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The best way to set up a CPU


With Intel’s Alder Lake chips respiration down our necks (or are already right here, if you happen to’re studying this in 2022 or no matter), now looks like an opportune time for a refresher on set up a CPU. And sure, AMD, you may come too.


Whether or not go the Core or Ryzen route – our best CPU for gaming listing has our suggestions – this information will cowl safe your chip in its motherboard socket, apply thermal paste with out drowning it, and ideas for putting in a cooler. I’ve aimed to make the steps as platform-agnostic as potential, and judging by what’s been leaked about Alder Lake and its new LGA 1700 socket, they need to nonetheless apply to the Twelfth-gen CPUs. Except Intel pull a whole 180 and make you affix them with masking tape or one thing.

That is additionally one in a series of guides which I’m hoping will each assist and encourage you to make your personal PC upgrades, if you happen to haven’t earlier than. A few of them, like how to install RAM and how to install an SSD, could be enacted in mere minutes, and might produce severe efficiency enhancements to your personalised rig. Putting in a gleaming new CPU may have a fair larger impact on video games efficiency, so merely comply with the steps under to offer your PC a model new mind.


Intel LGA 1151 and LGA 1200 sockets look related, however solely match sure CPU fashions.

The best way to set up a CPU within the motherboard

Earlier than you even purchase a brand new CPU, be sure you’re matching it with a appropriate motherboard. AMD Ryzen chips often share the AM4 socket design, however current fashions will current chipsets as nicely. Intel, in the meantime, introduce new chipsets with each technology, and alter sockets way more often than AMD, so don’t anticipate a lot backwards compatibility. That stated, the bodily technique of slotting an Intel chip into its socket stays constant.

No matter your {hardware} decisions, you’ll discover this entire course of lots simpler if you happen to do it exterior of your PC’s case. In the event you’re including a brand new chip to a beforehand put in motherboard, take out the mobo first.


Step 1: For Intel CPUs, push down on the metallic arm subsequent to the socket, pull it outwards and to the correct, then carry it up. This may allow you to carry up the metallic body masking the empty socket.

A hand lifts the locking arm on a motherboard's Intel LGA 1151 socket.
In the event you’re utilizing a model new mobo, remember to take away the black plastic socket cowl.

For AMD CPUs, merely carry up the socket’s metallic arm so far as it would go. You’ll see the socket slide sideways a bit of.


Step 2: For Intel CPUs, merely plop the processor into the slot. In the event you’re uncertain of orient it, search for little notches within the aspect of the chip that align with tiny protusions within the socket. As soon as accurately inserted, it ought to lay down completely flat.

An Intel Core i7-8086K installed in an Intel LGA 1151 motherboard socket.
See these teensy little notches close to the highest of the chip?

For AMD CPUs, maintain the processor in order that the pins on the underside are aligned with the holes within the socket. Decrease it down into the socket till it rests fully flush – there shouldn’t be any hole between the chip and the highest of the socket. If there’s, pull the CPU out and take a look at once more.


Step 3: For Intel CPUs, decrease the metallic body over the inserted chip, then slip the body below the round standoff positioned just under the socket. Press the metallic arm again down, then tuck it below the nook of the body. This may lock the body in place, securing the CPU in flip.

A hand pressing down on the locking arm of an Intel LGA 1151 motherboard socket, with an Intel CPU installed within.
On Intel sockets, that is mainly step 1 in reverse.

For AMD CPUs, merely press the metallic arm down. This may slide each the socket and the inserted Ryzen chip into the previous’s unique place, locking each in place.


Some thermal paste being squeezed from a tube onto an Intel CPU.
Not significantly blob-shaped, however that is the correct quantity for this specific CPU.

The best way to apply thermal paste

Thermal paste, thermal grease, thermal compound, sticky gray warmth switch goop – no matter you name it, it pays to know to use it. Even when numerous CPU coolers include some pre-applied paste, totally different CPUs come in numerous sizes, and one of the simplest ways to be sure you’re making use of the correct quantity is to do it your self.

However what’s the correct amount? Ideally you need a very skinny, even layer masking your entire IHS (built-in warmth spreader, the metallic high ‘layer’ of the CPU that makes contact with the cooler). On Intel chips that slot in LGA 1151 or LGA 1200 sockets, that quantities to a couple of pea-sized blob, whereas AMD’s greater Ryzen chips want a slightly-bigger-than-pea-sized blob. Alder Lake/LGA 1700 processors are more likely to be on the spacious aspect as nicely.


I personally like to only eyeball the quantity, drop it proper in the midst of the chip, and set up the cooler instantly. The cooler’s contact plate urgent down on the paste will, if the burden is utilized evenly, produce a pleasant, degree unfold with none further instruments. Nonetheless, if you wish to be completely certain you’re masking the entire IHS, you may as a substitute use a chunk of card or comically small plastic spatula to unfold the paste round earlier than putting in the cooler on high. This additionally allows you to scoop up any extra paste; keep in mind we solely need a skinny layer, as having an excessive amount of will insulate the processor as a substitute of facilitating warmth switch.

An Intel CPU covered in a thin layer of thermal paste.
Guide spreading is not strictly crucial, however ensures no unpasted spots.

Coolers that don’t include pre-applied paste might as a substitute embrace a bit of tube of it within the field, although it’s not costly to purchase. A 4g tube of Arctic MX-5 prices £6 / $7, and is sufficient for a number of purposes.


A hand tightens a thumbscrew on the mounting mechanism of a Thermaltake AIO watercooler.
Tighten thumbscrews with, uh, thumbs. Then safe them totally with ascrewdriver.

The best way to set up a CPU cooler

Please forgive the dearth of true guide-yness on this part, as there’s no single methodology for putting in a CPU cooler: not solely are there several types of water and air coolers, however producers use distinct mounting strategies and kits. I’m planning a extra detailed information on set up AIO watercoolers for the long run, however typically you’re greatest off following the printed set up directions on your particular cooler mannequin.

That stated, I do have some ideas that apply to a majority of air coolers and AIO watercoolers…

  • Assemble every part exterior your PC. As a lot as you may, anyway – when you have an AIO cooler and wish to place the followers between the case and the radiator, you often must yoke all three collectively without delay with lengthy screws. In any other case, it’s a lot simpler to get every part put collectively on a desk than in a darkened metallic field.
  • When bringing the cooler down on high of the CPU, be sure that to apply degree stress, so that you’re not smooshing the thermal paste erratically. In case your cooler attaches to the socket with thumbscrews, it may also assist if you happen to get all of them partially tightened earlier than you totally tighten them – if you happen to go from 0 to 100 on every screw at a time, that applies uneven stress as nicely.
  • If, for no matter cause, you take away the cooler after already making contact with the pasted-up CPU, clear off any thermal paste from each the chip and the cooler and re-apply it. This sounds wasteful however the distressed texture of the used paste makes it unlikely to re-acquire a fair layer.

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