Resurrect a Filthy Gpu

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---

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    7 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    you know, i bet my method of cleaning my power supply would upset you all. when a psu gets to dusty, i strip it down, discharge the larger caps, spray it down good with hot water, sit it in front of a fan for 2 days, then re assemble. and for keybords in bulk i fill up the bath tub with hot water and do the same thing but i dry for 6 months.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    You can just use soap and water to clean a solid state circuit board. Just be sure it is completely dry before you try to power it up. When I used to make circuit boards at a board assembly house we would run all of the boards that we wave soldered through a dishwasher to remove all of the water soluble flux from them. When we were done those boards were all just as good as new.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I saw a video where they were reconstructing old videos from a NASA probe that was plotting the lunar surface to look for landing sites. They needed some archaic hardware to do it and most of it had been sitting in more or less a barn for the past 50 years. They took all their old boards, washed them in a sink (in an abandoned mcdonalds I forgot that part), put it back together and they worked fine! And that wasn't even solid state that was most likely analog circuitry. They used plain old soap and water.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    In addition of using the brush you're showing, I found using some cheap 'soft bristle' toothbrushes work amazingly well. Especially the ones with the odd angled heads and bristles. Obviously, don't keep your electronic alcohol cleaning brushes in the bathroom. :) Cheap foam brushes also work very well for brushing away the lighter dust away also.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    The plastic cover over the fan and heatsink should come off fairly easily (I can see at least 3 screws in the pictures) and you can use the same method for cleaning the rest of the PCB to clean the heatsink and fan much more effectively. Also, spinning the fan at high velocities is bad for the bearings, so it's a good idea to hold the fan to keep it from spinning if you decide to blow it out with compressed air.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Many years ago I worked for a computer maintenance company and I had a printer come in with an intermittent parallel interface problem. When I opened the printer up I found a mouse had built a nest out of metallic coated cigarette packet paper behind the socket . No mouse present, but it must have been a cosy little den (if a touch noisy at times).


    4 years ago

    I would recommend upping the alcohol content. There's an excellent ibble about removing the water from the alcohol(trollfaceman). Also a bit of lube on the fan wouldn't hurt.