When buying a new laptop, you will see a pre-installed thermal paste. However, you may be curious, can a laptop run without thermal paste? Don’t worry; this article will reveal the answer.
A laptop needs a thermal paste to run at optimal temperatures. Although the processor still runs without it, the temperature arises. It is preferable to use the thermal paste to prevent a random shutdown.
In this post, I will explain what thermal paste is, what happens if you do not use thermal paste on your laptop, how to apply thermal paste to a laptop, and more.
What is Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste is mainly used as an interface between the heatsink and the CPU. The purpose of this thermally conductive compound is to get rid of air gaps that serve as a thermal insulator. In return, dissipation and heat transfer are maximized.
With the proper application, thermal paste helps minimize the heat the CPU generates. As a result, the laptop can last longer and run more efficiently.
This silvery gray heat conductive adhesive substance goes by different names: Thermal Compound, CPU Paste, Heat Paste, Thermal Grease, etc. It is also found and used in other components, such as transistors, amplifiers, integrated circuits, and semiconductors.
Can a Laptop Run Without Thermal Paste?
The processor can run without a processor, but it becomes hotter. It has a maximum working temperature set by the manufacturer. It can hurt the laptops’ performance if it exceeds.
Without thermal paste, the laptop’s entire system overheats since it generates more heat than the specified temperature. So, applying a good thermal paste is always recommended to prevent any issues.
I tried using my laptop without a thermal paste and noticed overheating, system performance deterioration and other issues. It runs, but there are some issues regarding heat transfer and nominal operating temperatures.
Random shutdowns of the laptop are caused by not using thermal paste. It is because the machine is overheating. It also means that the GPU, CPU, and RAM have reached their thermal shutdown point. The hardware is too hot to deliver proper operations.
Why Does a Laptop Need Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste is added between the CPU and the heatsink to ensure proper heat flow in the system. A heatsink is found above the CPU for proper heat dissipation. If you only contact the heatsink and CPU surface, there is poor heat transfer, and the heat dissipation is not smooth. It is because no microscopic physical contact occurs between the two surfaces.
However, the microscopic gaps were effectively filled when I applied thermal paste between those surfaces. This allows an improved heat transfer from the laptop CPU to the heatsink. In return, the CPU stays at the nominal operating temperature.
If there is no thermal paste or it dried out and improperly functioned, a microscopic air gap between the CPU and the heatsink takes place. The heat generated is trapped between the surfaces and continues to increase since air is considered a poor heat conductor. As a result, heat fails to transfer from the CPU to the heatsink.
How to Know If a Laptop Has Thermal Paste?
A laptop has a thermal paste depending on the model. In many laptops, the CPU and heatsink are accessed by removing the heatsink and the back panel.
From there, you can check whether there is a thermal paste or the heatsink is only placed by the fan. When there is no thermal paste, reapply it before using the laptop again. This is especially critical if the laptop is overlocked.
What is the Proper Way of Applying Thermal Paste to a Laptop?
When applying thermal paste to a laptop, open it first and remove the CPU and heatsink. You can take a picture of how the CPU and heatsink are positioned. It can help you identify the right place to apply the thermal paste. I prefer applying it to the CPU.
If your laptop’s heatsink and CPU are separate components, applying the thermal paste to both CPU surfaces is ideal. After applying the paste to the heatsink and CPU, reattach the heatsink to the CPU with care.
Check if the heatsink is positioned in contact with the CPU. I once applied too much thermal paste, which is not ideal. So, I remove any excess of it before reassembling my laptop. You can use a clean, soft cloth when removing any excess paste.
What are the Different Types of Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste is not limited to one type. There are several types of thermal paste available on the market.
Metal-Based Thermal Paste
This thermal paste type has the highest thermal conductivity, offering the best performance. However, it can short-circuit pins on different electrical connections on the motherboard without proper application since it is electrically conductive.
There is also a metal-based paste subset, a liquid metal paste. It flows more readily and has a higher thermal conductivity.
Silicon-Based Thermal Paste
This thermal paste is often pre-applied to the thermal pad placed between the heatsink and the CPU. It only requires less time to apply.
Ceramic-Based Thermal Paste
This type of thermal paste does not contain any metal. However, it offers lower thermal conductivity. In other words, it is not electrically conductive. So, it is safer to use. Since it is less expensive than the metal-based counterpart, it is prevalent among laptop users.
How Long Does Thermal Paste Last in Laptops?
Most laptop users expect thermal pastes to last at least 3-5 years. However, others disagree.
A quality thermal paste often takes 3-5 years. Thermal pastes in laptops may still function after the recommended shelf life, especially if laptops are older than 5-7 years.
There are several apps designed to monitor the heat in laptops. They help determine whether the laptops operate at the proper temperatures.
When is the Best Time for Thermal Paste Replacement in Laptops?
There are several situations where thermal paste replacement is a good idea.
First, whenever the heatsink is removed from the corresponding chip. If removed, some of the compounds are left on the chip, while the rest are over the heatsink.
Air pockets are produced if you place the heatsink back on the chip and use a similar thermal paste. Since they act as insulators instead of heat conductors, they significantly impact thermal performance.
I ensure that the old compound is completely removed to prevent it from mixing with the new one, which can decrease its performance. So, when removing the heatsink, ensure to clean both the chip and the heatsink. I usually use alcohol wipes to clean them. Then, apply the new thermal paste.
Another situation when you need to replace the thermal paste in the laptop is if you do not remove it often. The paste is susceptible to pump-out, which leads to degradation of the paste over time. It is ideal for replacing it every 2-3 years.
Not all thermal pastes similarly keep efficacy. Suitable thermal pastes are good for 2-3 years, while better quality ones can last up to 7 years. Replacing the paste every 2-3 years is an excellent idea. It also keeps the chip at its optimum condition.