How To Install An Air Cooler On Your CPU

Once you’ve installed your CPU, it’s time to install a CPU cooler. CPUs can get pretty hot, especially if you are overclocking your PC or doing heavy video gaming.



RELATED: A Beginner’s Guide To Watercooling For Your Gaming PC

The more the CPU has to work, the hotter it will get. Installing your cooler correctly will ensure your CPU stays cool. Otherwise, your CPU can overheat, causing your system to lag or shut down unexpectedly.

Note that watercooling systems work differently and require a different installation process. Follow the link above for our guide on installing a watercooling system; this guide is for CPU air cooling systems.

What A CPU Cooler Consists Of

thermal paste-1

A standard CPU cooler system consists of the following main components:

  1. Thermal paste: This helps dissipate heat from the CPU and onto the heat sink. Thermal paste is necessary because it’s a better thermal conductor than air.
  2. Heat sink: Typically consisting of large pins, a heat sink collects heat, drawing heat away from the CPU.
  3. Fan: The fan helps expel hot air away from the heat sink, keeping the system cool.

The CPU cooler is a must, in addition to other cooling components. If you have a GPU installed, it will likely come with its own attached fans. You should also install case fans if you’re doing heavy gaming.

RELATED: A Beginner’s Guide To Installing A CPU For Your Gaming PC

Before You Begin: Initial Steps

CPU fan

Before you get started, make sure your computer is unplugged.

Ground yourself by wearing an ESD anti-static strap, and touch a piece of grounded metal to discharge any static electricity.

Start by identifying the CPU brand you have installed. AMD and Intel usually use different CPU socket types, and the exact installation process will vary slightly depending on the type of socket you have.

Most CPU cooler systems will come with two types of mounting hardware, depending on the type of CPU hardware and socket you have. You might have to use plastic levers, a metal bracket, retention clips, spring screws, or even a mounting plate that is installed on the backside of your motherboard, allowing you to secure the CPU cooler in place.

Refer to the CPU cooler’s installation manual for instructions, as it can vary slightly from one brand and model to another. You might have to remove the stock bracket or mounting hardware and replace it with another type of mounting hardware before you begin.

Installing Your CPU Cooler

Installing CPU fan-3

In all cases, though, you will typically start by applying thermal paste to the top of your CPU. Your CPU cooler should come with a small syringe of thermal paste; if it doesn’t, you’ll need to buy it separately.

Apply only a small amount! It should be around the size of a small pea or large grain of rice.

If you apply too much thermal paste, it could insulate your CPU and prevent heat from leaving, causing it to overheat.

Some CPU coolers come with a thin layer of thermal paste already applied. If that is the case, do NOT apply additional paste. Check your CPU cooler manual if you’re not sure.

Do not touch the thermal paste with your bare hands. If any of it gets on your hand, wash it off immediately. If you accidentally swallow it, call poison control immediately.

Do not use a credit card to flatten the thermal paste, either. Instead, look for the small square area on the heat sink; it should match up with the top surface of the CPU, with any other holes aligning with the mounting bracket or levers.

Place the heat sink gently on the CPU, flattening the thermal paste in the process. If there is a plastic cover on the heat sink, remove it first.

CPU fan being installed -1

Depending on the heat sink, you might have to remove the attached fans before inserting the heat sink into your case and onto the CPU.

After installing the heat sink, secure it to the motherboard using the provided mounting hardware.

Next, reattach the fans if you removed them. Make sure to reattach them the same way they were before you removed them. If you’re unsure, refer to the CPU cooler manual.

The next step is supplying your CPU fan with power. The CPU fan will come with a cable that attaches to your motherboard. Typically, this will be a cable with a Molex connector of three or four pins, consisting of wires with different colors (usually yellow, red, and black).

Molex connector

Identify the CPU fan connector on your motherboard. Again, it will be a three-pin or four-pin connector. It will usually be labeled as “CPUFAN” or “CPU_FAN.” This is as opposed to case fan connectors, which might be labeled as “CHA_FAN” or “SYS_FAN.” Do not connect CPU fans to case fan connectors, as they require different power outputs.

If you have a four-pin connector on your motherboard, you can still attach a three-pin cable connector to it. It will work just fine, but without PWM (pulse width modulation), which allows you to control the RPM of the fan.

You can also attach a four-pin cable to a three-pin header. Again, PWM will not be supported, and your fan will run at top RPM speeds.

Once that is done, power up your PC to verify that the case fans are working.

NEXT: A Beginner’s Guide To Installing RAM For Your Gaming PC

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