Repairing/Renewing/Upgrading Your Video Card (Example: Radeon HD 5570)
Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
If you’re a PC gamer, your video card is one of the most important parts in your system. Without it, you’d have to suffer through low-resolution hell while you tried to play your favorite game. But are you taking good care of your GPU friend?
I usually recommend that PC users open their system up and check it for cleanliness every 6 months or so. If you smoke, and especially if you do it around your PC, you should clean the system more often – at least every three months.
Like any PC component, GPUs get dusty. But unlike most other parts, they are much more difficult to clean, as the fan system is usually contained within a shroud. So using a plastic-bristled brush or vacuum is not an option; you can get the surface dust, but some of the really important parts of your card are buried under the shroud. Exception: some low-end “silent” cards simply use an oversized heatsink to dissipate heat from the chip. With these, you really can just blow/brush/vacuum them clean.
In many ways, GPUs are like little motherboards inside your tower. They have their own chipsets, including a control system, transistors, capacitors, etc. and their own heatsink and fan covering the GPU itself. And like the other components, they accumulate dust as time passes. Dust creates an insulating layer around PC parts, keeping heat in, despite the cooling system’s attempts to remove it. Over time, the layer thickens until the component overheats and fails.
The last time I opened my tower to clean it, I noticed the GPU had a fair amount inside the fan shroud. So, I thought this would be a good time to explain how to remove the shroud and fan, clean the unit thoroughly and reinstall the heatsink after cleaning.
If you use a higher-end video card, this procedure would also work if you are getting rid of the stock cooling system and using a better, aftermarket solution.
For this article, we’ll be cleaning the Radeon HD 5570 from the POS.
First, remove the screw, holding either the video card or the expansion slot cover in place.
On a more powerful card, unplug the PCI-E power lead(s) running from the power supply.
Ground yourself, then carefully remove the video card and slide it toward the front of the case until the video ports clear the back of the case, then up and out.
Once you have the card out, look for the mounting system that holds the fan/heatsink to the PCB (Printed Circuit Board). Once you’ve located the mounting system, typically screws or clips remove the fasteners holding the shroud in place. In this case, and with other cards I’ve worked on, the screws incorporate a spring-preload that’s attached to the screw. Still, they are removed and reinstalled like any other.
In this case, the shroud came off along with the centrifugal fan and heatsink. Depending on your arrangement, you might remove the shroud and then face a separate mounting system for the heatsink and fan.
In any case, unplug the fan(s), which use connectors similar to the one for the CPU fan on the motherboard and then remove them. Remove the heatsink next. Remember, there’s a thermal interface between it and the GPU chip, so there may be some resistance. If possible, try to remove the heatsink in a twisting motion rather than trying to pop it loose until it breaks free from the chip.
It’s hard to see in the pic (should have labeled it), but the fan power lead runs through a channel in the heatsink, identifiable as it’s about twice as wide as the space between the other fins.
Dust off the board with a plastic-bristled brush, then use compressed air or a vacuum to remove any lingering nastiness.
Now, use rubbing alcohol (91%) if possible to clean the heatsink and the surface of the GPU chip. Once you have it clean, apply thermal compound to the top surface of the GPU chip in the same fashion as you would with a CPU. In the picture, it looks as if I’ve gooped it on, but really I used almost no Arctic Ceramique 2; didn’t even put a dent in the gram meter on the side of the syringe. On the 5570, the GPU chip is tiny (and shiny).
Reassemble the heatsink/fan arrangement. In this case, I put the shroud/fan/heatsink assembly together, then remounted it on the board. Plug your fans back in, and on a better card refasten the fan shroud.
Then, reinstall the card by positioning it over the PCI-E slot, moving it toward the rear of the case until the video ports clear the case, then pushing down until it seats in the slot. Fasten the card down with the slot or slot cover screw.
If necessary, plug the PCI-E power leads back into the video card.
Fire your system back up. Your video card should be happier and healthier for the attention you paid it.
Remember, maintenance is key to long life for your gaming rig. Clean it regularly and it will reward you with wondermous interactive entertainment for years to come.
Thanks for reading, and as always I welcome questions and feedback. If you’d like to see an article covering a particular repair/upgrade, let me know at email@example.com.
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