Anyone know anything about CPUs stuck to heatsinks?

Hello everyone.

For full disclosure I have a technical problem which relates to a desktop I bulit myself, and not one bought and assembled from PCS, so if nobody wishes to offer any suggestions, then I would understand. I'd bought a couple of laptops from PCS over the last four years, and always felt that this forum was a friendly environment regardless, even as I had grown and moved into the phase of building my own gear.

So, the problem is concerning my CPU being stuck by thermal grease to it's heatsink. The chipset is an AMD FX8350, and the heatsink in question is the stock AMD cooler it shipped with. I had no intentions in the forseeable future of ever over-clocking, so I trusted that stock cooling would be sufficient. Alas, the AMD cooler had a tendency of squealing when under load, so after some consideration I decided I would replace it. Everything went great as I opened up my case and made my preparations, but after wiggling the heatsink off, I encountered my current predicament.

If it weren't for the pang of horror then I'm sure I would have been driven to apoplexy. Mercifully, all of the CPU pins are intact and unbent, but currently I have no way of safely conducting a test to see if the AM3 socket on the motherboard is broken. Apparently this problem is common across all CPU designs, and is especially likely if the paste is old or applied too copiously. Well I didn't apply any of my own paste, but went with the pre-applied paste on the heatsink, and so far my computer has been in use for about two weeks.

I've been searching for solutions online for the last five hours on and off. I've tried rubbing alcohol (I don't have any isopropyl, but I do have plenty of 94% proof methylated spirits), a hairdryer, gentle probing with an old credit card. The only two methods I haven't tried are soaking the CPU in alcohol, and dental floss, because of wary scepticism and lacking the requisite materials respectively.

As things are now, neither heat nor dabbing around the edges with alcohol on cotton buds has made the CPU budge so much as a micron to the naked eye. Nothing online seems to be particularly helpful, and a lot of forums are conjecturing, inventing obviously dangerous and unhelpful advise, turning the whole thread into a processor fanboy flame war, or all of the above. I want to try floss in the morning, but the way the chipset looks so flush against the heatsink, I don't see how it would actually work. I seem to recall that AMD make their processors convex to Intel's concave, so in theory there ought to be some slight crevise, but I'm not optimistic.

I'll not know about the condition of the motherboard until I either retrieve the CPU or buy a replacement (the idea makes me nauseous), but the pins on the chipset are all intact and I'm desperate to recover it if at all possible. If bother CPU and motherboard are bricked after less than a month, then I don't know what I'll do. Something like this would never be covered by warranty.

Thank you all for your time.
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Sorry, all I was going to suggest was using rubbing alcohol with a cotton bud whilst trying to scrape away and lever up with a guitar pick. Looks like you tried Somerton similar already. Don't use a hairdryer, it'll likely harden the compound more.
Best of luck, hope someone can offer you better advice


Bright Spark
If its that stuck, then someone in the past (factory?!?!) has used thermal adhesive or some exceptionally bad thermal grease. :no: The best way to get these off is a combination of the methods you are using and actually twisting the cpu (assuming it is just stuck by thermal paste of whichever kind). If someone has used thermal adhesive, then this stuff is like epoxy or glue; and the thing will be very difficult to get off, if at all. Its designed to be permanent and shouldn't be used on a cpu. Any thermal paste would let the cpu be freed by applying heat. The hair dryer is indeed a good method, but if its adhesive it wont work on its own.

Best way assuming this is adhesive...sounds horrendous but would be to take the motherboard out and/or soak the area in rubbing alcohol for 24 hours (always just make sure to fully dry before using) and then use a hair dryer on it in small bursts of intense heat until it is properly hot..... and use something like a razor blade (or an old credit card if it fits in the gap you have to work with) in different areas in the gap while tapping it with something like a small rubber hammer. I know...I said hammer. Once you have tapped it apply pressure to the top of the cpu and twist it. A fair amount of patience may be required here. Eventually if the alcohol has weakened it enough and you have applied enough heat, it should come off. If its just paste that has been used...again....none of these methods should be needed and direct heat application (it does need to get very hot perhaps) will work with alcohol application.

Soaking the cpu in alcohol wont do it any harm, as long as components are fully dry before using; rubbing alcohol is your best bet.
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I'm sorry to say that we have had quite a few AMD cpus which stick to the heatsink after they have been on a while, I suggest you try and get it back into the motherboard socket, lock it in and then slowly wriggle the heatsink left to right and it will release itself from the cpu. I have done this quite a few time's and it's worked.
I'm sorry to say that we have had quite a few AMD cpus which stick to the heatsink after they have been on a while, I suggest you try and get it back into the motherboard socket, lock it in and then slowly wriggle the heatsink left to right and it will release itself from the cpu. I have done this quite a few time's and it's worked.

I'd be reluctant to try that, even if it were possible. With the heatsink being shaped how it is, not only can I not see what I'm doing or where the pins are alligned on the socket, but the heatsink is obstructed by the socket latch when lifted into the unlocked position. That is to say nothing of how one of the pins may snap off from taking all the pressure from any twisting. Having to work in a tight space within the case isn't helping, although removing the board wouldn't exactly help when the heatsink is still so cumbersome. I've been vigorously rubbing at the sides with cotton buds dabbed in denatured alcohol, and then trying to get some floss underneath a corner, but it seems like the core and the heatsink are practically welded together. I've only had so much time to work on the problem, but when I've found the time the effort has been draining.

I've gone beyond the stage of denial now, into anger, and I am far from okay with the stock cooler being pre-applied with what seems like industrial strength epoxy. I see all over the place that "soaking" the CPU in alcohol might achieve something, but there isn't a single picture or video anywhere that I've found on the web to confirm that such an improvisation is anything short of one twisted joke of an urban myth. I might see about contacting the supplier to see if this hot mess is covered under warranty next, but I have a strong suspicion they'll bark something about caveat emptor or user fault.
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Behold The Ford Mondeo
In your shoes I would simply twist it off. Even if it were superglue you should be able to apply enough torque to release it. I understand your reluctance though. CPUs can take a fair bit of punishment.

PS do you mean the 8350? Is the 8450 not an x3?
PS do you mean the 8350? Is the 8450 not an x3?

I did mean the 8350. I'll correct the typo.

I'm not keen about roughly handling a piece of equipment that is so expensive to replace. I spent £140 on that CPU, plus an extra £90 on the motherboard. It would be wretched if either or both were damaged.

I've tried heating the thermal compound with a hairdryer once already, but it had the predictable result of making the heatsink and CPU too hot to handle. I considered using oven gloves, but such a bulky layer would have likely bent some of the pins. Using my bare hands is already risky enough.

It doesn't feel good anymore now that I've sunk into the pit of eternal despair that is custom built desktops. What started as an exciting project has now turned into a tinkering cash incinerator. That is to say nothing of the relentless challenges of the old windows software. Getting an OEM copy of Windows 7 just for the sake of familiarity isn't worth it at this point. Getting all 280+ updates to install successfully was hard enough, but that was just the start. The value proposition of PCS labour costs once again seem as lucrative and utilitarian as it did some years back. A shame I can't reverse time.


Behold The Ford Mondeo
It would take a lot to damage the CPU but not a lot to bend the pins. I've bent pins before and straightened them though, with no ill effects.

If the motherboard is toast, it's toast regardless so I wouldn't let that get you down..... it is what it is and you cannot affect it. However, I would be absolutely amazed if it was. These components are actually fairly tough, it's the likes of transistors and capacitors that don't take well to physical interaction. The socket of the motherboard should be fairly resilient to a CPU being accidentally pulled out while in the locked state. If you have hit other components of the board during that extraction you may well have caused a failure though.

If you can find a way of firmly holding the CPU (a vice? ) then you should have no issues twisting the heatsink off without a single pin being touched. Once thing I would say is that in your shoes I would definitely use a twisting action rather than a pulling action. Pulling off the heat cover from the CPU would be real cause for concern. Twisting the CPU to break the thermal compound should mitigate that risk.

I've got around a dozen CPUs lying around various drawers at various times, rattling around with various sticks of RAM. Every now and again I upgrade an old system with one or fault find with one and I've never had a failure yet. They're MUCH more tolerant than you realise. That's not to say they shouldn't normally be handled with care and respect, of course they should...... mine are just fairly useless spares....but when all else fails, there's not a lot of option left but to just go for it.
Update: The problem has finally been fixed. The solution involved a hair dryer and a clean dish cloth. I blew on the CPU from around the sides, between the core and the copper plating of the heatsink. I used a low heat, and did so in bursts of around a minute. Lastly, with the dish cloth as my protection against the hot metal, I held the heatsink by the dinky plastic fan casing on one side, and the corners of the CPU from the other. After all the grievance of dabbing at the core with a cotton bud dipped in alcohol, and vigorous sawing with floss, the core slid off.

Taking a moment of pause and not letting desperation take hold of the moment was important. As of now I've installed a water cooler and two additional fans. The CPU and motherboard were unharmed, and now the whole case is only as loud as that of a fading prop plane on a dull Sussex coast horizon.

I wouldn't wish my experiences upon anyone, but in the end I did find it a valuable experience. Much like with all complex machinery, there is always something that could present a new challenge. Thank you to all who responded.