What Is CPU “Delidding” and Why Do Overclockers Do It?

A de-lidded 8th Generation Intel Core i7 Processor model 8700k

Delidding is the process of removing the integrated heatspreader (IHS) of a CPU. It is typically done to improve the cooling performance of a system or to reduce the temperature of the CPU die, but it comes with serious risks.

Have you ever looked at your $1,000 CPU and thought “I’d sure like to void the warranty on that?” Well, we have the perfect new hobby for you: “delidding” a CPU to make it go faster. If it survives! Here’s what you need to know about this risky processor modification.

What Is CPU Delidding?

CPU delidding is a process in which the integrated heatspreader (IHS) of a central processing unit (CPU) is removed. The IHS is a thin layer of metal that is attached to the top of the CPU die (the part of the CPU that contains the transistors and performs the actual processing). Its purpose is to spread heat evenly across the surface of the die and to transfer that heat to a cooler, such as a heatsink or water block, which dissipates the heat into the surrounding air or liquid.

How Delidding Works

Closeup of a person removing paste from a delidded CPU.
Adhesive being scraped from a delidded CPU.

Delidding a CPU involves physically removing the IHS from the die. This is usually done by carefully prying it off with a tool such as a flathead screwdriver or a specialized delidding tool. Once the IHS is removed, the die is exposed and can be directly cooled in various ways. In most cases, the IHS is only glued onto the CPU package, so removing it involves defeating this adhesive.

Why Overclockers Pop Their Lids

Overclockers (people who push their CPUs beyond their default speeds for improved performance) often delid their CPUs to improve the cooling performance of their systems. Delidding can help reduce the temperature of the CPU die, which can in turn allow for higher overclocks and more stable operation. It can also potentially improve the overall lifespan of the CPU by reducing the amount of heat it is subjected to.

So how can delidding be so beneficial? It’s mostly thanks to the “TIM” or Thermal Interface Material between the bare CPU die and the IHS. In many CPUs the TIM is not chosen purely for its efficiency at moving heat into the IHS, but other considerations such as cost are taken into account.

Usually, after delidding a processor an overclocker will replace the factor-installed TIM with high-end TIM such as liquid metal. This superior TIM will significantly improve how fast heat can be moved out of the CPU. It’s also common to replace the factory IHS with one made of copper or another highly-conductive material.

The new IHS may also be machined to be much flatter than a factory IHS, reducing the number of microscopic air pockets that can be trapped in the imperfections between the IHS and CPU cooler interface. This reduces the required thermal paste between the IHS and cooler, further improving thermals. Sometimes overclockers won’t replace the factory IHS but “lap” it. That is, sand and polish the IHS until it’s almost perfectly flat against the cooler.

The Risks and Drawbacks of Delidding

When you delid a CPU, the process itself of physically removing the IHS can be risky. If the IHS is not properly removed, it can damage the CPU die or other components. This could result in reduced performance or even complete failure of the CPU.

Most CPUs come with a warranty that covers defects and failures. Delidding a CPU will almost certainly void the warranty, meaning that if something goes wrong, you won’t be able to get a replacement or repair from the manufacturer.

Delidding a CPU also means installing a cooler. You will need to apply a new layer of thermal compound to the exposed die before installing the cooler and replacing the IHS, and you’ll need to make sure that the IHS is properly seated and tightened to ensure good contact with the die.

While delidding can sometimes result in improved performance, that’s not always the case. The improvement you see will depend on factors such as the specific CPU and cooler you are using, as well as the ambient temperature and other conditions of your system. In some cases, delidding may actually result in reduced performance due to factors such as uneven application of thermal compound or poor contact between the die and the IHS.

Delidding Tools

Der8auer IHS Remover

Delidding kits make the process of delidding a CPU safer and easier. A typical delidding kit will include:

  • A delidding tool: This is a specialized tool that is used to carefully pry the IHS off of the CPU die. It typically consists of a handle and a flat, thin blade.
  • Thermal Interface Material: This is a special type of paste used to fill the gap between the CPU die and IHS to improve heat transfer.
  • A cleaning solution: This is used to clean the surface of the CPU die before applying the thermal compound.
  • A small brush or cotton swabs: These are used to apply the cleaning solution and remove debris from the CPU die’s surface.
  • Glue: You’ll probably want to put an IHS back after delidding and upgrading the TIM in your CPU, for which you’ll need glue.

To use a delidding kit, you will need to first remove the CPU from the motherboard and secure it in a vice or other holding device. Once the processor is secure, you can use the delidding tool to gently lift the edges of the IHS and work your way around the circumference of the CPU.

Some delidding kits include a holder, so you don’t need to use a vice at all. A prime example is the der8auer Delid-Die-Mate 2 Integrated Heatspreader Removal Tool. You also need to clamp the IHS to the CPU after gluing it back on.


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der8auer Delid-Die-Mate 2

 

If you need to pop the lid of your (compatible) CPU the der8auer or another suitable model is probably the safest way to do it.

Safer Alternatives to Delidding

If you are looking to improve the cooling performance of your CPU but are not interested in delidding, there are a few alternatives you can consider:

  • A high-quality air cooler or liquid cooler can help to dissipate heat more effectively, which can, in turn, allow for higher overclocks and more stable operation.
  • Increasing the number of fans or radiators in your system can help to improve the overall cooling performance.
  • A high-quality thermal compound can help improve heat transfer between the CPU die and the cooler.
  • Ensuring good airflow through your case can help keep your components’ temperatures down. This can be achieved by using case fans or by adding ventilation to your case.
  • Keeping the ambient temperature of your system as low as possible can help to reduce the overall temperature of your components. This can be done by using a room air conditioner or by placing your system in a cooler location.
  • Undervolting your CPU can make it run cooler and achieve higher stable overclocks; if you’re lucky, get a sample that tolerates lower voltages.

These alternatives may not provide the same improvement as delidding, but they can still help improve your system’s cooling performance while leaving your CPU (and its warranty) intact.

Original Article

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