A Bit of Thermal Paste My Life 19 SEP 2011

Hey, learn something new every day. I’ve at last fixed the problem of the intermittent shut downs of that desktop machine I bought from Matrix Warehouse a year or two ago! :)

Shortly after I purchased it and loaded up Ubuntu as my operating system of choice, I started experiencing the problem of it repeatedly and unexpectedly shutting down on me, causing a lot of frustration and a lot of expensive troubleshooting as I went through the exercise of trying to determine what was causing the issue, looking at both the software and hardware fronts.

I wasn’t successful, was tired of throwing money at it, and after discovering that if I leave it lying on its side it tends to work, I converted it into an Ubuntu server machine and went back to working on my old Intel machine that I had purchased back second-hand from the varsity before I left.

A year or two later, and now that my laptop is in the hands of Rory while he takes a look to see if he can maybe find the cause of its sudden implosion, I need a second machine running and so I decided to reopen the case of the faulty PC.

So on Sunday I took apart the machine and gave it a thorough clean out with a handy old toothbrush, removing all the dust that had collected over all the components thanks to the unconventional position the case now occupies. The heatsink needed a good clean as well, and when I detached it from the CPU I noticed that the thermal strip between the two wasn’t looking healthy at all, prompting me to check on the CPU temperature as a possible cause of the problem…


The BIOS health status screen showed up the problem straight away. The minute I turned the naked machine on, I could literally watch the CPU’s operating temperature rise at the rate of a degree a second, right the way up until it passed the safe threshold and at a 101 degrees Celsius mark, turn the whole thing off.

Being a first for me, I quickly did some research on the Internet on replacing thermal paste, and a quick trip through to Chaos Computers for some thermal paste (they had some from Cool Master in stock which they could sell to me) and Dischem for some pure acetone, resulted in me ready for action.

With Jessica enjoying an afternoon nap, I grabbed some of Chantelle’s cotton earbuds and used the acetone to carefully remove the old and grubby thermal paste from both the heatsink and CPU housing. Then, using the handy template that came with the thermal paste, I carefully applied the brilliant white paste in an even manner on the base of the heatsink, before gently worked the unit back in place over the CPU on to the motherboard.

Excitedly I hooked up the power cable, and hit the switch, watching the BIOS reading with bated breath…

It had worked!! The machine started up colder and the CPU temperature hovered at a constant 31 to 32 degrees Celsius. After a lot of fist pumping into the air (silent of course, wouldn’t want to wake Jessie), I set about first partitioning and installing Windows XP (for my outdated scanner and webcam which aren’t supported well enough in terms of drivers under Ubuntu), followed by a fresh dual boot install of the latest Ubuntu desktop release for normal every day use.

And seeing that this machine now has a nice graphics card thanks to my earlier troubleshooting efforts, I now even get to experience the new Ubuntu Unity desktop shell that has garnered so many divided opinions since its introduction for the very first time!

So yeah, pretty chuffed with myself now, I won’t lie! :)

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About Craig Lotter

South African software architect and developer at Touchwork. Husband to a cupcake baker and father to two little girls. I don't have time for myself any more.