Are you wondering how long your thermal paste will last before it needs to be reapplied? In this post, we discuss how long thermal paste lasts and how often you need to change it.
We’ve talked about thermal paste before. Despite its unassuming appearance, it plays an important part in your system’s longevity.
Without going into too much detail, thermal paste helps keep a system’s CPU nice and cool. This begs the question: How often should it be replaced?
How Often Should You Reapply Thermal Paste?
If you just Google “how often should I replace thermal paste?” you’ll end up with varying answers. Product companies tend to say something around 6 months—but this is in part due to the fact that, at the end of the day, they’re a business.
They want your money. If telling you to replace it more often than needed raises their bottom line, then of course that’s what they’re going to tell you to do. On the other hand, some engineers state that there’s never really a need to replace thermal paste at all. Some brands in particular are known for lasting up to a decade.
So which is it? The answer lies somewhere between the two extremes.
Dust & Dry Climates’ Impact
In my experience, the two biggest factors to consider are dust intake, and the surrounding environment. While it’s not terribly common, I’ve lived in areas that are far dryer than average. While living in these areas, I got into the habit of changing the thermal paste in my system every 6 months—which is what manufacturers recommend.
However, in nearly every case, this is extremely overkill. Even though thermal paste does dry out over time, it takes years for it to negatively impact your system. Even though living in a dry area caused my thermal paste to dry out more quickly, it was never at a rate where I was worried for the safety and longevity of my computer. So why did I replace it so often?
It has more to do with dust intake. It’s good practice to clean out your PC every so often. The more fans there are in a rig, the more air there is drawn into the system’s interior. And while this directly correlates to lower system temperature, it also brings more dust and clutter into the case. And even with all that air moving in and out of the case, it finds places to settle. On the GPU, the bottom of the case—and on the radiator of the CPU cooler.
And dust is a major problem for thermals. It chokes individual parts, reduces airflow, and overall raises the temperature of systems by a significant margin—in some extreme cases, as much as 10-20℃ higher. So more than thermal paste, keeping your system as dust-free as possible is more important to thermal performance.
Just to be clear—the chances of thermal paste becoming so dust-contaminated that it poses an issue is extremely slim. This isn’t the case for the radiator of a CPU, however. Depending on how frequently the system is powered on, it’s pretty common for it to become caked in dust, greatly hampering its ability to keep the CPU cool—unfortunately, the way it’s mounted makes it difficult to clean adequately without removing it completely. And whenever the cooler is removed, for any reason, the thermal paste must be replaced.
Overall, while thermal paste is imperative to the health of a system, it’s not a component that often needs to be replaced out of necessity. That said, there’s many other occasions—many of which are more common than you think—that will necessitate replacing thermal paste.