Everyone’s probably heard of removing the heat spreader from an Intel CPU, just how hard could it possibly be to do…
Since the introduction of the Haswell line of CPUs, the Internet has been aflame with how hot the CPUs run. Speculation ran rampant on the cause with theories abounding about the lesser surface area and inferior thermal interface material (TIM) in between the CPU die surface and the underside of the CPU heat spreader. It was later confirmed that Intel had changed the TIM interfacing the CPU die surface to the heat spreader with Haswell, leading to the hotter than expected CPU temperatures. This increase in temperature led to inconsistent core-to-core temperatures as well as vastly inferior overclockability of the Haswell K-series chips over previous generations.
A few of the more adventurous enthusiasts took it upon themselves to use inventive ways to address the heat concerns surrounding the Haswell by delidding the processor. The delidding procedure involves physically removing the heat spreader from the CPU, exposing the CPU die. Some individuals choose to clean the existing TIM from the core die and heat spreader underside, applying superior TIM such as metal or diamond-infused paste or even the Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra metal material and fixing the heat spreader back in place. Others choose a more radical solution, removing the heat spreader from the equation entirely for direct cooling of the naked CPU die. This type of cooling method requires use of a die support plate, such as the MSI Die Guard included with the MSI Z97 XPower motherboard.
Whichever outcome you choose, you must first remove the heat spreader from the CPU's PCB. The heat spreader itself is fixed in place with black RTV-type material ensuring a secure and air-tight seal, protecting the fragile die from outside contaminants and influences. Removal can be done in multiple ways with two of the most popular being the razor blade method and the vise method. With both methods, you are attempting to separate the CPU PCB from the heat spreader without damaging the CPU die or components on the top or bottom sides of the CPU PCB.
Razor Blade Method
The razor blade method involves using a double-edged razor blade to cut through the RTV material fixing the heat spreader in place, gently prying the heat spreader from the CPU PCB's surface. You carefully work the blade very carefully under all four corners of the heat spreader to weaken the RTV bond and slowly pry the heat spreader up off of the CPU's surface. This method has many potential pitfalls though. One of the largest is the possibility of cutting into the CPU PCB surface while attempting to cut through the RTV holding the heat spreader in place. Another pitfall to avoid with this method is the possibility of cutting through the circuits along the right and left sides of the CPU die. This is more likely to occur if you attempt to insert the blade too far underneath the heat spreader while attempting to cut through the RTV.
The vise method involves locking the CPU in place by the heat spreader in a bench vise and using a rubber mallet to forcibly remove the CPU PCB from the heat spreader. You basically place a wood block against the edge of the CPU PCB and lightly tap the wood block until you notice separation between the CPU PCB and the heat spreader. While this method seems much more prone to CPU destruction than the razor blade method, it is actually a much safer method and much less prone to pitfalls. As such, we chose to use the vise method to remove the CPU PCB from the heat spreader. In the following pages, we document the necessary tools, the vice method in detail, and the gross results of our freshly delidded Intel 4770K processor.