How to Install a CPU Cooler

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Installing a Cooler on an Intel Processor

Many of the steps necessary to install a cooler on an Intel processor are identical to those outlined on the previous page for AMD processors. However, the stock retention mechanisms and CPU sockets are very different.

As always, make sure that your Intel processor is fully inserted in its socket.

Step 1: Ensure That the CPU Is Seated Properly in Its Socket

Intel processors do not have any pins, as AMD’s do. Instead, the pins reside in the socket, and the processors have electrically conductive pads on their underside. As such, the retention mechanisms for Intel processors differ significantly from those for AMD chips. To ensure that an Intel CPU is seated properly in its socket, lift the locking load lever on the side of the socket slowly, until the cover plate over the CPU disengages. The CPU can be inserted only one way due to keys in the socket. As long as it is sitting flat, and the cover plate is also sitting flat on all sides, lower the load lever into its locked position.

Step 2: Clean the CPU and Heat-Sink Surfaces

For the base of the cooler’s heat sink to make optimal contact with the CPU’s integrated heat spreader, both surfaces must be clean and free of contaminants or particles. Use a lint-free cloth and a small amount of isopropyl alcohol (or an alcohol-based cleaner safe for use on electronics, one that won’t leave residue), to clean the base of the heat sink and the top of the CPU’s integrated heat spreader. Be sure to remove adhesive or any other potential contaminants that may prevent the surfaces from mating properly.

Carefully clean the CPU and prime it before installing the heat sink.

Step 3: Prime the CPU and Heat-Sink Surfaces With Thermal Paste

To prime the CPU’s integrated heat spreader and the base of the heat sink, apply a very small amount of thermal paste to each surface and rub it in with a circular motion as though you were waxing a car. The goal is to work the paste into as many of the imperfections in the metal’s surface as you can, until you’re left with what looks like a slight haze. (For more information on priming's benefits, see the AMD section on the previous page).

Use a very small amount of thermal paste on the CPU.

Step 4: Apply Thermal Interface Material

With the CPU’s integrated heat spreader and the heat sink’s base clean and primed, you can now apply some thermal interface material, preferably a high-quality ceramic or silver-based thermal paste. On the center of the CPU’s integrated heat spreader, apply a small amount of thermal paste--only enough to cover the metal surface with a paper-thin layer. A drop just larger than a BB but smaller than a pea will suffice. You do not want excess paste to ooze from the sides when you mount the heat sink. The idea is to use the least amount of thermal paste possible to cover the surface of the integrated heat spreader, eliminate any tiny air gaps, and allow maximum thermal transfer between the integrated heat spreader and the heat sink. Using too much thermal paste can hinder performance, so be judicious in its application.

Try to mount the cooler so that there are no air gaps between it and the CPU.

Step 5: Mount the CPU Cooler

Common air coolers for Intel processors use plastic pushpins inserted through holes in the motherboard to secure the heat sink in place. To install an Intel cooler, you must make sure that its pushpins are disengaged (in their uppermost positions), and then you must press the plastic fasteners through the four mounting holes around the CPU socket. Confirm that the fasteners are inserted all the way through the holes before engaging the pushpins, or the heat sink will not sit flush--and your processor will likely overheat.

To install the cooler, lower it into position, being careful to hold it level and parallel to the CPU’s surface to ensure that the thermal paste spreads evenly in all directions. Then, fully insert the plastic fasteners around the cooler into the four mounting holes around the socket. With one hand, apply some downward pressure on the heat sink to keep it flat; with the other hand, engage (push down) the pushpins around the heat sink in a criss-cross pattern. When all of the pushpins are engaged, inspect the heat sink to confirm that it is sitting flush on the CPU. Then give the fasteners a gentle upward tug to be certain that they are locked into place.

If everything is secure and sitting flush, connect the cooler’s fan connector to the CPU fan header on the motherboard. You’re done!

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