I recently purchased an old gpu for use in a low end portable gaming PC. Unfortunately it was very dirty, I think the previous owner thought it was a potato and buried it. However it was only $5 and so I decided to go ahead and buy it in the hopes that I could clean it up, and have a working low end gpu.
In this Instructable I will walk you through cleaning up the graphics card so that you can confidently clean your PC's components and have the cleanest pc in town.
By cleaning your gpu you improve heat dissipation which leads to higher performance and longer component life.
Step 1: Gather Your Tools
In this step I will go over the basics of cleaning computer components and what you will need.
In most cases a PC can simply be cleaned by using a canister of compressed air to blow dust away. However, if you want to go pro and keep all of your pcbs looking brand new I recommend getting a small paintbrush and using it to assist the compressed air by brushing down the pcb while applying short bursts of air to blast the loosened dust away. In most cases this will work perfectly and you wont have to do anything else.
But this instructable isn't about cleaning up slightly dusty components, it's about reviving even the filthiest of components. Whether they've been buried underground for a thousand years, used as a brush for the household pets, or been used in a smoking environment. That being said here's a list of what I used:
Compressed air, paintbrushes, screwdriver (to take the gpu apart a bit), paper towel, thermal paste (reassembly), 91% isopropyl alcohol, bucket of water, blower fan, and a dremel with a felt polishing wheel.
Keep in mind this method should be used conservatively, to clean of a slightly dirty part just uses the instructions in the first paragraph, this is for extreme circumstances.
Step 2: Removing the Cooler
First we must remove the heatsink so that we can clean the pcb and cooling solution separately and so that we can reach the entire PC. Remove the screws that hold the back plate on ,and remove the back plate and heatsink. Make sure you keep them in a safe place, I lost one while doing this.
Step 3: Initial Cleaning of the Pcb Using Air and Brush
Now it's time for the first step in getting the gpu back to an acceptable condition. We'll start by using a paintbrush to loosen up the dust and compressed air to blast it away.
Step 4: Cleaning the Gpu With Isopropyl Alcohol
After you've cleaned the pcb as much as possible with air and a paint brush it's time to take it up a notch. Generously poor alcohol onto the pcb and let it soak into the dirt to loosen it up a bit, next grab a paintbrush and gently brush the wet pcb to further loosen the dirt. Once this is done rinse the pcb with more alcohol. If the capacitors are still dirty (they probably will be) then dampen a piece of paper towel with some alcohol and then use the dampened paper towel to gently floss the capacitor.
Step 5: Cleaning the Cooler
Cleaning the heat sink assembly is quite a bit harder. generally they're dirtier than the actual pcb (image 1) and are always harder to clean with compressed air. However there is also a very easy but somewhat risky way to clean it. Simply submerge the cooler in a bucket/container of water, I spun the blades of the fan by hand (do not put an electric current in dirty water) to help loosen up the dust and promote water flow to wash it away. After flipping it on both sides and spinning the blades for awhile your gpu's cooler should be fairly clean. The amount of time you have to spin the blades depends on how fast you spin them and how dirty the cooler is. It is nearly impossible to get it perfectly clean but you can tell how much dirt is gone by the color of the water. In any case this is an essential step to reviving a gpu.
Step 6: Drying the Cooler
We can't very well reattach a sopping wet cooler to a gpu so it's important to dry it completely. There are two easy ways to do this. I recommend doing both for the best chance of success
1.) Get a dremel with a felt polishing bit and use it to spin the fan very quickly to promote high airflow (image 1 & 2)
2.) Next get a blower fan and set it up so that it will blow air through the heatsink and fan assembly and leave it on overnight to completely dry everything (image 3)
Step 7: Rebuilding the Gpu
This is a fairly simple process so I'll abridge it by using numbered steps rather than paragraphs.
1.) apply thermal paste to the gpu chip itself and the ram chips (image 1)
2.) line up the cooler with the pcb (image 2)
3.) Put the back plate on and screw the screws on (image 3)
Step 8: Bask in the Glory of the Cleaned Gpu
This step is dedicated to looking at your handiwork, take a moment and enjoy the pictures. Notice that the cooler isn't completely clean, it is certainly better but it can sill be cleaned more by spending more time spinning the blades in the water.
Step 9: Testing
Now just to make sure that the gpu still works. Simply plug the gpu into a computer, and attach a monitor to the video port(s) on the gpu, and power on the computer and the screen, if you get any signal then it works and you're ready to enjoy your clean gpu.
---Note: make sure the fan is spinning, if it isn't remove power, allow it to dry more and try again---