Lap Your CPU
Overclocking your CPU isn't particularly crazy. With a bit of care and common sense, anyone can squeeze a little extra speed out of their processor. But if you want to push your hardware to illogical extremes, you'll have to get your hands dirty. And that means lapping your CPU.
Lapping is a fancy word that machinists use for sanding. In this case, you'll be sanding the metal plate that sits on top of the CPU. This plate, known as an integrated heatspreader, serves not only to keep you from crushing your CPU core when installing a heat-sink-and-fan combination but also to transfer heat away from the processor. Sanding it to a flat finish ensures that it makes optimal contact with the heat sink.
But since the heatspreader's surface already comes machine-lapped from the factory, why repeat the process at home and risk destroying a perfectly good CPU? A reckless disregard for safe computing is one answer. But if you were to look at your processor through a microscope, you might be surprised at what you'd find. Though the surface may appear smooth and flat to the naked eye, your CPU's heatspreader actually contains many microscopic nicks, depressions, and other flaws that prevent it from making the best possible contact with your CPU cooler.
Thermal pads and pastes help fill in those imperfections, but only by lapping your processor to an ultrasmooth finish can you be assured of whisking away the most heat. Of course, you'll also be whisking away your warranty, but unless you're one of those sane people who run their processors at stock speed, you've already voided it anyway.
What You'll Need
- Sandpaper (400, 600, 800, 1000, 1500, and 2000 grit) in full- or half-sheet form
- Isopropyl rubbing alcohol (90 percent concentration or higher) or ArctiClean
- Masking tape
- Cotton swabs or unscented toilet paper
- Can of compressed air
- Pane of glass or some other smooth, flat surface larger than the sheets of sandpaper
You can find the coarser varieties of sandpaper at any local hardware store or supercenter; but for 1000-grit and finer sheets, you'll likely have to visit an auto-parts dealer. Look for variety packs to save on costs, and don't fret if you can't find full sheets--you need just about a foot of vertical space to work with.
Set Up Your Workspace
Lay down the pane of glass so that you have a completely flat, supersmooth surface to work on. A level kitchen table will also suffice, but so long as you're going to risk destroying a $100+ processor, will you really miss another $5 for a sheet of glass should something go wrong and your endeavor become an epic fail?
Grab a full sheet of 400-grit sandpaper and cut it in half, and then secure one of the pieces vertically to your work surface by placing masking tape around all four sides. Now might also be a good time to call your mother if you haven't talked with her for months. The resulting good karma might later make the difference between a cooler-running processor and one that refuses to boot.
Prep Your Processor
Because you'll be removing layers of nickel and copper from the heatspreader, you want to protect the CPU's circuitry from getting all gunked up. We're not just being OCD here; mixing metal flakes with internal circuits is not only a sure way to fry your processor, but it can also destroy your motherboard. To keep that from happening, take four strips of masking tape and butt each one up against the raised part of the heatspreader, folding the excess underneath the CPU. This will prevent any flakes from sneaking under the heatspreader (where the CPU core sits exposed) or dirtying up the contact points on the bottom as sand and metal start to fly.
Void Your Warranty!
Now you're at the point of no return. Place your processor on the sandpaper and gently guide it in long, straight strokes. Don't apply any pressure, and after 50 full strokes rotate the chip clockwise and repeat the process until you've completed a 360-degree rotation. Give both the sandpaper and the CPU a few blasts of compressed air, and then clean the heatspreader with a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol. Keep doing this until you've removed the nickel layer, then move on to the next-finer grit of sandpaper and start over. Do another 50 strokes in each direction, and so on.
Once you get to the 1000-grit sandpaper, your processor should be flat but not shiny. This matters because if you ruin your processor doing this trick, you'll be left with little more than an expensive keychain--and who wants a dull-looking keychain? Use the finer grits to obtain a reflective surface, cross your fingers, and then install the CPU in your system as you normally would. Don't forget the thermal paste!
By doing this mod, we were able to reduce the load temperatures on our Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 processor by 7 degrees Celsius, which will allow for some pretty hard-core overclocking, though not all gains will be that significant. If you're willing to roll the dice a second time, repeat the above process on your heat sink's base for an even better potential payout.