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Computer Heatsink stuck to CPU

While trying to fiddle with my old Intel D915GEV motherboard, I encountered a problem. It won’t boot! No boot up post screen. This PC is really old; I got it around 2005. With a Pentium 4 CPU, it is still an interesting piece of old hardware. However the CPU did run very hot. The fan & heatsink that came with it wasn’t really fitting, and I had changed it to a proper version. However the replaced heatsink was smaller and fan top speed was slower than the wrong fit version.

A black screen, no post boot up could mean several things. Some possibilities were: the motherboard was dead, there was not enough power from the PSU (Power Supply Unit). However this unit was very old and some parts could be somewhat rusted. I pressed the CPU and RAM and removed some unneeded peripherals, and voila! It booted! So it is still alive!

Pentium CPU stuck to heatsink

Next I went into BIOS and checked the hardware monitor, and found out the idle temperature was at 78°C! That’s a bit too high. Thinking perhaps the CPU thermal paste was not applied well, I wanted to redo it in the hope of improving the temperature. I did fix another PC of mine that was having high temperature by redoing the thermal paste and now sits coolly at an idle temperature of 35°C.

While trying to remove the heatsink, to my surprise, it wouldn’t budge! Using some force, the fan assembly came off the heatsink. But the heatsink just refused to be undone! I could see the motherboard bend from the force, trying to pull harder might break the board.

Checking online, it seems it is quite a common occurrence for heatsink to be stuck. It could be due to the thermal paste drying up and acting like a glue, or the suction force was so great that one could not just easily separate them.

To separate them, I found a few methods:

1) Using a hairdryer and cutter blade - the hair dryer to heat up the thermal paste to soften it, and using the thin blade to get in between the heatsink and CPU. Unfortunately I couldn’t do it, as my CPU was still in the socket leaving me without space to insert the blade, unlike the video showing the CPU somehow came loose from the socket board. Some people while attempting to yank out the heatsink also pulled the CPU out from the socket! So they could try this method to separate the CPU from the heatsink.

2) Another video I found suggested turning on the PC for about 15 minutes and letting the CPU heat up the thermal paste. After that, shutdown the PC and remove the power connection and attempt to take out the heatsink by twisting it left and right. Well it didn’t quite work for me. The heatsink was still stuck and I dare not do it further without a fan on the heatsink for fear of damaging the CPU. Also perhaps I only left it on for about 5 minutes rather than the suggested 15 minutes.

3) Using isopropyl alcohol. Well, I don’t have those around. Maybe I could use the 75% alcohol disinfectant spray. With all the Covid-19 germs around, I have quite a fair bit of these alcohol sprays which I think could be used. However there was not much space for me to apply. Perhaps I will try this later.

4) And finally using the dental floss method. This method looked promising. By sliding the dental floss between the heatsink and CPU, you could dislodge them. They also suggest dipping the dental floss with isopropyl alcohol to improve its effectiveness. Unfortunately my fingers were too sore from holding the sharp edges of the heatsink. So perhaps I would try this later too.

I know, this post hasn’t got a happy ending yet. At least there was some hope that I could get them to separate. Meanwhile, I placed back the fan and pressed back the components. I could get my boot up post screen and boot up my Linux OS. The PC still runs though with the elevated temperature I will need to be careful when using it.

I hope to update this post if my attempt to separate the CPU from the heatsink proves to be successful. For now, I just left it be for the time being.

[Update 10-Feb-2023]

Finally mustered some time and courage to attempt separating the stuck heatsink on the CPU. Following some suggestion online, I tried using the dental floss with some alcohol. Unfortunately it was still stuck fast. No amount of flossing and pulling between the CPU and heatsink would work at all. The thread could hardly penetrate much and the floss thread flayed and broke.

In the end, I used brute force. Firstly by twisting the heatsink clockwise and counterclockwise to loosen it up a bit. The heatsink edges were rather sharp. Using a piece of cloth to wrap it around, I gave it a very hard tug. And the entire contraption came off with a bang!

Stuck heatsink removed from CPU

Examining the surface of the heatsink and CPU, the thermal paste has really dried up! Cleaning it was tough. Though I wouldn't recommend it, applied a generous amount of alcohol and used a cloth with the screwdriver tip to scrape off the thermal paste gunk.

After that, I applied a fresh paste and put back the assembly. Wired back the PC, and horrors! It won't boot anymore. Not even a BIOS post display. I think I wrecked my motherboard. And unsure of the old Pentium 4 CPU condition after the cleanup. Oh, well. That's the end of the road for this old PC.

I had quite a good run with this old PC and managed to learn a fair bit from disassembling and re-assembling it. The Intel D915GEV motherboard was really stable and had many slots including four RAM slots, which my other old P4 boards didn't have. This allowed me the flexibility to put 512MB x 2, 1GB x 2 RAM sticks to make up the maximum RAM of 3GB. Old P4 boards only have a max RAM accessibility of up to 3GB.

Time to salvage parts, keep the old CPU as a souvenir. And dispose the board to the recycling bin.

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