First timer replaces a CPU cooler - case study

It's not a problem for us to replace a CPU cooler or troubleshoot our battle station problems. But what if it happens to a completely non-technical PC gamer? Here is a case study from my guild discord.

Not so long ago one of my guild mates posted on discord that he instantly lost nearly all of his FPS and he can't really play anything. He had no idea about benchmarks, sensors and alike so I told him over discord to run Userbenchmark... yes the most evil tool in the industry. When you skip their commentary the app itself is very good at being dumb-proof. Click, run, post a link to results so we can see all of the components, driver versions and alike. In this case everything was in red.

Percentiles for each component are handy to quickly troubleshoot obvious problem makers. In this case all components are pretty much bottom. CPU or hard storage problem can cause all components to tank in their respective benchmarks.

In this case I saw that the CPU was reporting low clocks: Base clock 3.4 GHz, turbo 2.95 GHz (avg) so I've asked him to install and run HwInfo (and lets skip the weird memory config). This was bit more complicated and required like 3 screenshots to get to the interesting sensors results:

CPU temperatures

CPU temperatures

The CPU is cooking hard. So I've asked him to check if all fans are spinning and if the case isn't filled with dust. All fans were spinning but the CPU cooler looked like so:

First encounter with the CPU cooler

First encounter with the CPU cooler

It's not pretty nor horrid but the easiest fix is to clean it. As there was no canned/compressed air around vacuum cleaner had to be used and after that suggestion I got this photo:

When grown men play with a vacuum cleaner

When grown men play with a vacuum cleaner

This helped but only partially. The performance was back but only sometimes:

Post cleaning results

Post cleaning results

At this point it was rather clear the cooler needed a repaste or better yet - a replacement. The problem is the owner of the PC didn't even know what a thermal paste is. I've suggested taking it to some local PC support/boutique PC shop so they can do the things but the owner wasn't so keen. Finally he did call one local company but that turned out 3-7 work days, and at least 100 EUR.

So if that wasn't an option then I suggested looking for a local DIY PC parts shop, especially if staff can help with this. The key was to get thermal paste or a new compatible cooler. Turned out there was one ~100 meters away, he went there and he got:

Shopping for a new cooler

Shopping for a new cooler

This was the cooler that was in stock and wasn't expensive plus a can of compressed air and some thermal paste. Now we had to guide him on removing existing cooler and installing a new one...

Dismounted stock cooler

Dismounted stock cooler

The photo I got with the dismounted stock cooler didn't looked that alarming. The paste doesn't look dry and cracked but still there could be some mounting pressure problem or just a combination of really hot summer + stock cooler. After few extra minutes spent on disconnecting the fan cable we were ready to proceed.

This is allegedly hard to disconnect

This is allegedly hard to disconnect

After confirming few times that he cleaned all of the old paste from the CPU we moved to installing the new cooler. I've linked a youtube video for that specific model and thankfully the PC case did have a cutout on the back so that so the backplate could be installed without removing the board. This soon called for a screwdriver that also had to be found somewhere as such magic tools are quite rare it seems. I'm sure some people on discord were close to suggesting a swiss army knife...

There was also the question how much thermal paste to add (he didn't watched the Verge video) which was kind of relief as we could skip the how much thermal paste and where? part. He just slapped the radiator in place, screwed things together, connect the cable and done.

It could have been done but I doubt Arctic predicted this:

CPU cooler mounted, somewhat

CPU cooler mounted, somewhat

So the cooler was placed in a somewhat wrong orientation. As we at that point wanted to avoid any subsequent complications (whole guild discord watching and helping guide the poor soul through his misery) we went with testing this. To fix this he would have to dismount everything, rotate the backplate and screw things together plus likely going through cleaning and manually applying thermal paste.

As the case has top exhaust the cooler can function using top of the case as hot air exhaust. The results were staggering:

CPU temperatures before and after

CPU temperatures before and after

And that fixed the problem. The PC owner got his first rank in PC mastery and was instructed on PC cleaning and that in future if he will need to repaste the cooler again to rotate it as well.

RkBlog

Hardware benchmarks and reviews, 5 July 2021, Piotr MaliƄski

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