ours was) or has somehow decayed, it might be worth putting more on. If your card is overheating but the fans are working fine, this is almost certainly why.

What do you need?

  • Your GPU (ours is a Powercolor PCS+ R9 290 4GB)
  • A set of small screwdrivers
  • Thermal Paste (lots of good ones out there, we used some from Coolermaster than came with a fan we bought for the CPU, but this is probably the best. It’s crazy cheap.
  • isopropyl alcohol 
  • Microfibre cloth
  • A clean flat surface

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How to do it

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  1. Disconnect your GPU from your PC and take it out. Usually you will have to turn the power off to the pc, take out any connections, remove the power cables that lead straight to the GPU, then unscrew the screws on the bracket at the back of the PC. now the only thing holding it in should be the PCI slot itself. You can press the little lever on the right hand side and the whole thing should slide out easily. Don’t force it, or you could damage either your motherboard or the GPU.
  2. Place your GPU on the flat surface and work out how the heatsink is attached to the board. The heatsink will have the fans attached to it. In the case of our Powercolor R9 290, it was simply 4 screws on the backplate in a square around the processor. You might also have to disconnect a little  power cable that will tie the fans to the board, that will just slide out of its socket, but be careful as it’s quite delicate.
  3. To remove the screws, try to loosen them all a bit at a time, don’t take one out then go on to the next. Normally I go diagonally so do one corner, then the corner opposite, then do the same again for the other two. This means there won’t be loads of pressure on one part of the board which could potentially crack something.
  4. Once you have all the screws out, put them somewhere safe and gently lift the heatsink off. Depending on the kind of thermal paste used before, it might just fall off or it might need pulling or twisting a tiny bit. Be careful and make sure you don’t touch the surface of the heatsink or the processor. These are the things that should be covered in gross old thermal paste.
  5. Now put a little isopropyl on the microfibre cloth and gently rub away all of the thermal paste that was left on there. If any has leaked to less sensitive parts, feel free to use a cotton swab or even a toothpick to make sure you get it all.
  6. Now both the heatsink and the processor should be shiny and completely gunk free. With your thermal paste, drop a very small amount (about the size of a grain of cooked rice) right in the middle of the processor. I know it doesn’t look like enough and it’ll seem like when you put it down it won’t be covered, but the idea is that you want an incredibly thin film and if you spread it yourself you’ll make little bubbles of air that will ruin it. Just trust me!
  7. Now you need to make sure you can link up the heatsink with the processor smoothly in one go without wobbling or smearing the paste. We did thisupside down because then we could line up the screw holes easily, but it’ll depend on your GPU. Just make sure you can put them together in a way that won’t let them move at all while you screw it back together – this is probably the trickiest part. If you mess it up just clean the thermal paste off and do it again.
  8. Screw the GPU back together (make sure you reconnect the fans if you did disconnect anything) and then put it back in the machine. You don’t need to wait or anything, when you screwed the heatsink down it will have spread the paste immediately.
  9. Switch your PC on and use something like GPU-Z or MSI Afterburner to monitor the temperatures. Hopefully they should be much lower than before! Ours was working much better after doing this, although it didn’t solve our black screen issue.

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