As PC gaming popularity is on the rise, a lot of newcomers are building their rigs for the first time.
That is why we’ve put together this brief guide for you to make things less complicated.
We’ll teach how different Processor sockets work, and how to install the CPU cooler the correct way.
Installing Air CPU Cooler
Installing AIO CPU Cooler
CPU Sockets Explained
Before we show you how to properly install the processor and the CPU cooler, CPU sockets deserve a quick explanation.
As the name implies, the socket houses the processor and keeps it in place.
Both Intel and AMD utilize different sockets, and even those tend to change across a couple of generations.
Intel LGA Sockets
LGA or Land Grid Array is the socket primarily used by most Intel processors.
The LGA socket is made up of a grid of pins, which connect with the contacts at the bottom of the processor.
LGA 1150 (4th gen and 5th gen), LGA 1151 (6th gen and onwards), and LGA 2066 (Intel’s extreme processors) are a few examples.
AMD PGA Sockets
AMD more commonly uses a Pin Grade Array (PGA) configuration.
This means that the pins are on the CPU, instead of the socket.
The socket includes a grid of holes into which the processor drops in.
The AM4 socket (Ryzen 1st gen and onwards) and AM3+ (FX 6300, FX 8350, etc) are a few examples.
Although, the TheadRipper CPUs use an LGA socket. But you might be asking yourself why all of this matters? (The answer lies in CPU cooler compatibility.)
When you use a different socket, you’re going to need a different bracket to mount the cooler.
Figuring out your socket is important because then you can find out which bracket you have to use.
Installing The Processor
Before you move on to installing the CPU cooler, it’s important to see if the processor itself is seated properly.
As a precaution, we recommend putting the motherboard on top of its box for this process, to prevent any vital parts from getting damaged.
We don’t want to do this step inside the case, as it can be a bit difficult.
The process is similar for both AMD and Intel processors.
Your socket might have a plastic cover on top, which you shouldn’t tamper with at the moment.
- There should be a lever or a retention arm as it’s formally called. (Lift this retention arm to raise the socket lid.)
Grab your processor from the edges, do not touch the contacts at the bottom.
- Look for an arrow at one corner of the processor. (This will line up with similar markings on one of the corners of the socket.)
- Align the processor properly with the socket, and gently lower the processor in the socket. (Do not apply any excessive force on top of it.)
- After that, lower the socket lid on top of the CPU, and make sure it fits under the bracket or screw which holds it in place.
- Push down the retention arm, and if there is a socket cover it should pop up.
Just like that, our CPU is installed.
How to Install Air CPU Cooler
Finally, let’s resolve the main title of our guide.
Just like we did with the processor, this process is best done outside of the case.
It will make your life a whole lot easier.
Remove The Stock Cooler
If you’re upgrading, then you’ll want to remove the stock cooler which might have been installed before.
If not, then just skip to the next step below.
- Unplug the fan cable first so it’s out of our way.
- Removing the intel stock cooler is easy, it has latches at the edges which you can turn, and that loosens the cooler from the motherboard.
- After that, it’s just a matter of pulling it out.
- AMD coolers usually have a small lever on one side of the cooler.
- Pull this lever up with a small amount of force, but don’t be reckless with it.
- The latches on either side of the socket should loosen, so you can pull them off the hooks.
- After that, just remove the cooler.
Attach The Bracket
Before we proceed further, you may want to know about the best CPU coolers you can buy in the market.
Steps to Attach The Bracket
Some coolers might have more than two brackets, so find the corresponding one for your socket.
- The bracket attaches to the back of the motherboard.
- There should be four holes around the processor at the front.
- Line up the bracket from the back in a way that the pins poke through those holes. It should be loosely attached by now. Again, we recommend doing this outside of the case.
- Put the bracket on top of the motherboard box, and lower the motherboard in a way that the pins of the bracket poke through the holes. This is the easiest way to do it.
- With that done, grab the support screws for your corresponding bracket.
- Look in the manual to find the right screws. Secure these support screws into the four pins, and with that, the bracket is attached.
- If your CPU cooler directly screws into the bracket, you’ll need to attach corresponding bolts on top of the support screws as well.
- Use the instructions guide to find the right bolts and screws.
Cleaning Up and Thermal Paste Application
This is a vital step that a lot of people tend to skip over, it’s especially important if you are upgrading.
- Grab some isopropyl alcohol and a microfiber cloth to clean the heat spreader of the processor.
- Most newer coolers have thermal paste pre-applied, and if your cooler does, then you can skip forward to the next step.
- If not, then just apply a small dot of thermal paste in the center at the top of the CPU.
- The size of this thermal paste should be similar to a rice grain.
Have a look at this guide to find out about the best thermal paste you can buy.
Don’t spread the thermal paste with your fingers.
Mount the Air Cooler
With all of the preparations out of the way, it’s time to get down to business. It’s not easy to find a CPU cooler, but the main thing you have to be aware of is clearance.
- The cooler shouldn’t get in the way of your RAM slots, and shouldn’t be tall enough that your case brushes against it.
- Different coolers will have a different installation method.
- If your CPU cooler directly screws in, then line up those screws with the bolts you attached previously, and start screwing in.
- Tighten them on opposing corners, so the cooler sits perfectly.
- If your CPU cooler has holes for the supporting screws on the bracket, then you’ll have to align the screws with these holes. When the screws cleanly pass through the holes, start attaching the bolts on opposing corners. To these bolts down properly, use a Phillips head screwdriver.
Connect the Fan
The fan is often already attached to most air coolers. However, if you want to replace the fan with one of your own, now is the time to do so.
- Find the holes on the cooler and align the fine with them on the front side of the heatsink.
- Find your fan screws and tighten them properly.
- Now, all there’s left is to plug in the fan itself. The cable for the fan plugs into a 4 pin header on the motherboard. This header is usually labeled as “CPU-Fan”.
- If your cooler has customizable lighting, plug in the connector into a 4 pin 12V RGB header or use the included controller if your motherboard doesn’t have an RGB header.
How to Install a Liquid CPU Cooler
Installing a liquid cooler is quite similar to an air-cooler.
You’ll be following most of the steps above, so for the sake of keeping this guide short, we’ll quickly run through them all.
Steps to Install a Liquid CPU Cooler
- First off, you’ll want to remove the stock cooler, and then clean off the thermal paste with isopropyl alcohol and a microfiber cloth.
- Next, find the corresponding bracket and attach it to the back of the motherboard. Make sure to use the support screws specific to that bracket, and tighten them in.
- Now, things get a little different. AIOs or liquid coolers have a radiator and fan attached to the radiator. If the fans aren’t already attached, you’ll need to screw them onto the radiator.
- Look at the logo, or the arrows on the fan to see if you want to use a push or pull configuration.
- With the fan attached, you’ll want to install the radiator first.
- The radiator can be mounted either at the top, front or back. This entirely depends on the radiator size and how much room your case has to support it.
- With the radiator installed, grab the water block and align the holes on it with the support screws.
- Use the larger thumb screws which hold the entire assembly together. We don’t recommend using a screwdriver for this, because too much pressure might cause damage to the cooler.
- Check if your pipes or tubes are routed appropriately and make sure no cables get in the way of any case fans.
- Grab the fan connector and plug it into the “CPU-Fan” header onto your motherboard.
- If your cooler has customizable lighting, plug in the connector into a 4 pin 12V RGB header or uses the included controller.
- With all that done, grab the connector for the fan attached to the radiator, and plug it into any available fan header on your motherboard.
- And we’re done, boot up your system and enjoy.
Installing a CPU cooler might require a lot of steps, but you shouldn’t be worried if you followed this guide step by step.
Hopefully, this guide helped you out and made your life a little easier.
Just keep an eye on those thermals from time to time to see if you’re cooler is working its magic.
- Chiappetta, M. (2011). How to Install a CPU Cooler. Retrieved from https://www.computerworld.com/article/2500813/how-to-install-a-cpu-cooler.html
- Kyrnin, M. (2020). How to Install a CPU and Heatsink. Retrieved from https://www.lifewire.com/cpu-heatsink-installation-833854
Muhammad Ahsan Hameed is a 2-time DGA Winner, which is one of the top gaming events in Pakistan. He is also one of the top-300 South East Asia “DOTA 2” players and included in the top 5 players of Pakistan. Read More