Crashing Computer. Underclocking to Improve Stability. Adding New Thermal Grease.

I bought a computer motherboard and didn’t install it for several month, well beyond my replacement period. Unfortunately, it was flaky, and I was stuck with a crashing computer. This series is about how I try to stablize my crashing computer.

If you haven’t been reading this series, here are the other posts in this Crashing Computer drama:


One trick I often use to improve stability is to underclock. Underclocking means slowing down the system. Most PC folks like to overclock, but I prefer a little extra stability, and heat and energy use reduction, so I have underclocked. To underclock, go into the Motherboard Tweaker in the BIOS Setup, and mess with the multiplier.

To reduce crashes, I tried a multiplier of 10x, which dropped the speed from 2600 to 2000. That’s a pretty big drop, and it did drop the CPU temperature a few degrees (but this was before the cleaning).

It seemed to help, but it is impossible to tell. Sometimes, the computer would run for hours before crashing. Other times, it’s only a few minutes. It seemed to crash less when it’s “warmed up”, which is odd.

Eventually, I gave up on tweaks, and set everything back to AUTO.

As I said in my previous post, the three things I look at are:

  • CPU Overheating
  • RAM
  • Power Supply

The power supply I have is almost new. It’s a Seasonic 300ES. It’s the first powersupply I purchased with the correct capacity. In the past, I’ve purchased too-large supplies; while they worked, they also threw off more heat and wasted power, even if they were 80-Plus (meaning that they are at least 80% efficient).

I run a 95 watt CPU, a “green” hard disk, a fanless video card, and an SSD disk. So my overall power usage should be a few watts lower than normal – but it’s not really. It’s around 130 watts. I suspect the video card is using a bit of power.

Anyway, my point here: I’m burning 130 watts on a 300 watt power supply, and it’s maybe one year old.

I brought the temperature down by vacuuming out the heatsink and fan, which were caked with dust, and that shaved around 10C off the running temperature.

Thermal Grease

While I was writing the blog, I got a delivery of thermal grease. I got a sack of syringes full of Shin-Etsu brand silicone paste. This stuff is used to close the air gap between the top of the CPU and the heatsink block, and has a real effect.  If you remove the heatsink, you need to clean off the old, dried out paste, and replace it with fresh paste.

The batch I got wasn’t in great shape – some of the syringes were a little bit dry at the ends, kind of like a hard blackhead zit.  Regardless, the stuff in the tube was okay, if a bit sticky.  I needed to use three syringes to get a nice, thick coat on the top of the CPU, and a little thin layer on the heatsink.

This brought the running temperature of the CPU down to around 38C, or more than 10C off the running temperature.  So we got from 70C down to 38C, a drop of 38C.  That is pretty awesome.

BTW, the other brand I was looking for was Dow Corning, who provided thermal paste to Intel.  It was available, but pretty expensive.  I’m considering switching to the paste used on solar power installations as a cheaper alternative.

Unfortunately, reducing the temperature didn’t resolve the crashing problem.

That left me looking at the RAM.  More on the crashing computer tomorrow.

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