Adventures with an Intel Stock cooler

Skye McDavid, April 13, 2024

Last week, I wrote a post about my new custom computer. In that post, I detailed that I was planning to use a bequiet CPU cooler, but forgot to actually order it, which is relatively easy when you're scatterbrained and ordering a dozen parts from several retailers. So I decided to go ahead with the build, using the Intel Stock cooler as a holdover. Unfortunately, the temperatures were abysmal the computer was regularly thermal-throttling and reaching 100°C, while sounding like a jet engine revving up, and being unstable. At first, I assumed that a combination of stock cooler and less-than-ideal case airflow (prioritized for low sound level) was to blame. I continued with my plan to replace the stock cooler with the bequiet Pure Rock 2. 

HWMonitor via Skye McDavid

But when I removed the old cooler, I found a different problem: the thermal paste had not spread properly and therefore the CPU was not able to transfer its heat to the heatsink successfully. As you can see, the mounting pressure of the heatsink was insufficient and imbalanced, since it was pretty much still in three lines when I removed it. As far as computer part installation, Intel Stock coolers are super easy. I know how to install them, and I checked that it was properly installed before removing it.

After removing the cooler I put it on a flat surface and noticed the mounting pins were not exactly even. This was the cause of all my problems. It was barely visible even when putting it on a flat surface. But when it comes to thermal paste, even a tiny imbalance in mounting pressure can cause this problem.  Last year, one of my friends had a strikingly similar issue with the preapplied thermal paste on an Intel stock cooler making poor contact, which was fixed by reapplying thermal paste and reinstalling the cooler. I don't want to accuse Intel and Foxconn (who manufactures the coolers on Intel's behalf to be packaged with their CPUs) of poor quality control when I don't have the data to prove it, and when it's entirely possible that something could have gotten messed up twice during shipping or installation, yet been too small for us to notice. But it's perhaps something worth looking into if you have the time and resources to do so. I certainly don't have the time and resources to do a deep investigation into Intel stock cooler quality control. I'm just glad I now have a high-performance computer so that I can have large projects open in Blender, Clip Studio Paint, and GIMP simultaneously. (Yes, that is really part of my workflow when I'm illustrating based on a 3D scan of a specimen.)

And yes, I should have suspected bad thermal paste contact from the get-go, but I had other stuff on my mind. Pterosaurs, mostly.