Preventive maintenance & thermal paste replacement

thermalThe recent experience with the MacBook Pro repair revealed a maintenance operation that I completely ignored up to now: periodic cleanup and thermal paste replacement.

Problem

Intel specs for the recent processors allow them to run at 100°C. Apple designs, known for the victory of artists agains engineers, provide a decent cooling, but are still very compact, up to the limit.

Used in ideal conditions, probably Apple computers would be ok, but considering the amount of dust present in real life environments, special precautions are necessary.

With some dust in the fans, and continuously used for processor intensive tasks, my laptop was generally pretty hot, and the aluminium body was noticeably hot when touched.

Even within manufacturer limits, the disadvantage of running very hot is that the thermal paste used between the processors and the radiators may get dryer more rapidly, possibly loosing part of the thermal conductivity properties (this is highly debatable and depends on thermal paste type, but it is realistic considering some thermal paste have a shell life as low as 1-2 years).

If the thermal paste is ageing, getting rid of the extra hit becomes more and more difficult, and the processors run hotter and hotter. The fans stay on almost continuously, and during processor intensive tasks they easily reach top speed.

No wonder that, after more than 3 years, the video chip in my laptop commenced to fail, up to the moment when the entire computer died.

Solution

As recommended by the iStyle engineer, the best solution is preventive maintenance.

For average environments, the recommended schedule is once a year to thoroughly clean the fans and the air vents, and to also replace the thermal paste.

The estimated cost of this repair is about 150 RON (35 EUR), which is low compared to a main board replacement (2500 RON), or an entire new laptop (10.000 RON).

A complementary solution is to use a temperature monitor program, to adjust the fan speed more aggressively.

About Liviu Ionescu (ilg)
Hi! My name is Liviu Ionescu (ilg, ilegeul or eunete for colleagues and friends) and I’m a senior IT engineer. Or should I say a real programmer?

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