How to Revitalize an Old GPU and Make It Run Like New

Don’t you hate it when your graphics card starts to freeze up and begins acting weirdly? There have been so many times when my beloved GPU – which costs a few hundred dollars – starts to perform sluggishly and becomes noisier as the fans start to work overtime. If you have encountered such situations before, follow this simple how-to guide to clean up your graphics card and update your firmware. After that, your old GPU will run like a brand new machine!

Before you begin, you should collect the proper tools and know how to use them. You will need different sized screwdrivers to help with the disassembly (most modern cards use three different sizes of Phillips-head screws), plus cleaning materials such as canned air, alcohol, cotton swabs, and replacement thermal paste. I like to use a small brush to wipe away additional dust and old thermal interface material but that is optional for you.

This guide is primarily applicable to AMD and NVIDIA cards made in the last 5 years. For the purpose of this how to, I will be using an AMD Radeon HD 7970 card.

RevitalizeGraphicsCard--Radeon HD 7970

In order to properly clean your card, you will need to take it apart.

1. Begin by removing the screws holding the card’s rear heat/reinforcement plate in place.

RevitalizeGraphicsCard--Unscrew Back

2. Remove the small screws that hold the spring-loaded heat sink mount.

RevitalizeGraphicsCard--Unscrew Spring

3. Now the components of the card will be easier to take apart. Because many parts have thermal pads between different parts, it will not fall apart easily and you might need to use a little force. Gently pry the reinforcement plate off the card, using steady, even pressure. You should use the same technique for the fan shroud and heat sink. You might have to unplug the cooling fan from a port on the PCB.

RevitalizeGraphicsCard--Open

Now that your card is in pieces, it is much easier to clean it. Using certain tricks when reassembling the card can also improve your GPU.

1. Apply fresh thermal paste in all the places you used to remove it. Make sure you use the least amount of paste necessary to produce a complete layer over the surface of the chip you’d like to cool.

RevitalizeGraphicsCard--Thermal Paste

2. On the Radeon HD 7970 Card – and most other cards – a metal clip with four springs attaches to the heat sink over the GPU. Over time, the clip and the four springs can become deformed, which lowers the contact pressure to the GPU and makes your card run hot. In order to fix that, carefully flex the bracket upward and slightly stretch the springs back out.

RevitalizeGraphicsCard--Spring

3. With the bracket and springs stretched out, reattach the heat sink to the GPU. Make sure that the heat sink is making good, complete contact with the GPU. Screw in the spring-loaded mount.

4. Screw together the case bracket to the fan shroud.

5. Screw the card’s rear reinforcement plate back on.

First you want to flash a newer vBIOS and then update the card’s drivers. If your graphics card doesn’t come with an update-checking utility, then use the instructions below.

RevitalizeGraphicsCard- Flash

Go to the manufacturer site to see if there are updates for the vBIOS and drivers.

NVIDIA Graphics Drivers | AMD Graphics Drivers | Intel Graphics Driver

  • Select the exact model of your computer’s graphics card (you can find this in the Device Manager window).
  • If there are updates available, follow the instructions that the manufacturer provides. Following the manufacturer’s instructions is particularly important for flashing the vBios.

Now hopefully all of that effort paid off. Usually when I follow these steps, I get my graphics card back down to a steady 168 degrees Fahrenheit when I am playing games and the fan is silent. Let us know if you can achieve better results after cleaning it up.