Do GPU Need Thermal Paste?


The advancing world of computing has taken a leap with the advent of GPU (Graphics processing unit). Besides personal, business computing has also seen success with new doors opening in gaming, machinery, and content creation.

While it was initially designed for parallel processing, the Graphics Processing Units (GPU) served to be beneficial in many applications, especially graphics and video rendering. Creative productions and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have seen unexpected support from GPU in its everlasting success, and gaming continues to depend on it.

Created for a little target, it proved to be much more crucial than the makers expected it to be. Now visual effects have been created that help present scenes that seem real and dramatic. Shadowing techniques have been possible because of Graphics Processing Units too. Thus, it continues to play a vital role in the developing world.

How does Thermal Paste Work?

Like CPU coolers, a thermal paste is required by the graphics cards for efficient heat transfer. The manufacturer puts a layer of the paste between the heat sink and the GPU, and the user has to plug it in.

The thermal paste is also known as ‘Thermal Grease’/’Thermal Compound’  and acts as a heat absorber.

Being a conductive material, it takes in heat from the processor and leads it to the fin part of the heat sink. The vast area of the fins enables better contact with air which makes cooling of the fins easier, further causing the paste and GPU to cool down.

Furthermore, the metal surfaces are uneven, although they seem otherwise. When the GPU’s lid is placed, there are small gaps as the two surfaces don’t touch completely at all points. These spaces can be as small as a fraction of an inch to a few inches. The gaps are filled with air which is a bad conductor (a thermal insulator) and reduces the effectiveness.

The machine surfaces are often described as hills and valleys, perfectly helping us picture what it looks like and how compromised the conduction system is. Also, as the lid and sink are made of different materials with varying heat capacities, the expansion and contraction during heating and cooling differ.

This is where the thermal paste plays its role. Its highly conductive properties are the kings of the process. The gaps seen are filled by it, the air is displaced and heat is efficiently transferred from the producer to the sink is possible with a wider surface area. The thermal path dies out before reaching the sink and significantly lowers the thermal resistance, indirectly reducing the chip’s temperature by 10-20 degrees. The heatsink seems to be just as hot as the grease. However, even then, metal-to-metal conduction will still be a better option.

How to Choose Thermal Paste?

There are many thermal pastes available, and some are even cheap with poor quality. The pricing of the thermal pastes may affect the capabilities, but something is surely better than nothing, and even the worst quality material will save the Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) from being damaged.

When buying thermal paste, you should look for a thermal paste with high thermal conductivity.

But make sure you do not use an adhesive material, or it will create problems for you only.

When your Graphics Processing Unit lacks the thermal paste, the machine does not work as efficiently as it should. Moreover, the operating temperature is much higher, which would require thermal throttling to counter the increasing temperature and protect it from overheating and dying, further affecting the result.

Throttling is a process in which the GPU lowers its speed to decrease the machine’s temperature and drastically decrease the frame rate.

How Often To Replace Thermal Paste On GPU

Although the GPUs made now do not die out so easily and can work without a paste for years, it is bad not to use a quality thermal paste. Before dying out, their speed decreases which is a negative aspect.

Even turning it on with no work done causes the temperature to peak. So, you can imagine what putting the load will do. A cooling system is always in need of a conducting part. Thus, you should check your GPU every once in a while, at least once annually, service it and replace the thermal paste, which would be cracked or lessened over time.

Also, you need to check if the temperature reaches 90 degrees Celsius under load or if the speed doesn’t move at full speed but makes a loud noise. The warranty card will be a good guide for the process, and once it expires, you know what to do. If you bought the GPU second-hand, then repeated checks are advised.

It is mostly seen that the thermal paste stays intact even after years and will outlive the graphic cards too. The perfect indication that a replacement is needed is when the cards’ temperature rises to 80 degrees Celsius and higher, the fans are working properly, and good airflow is observed. If the manufacturer has not applied thermal paste in the first place, you must do so.

Is There Thermal Paste In GPU?

To learn if you have the paste applied already, check the lower end of the water block or base plate that connects to the GPU. Remember that no amount of old paste should be there. Isopropyl alcohol along with a paper towel or microfiber cloth can be used to clean the GPU, followed by complete drying.

Checking if the entire system is ready for installation should be the first step you do. All the required tools should be arranged, and users should read the rules to avoid issues.

How Much Thermal Paste GPU

The amount of paste used is the next vital thing to take care of. Too little will reduce the efficacy, and too much will cause spilling. Thus, use the right amount: pea-sized. Using the pressure exerted by the machine will allow an even spread of paste which cannot be achieved manually.

Air bubbles formed by reusing the paste should be avoided. If you face any problems during the process, restart the process.

This might seem like an unimportant step and may not be talked about very commonly, but it leads to the GPU’s performance. And to get the best results, you need to give the best efforts. Knowing how each part of your system works helps you achieve the best outcomes.

Steps of the Application Process:

Check and Replace GPU Thermal Paste

Go through all the instructions provided

There is a handbook you will receive with your GPU. As all the companies vary a bit, it is crucial to read through yours in detail and have an idea.

Clean the previously applied thermal paste

You can use a microfiber cloth, cotton swab, and Isopropyl Alcohol to clean the stock thermal paste from the GPU and the heat sink.

Apply the thermal paste on the GPU’s center

Use a pea-sized amount of the thermal paste and place it in the center. You may avoid this step if the paste is already applied to yours.

Install GPU heat sink

Apply light pressure while placing the water block or baseplate of the heat sink on top of the GPU and use the same pressure while fixing the cooler to the installing mechanism. The constant pressure will help avoid the parts sliding over and spread the paste evenly. The heat sink should be held in the same position as you connect it in a slanting position, putting up the screws just like you would make a cross sign with them. Refrain from fastening the screws at once. First, attach all of them, then tighten them all together one turn at a time to ensure that even pressure is used.

Recheck all your work

As soon as the plates are attached, you should recheck the work. There should be no spilling, and if some of it is spilled by mistake, clean it up using alcohol and restart the process.


If you follow these steps carefully, you will get the best results.

First off, yes, you absolutely must apply thermal paste. It does improve the cooling efficiency of your card, and it also prevents damage to your GPU due to overheating.

However, applying too much thermal paste can actually slow down the cooling process. This is because the extra thermal compound gets between the GPU and heatsink fins and acts as a barrier preventing airflow. 

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