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Lapping a Thermalright Ultra 120 and an AMD Opteron 170’s IHS

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
Lapping is a process wherein progressively less abrasive materials (typically sandpaper of varying grit levels) are used to flatten the contact surfaces of a heatsink and a CPU’s Integrated Heat Spreader (IHS). The goal of the exercise is to make the contact surfaces as flat as possible to facilitate and optimize thermal transfer. In other words, a good job of lapping should net lower operating temperatures, both at idle and at maximum load.

First, though, I have a few words on temperature readings. Amongst the overclocking/enthusiast community, discussions of components’ operating temperatures are always lively and filled with a myriad of interesting ideas and opinions. However, it is virtually impossible to have a definitive, objective set of empirical data when it comes to temperatures. Why? Like all things in custom PC construction, temperatures are hugely contextual. What this means is that there are simply too many variables that cannot be controlled unless all testing is done in a strictly clinical environment. Unless all testing is done on a dedicated testing rig in a laboratory setting where the environment can be controlled precisely, direct comparisons between rigs (even between rigs composed of the same mixture of components) are useless. In testing cooling devices, for example, case airflow management and ambient temperatures, more than anything, influence the results so much.

So why bother gathering data and tweaking your cooling setup if comparisons with other rigs is moot and irrelevant? Well, there is still one valid point of comparison: The rig itself is its own benchmark. In fact, it is the best of all benchmarks, since most of the relevant variables are controllable. If cooling tweaks yield improved temperature readings (that is, improved heat dissipation and lower temperatures), then obviously the tweaks are successful. But even failures and worse temperatures are enlightening: You learn what doesn’t work at all, and can therefore eliminate that tweak or new experimental technique as ineffective. This is the essence of the testing ethos that I subscribe to. Until you know from experience or from knowledge gained from careful and methodical testing, you simply are guessing. You have not eliminated the “what if†factors. Therefore, I favor testing, and doing it honestly! You have nobody to fool but yourself.

So, having said all this, we return to the discussion on lapping. I use a highly-rated air cooler (Thermalright Ultra 120) on an overclocked dual-core CPU (AMD Opteron 170 @ 2.800GHz, running 1.39V VCore). Would lapping both the Ultra 120’s base and the Opteron 170’s HIS result in improved temperatures?

Read on to find out, and to learn how and what I did to get my results.
    
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post #2 of 17
Thread Starter 
Materials:

Coarse Lapping Kit from EasyPCKits.
Premium Lapping Kit from EasyPCKits.
AMD Opteron 170
Thermalright Ultra 120

Step 1: Establishing a baseline (reference point)

Establish a baseline so that we can see how lapping influences heat dissipation. This means having a reference point with respect to ambient temperatures, CPU Idle Temperatures, and CPU Maximum Load Temperatures. Consequently, here are my baseline temperature measurements/estimates.

Ambient temperature: 22.82 degrees Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit), estimated
CPU idle temperatures (Core 0 – Core 1): 37 degrees C – 37 degrees C (idle temperature gathered 30 minutes after initial boot-up into WinXP Home SP2
CPU load temperatures (Core 0 – Core 1): 57 degrees C – 55 degrees C (with spikes to 60 degrees on Core 0) (load temperatures attained through a 30-minute OCCT run)

CPU temperatures were measured with SpeedFan, which was calibrated to CoreTemp .95 readings. I prefer CoreTemp .95, but the program (even in older .94 spec) crashes my machine.
    
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post #3 of 17
Thread Starter 
Step 2: The method

Before embarking on an adventure into lapping, you have to get an idea as to how much material needs to be removed to get the flattest possible contact surfaces. You need to check on the flatness of the HSF base as well as the flatness of the IHS before lapping.

I did this by using the pane of glass that comes with the Premium lapping kit. It’s fairly easy to see if a surface isn’t flat against a pane of glass: If any part of the surface isn’t in contact with the glass, then it’s not flat. Both the IHS and the HSF base were slightly convex in the middle.

Besides being slightly convex, the Ultra 120’s base had another peculiarity to it: The base had ridges. Some have called these ridges mill marks left over from manufacture; others have claimed that this is deliberately designed into the base to increase the surface area (and therefore theoretically improve heat dissipation). Personally, I’m inclined to think that it’s not a good idea to have these ridges because it only means that there are gaps between the IHS and the HSF base. Gaps mean you have to use more TIM to facilitate heat transfer; nothing, though, is better than metal on metal for optimum heat conductivity.

The ridges made me decide that I needed to use the coarsest grit available to me, so I used the 180 grit sandpaper from the Coarse Lapping Kit. I actually tried to sand down the base using the 400 grit paper first, but I discovered it wasn’t cutting into the base as well as a coarser grit could. The lower the grit, the more abrasive the material, of course, so I decided to just start at the lowest and work my way up.

The 180, 220, 280, and 320 grits were used progressively. Though these sandpapers are meant for “dry†use, I did wet the papers while lapping to decrease the chance of the papers clogging.

I used the glass pane included in the Premium Kit to keep the sandpapers flat. I rinsed the papers frequently to avoid clogging problems, as well as the base from time to time. Finally, I used a consistent back and forth linear motion; the Ultra 120 is not a balanced heatsink in terms of weight distribution (it’s not square shaped in plan view), so it was clumsy trying to move it across a rough surface along the long planes of the fins (the “width†of the heatsink).

As had been mentioned in other lapping guides, slow and steady works so much better than hard and fast. Or, as someone has also said, “let the sandpaper do the work.†This is why I ultimately decided to use the coarsest grit available as an initial step.

Keep in mind that you should be using the most time on the coarsest grit because this will do most of the work of flattening the surface. The subsequent grits polish away the marks made by the coarser grits.

As I worked, I kept on checking for flatness visually and by fingertip touch, as well as using the flat pane of glass periodically. Another trick I used was marking the base with a felt-tip pen, then sanding away. If there are remnants of the markings, then the surface isn’t flat. I worked slowly and methodically and progressed up through the grits.

(More to come later!)
    
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post #4 of 17
Pics!
post #5 of 17
Did you write all that yourself or did you borrow some of it?
You have super duper gramatamical skills if you wrote it all yourself

I second the Pics, we love pics.
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post #6 of 17
Thread Starter 
Hehe.

Thanks for the compliments on the grammar. I guess being an English major in college paid off somehow!

I so wish I had my digi-cam while I was lapping, but it had been commissioned to film my 3-year old nephew's very first haircut on Saturday!

The best I can do from here, I suppose, is to provide pictures of the completed lap job. Luckily I'm still fine-tuning TIM application (I'll cover that later in this write-up) to find the optimum TIM amount, so I'll be dismantling the cooling assembly eventually.

Thanks again, everyone. Y'all are great.
    
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post #7 of 17
Pics of the final product would still be great! Also, I'm really interested in any before and after comparisons of temps. How was the Ultra 120 at stock?
    
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post #8 of 17
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheetos316 View Post
Pics of the final product would still be great! Also, I'm really interested in any before and after comparisons of temps. How was the Ultra 120 at stock?
I'll provide pics and temperature data by the time this is all done. Suffice it to say that there was an improvement in thermal dissipation. I'll probably post the next part of this sometime tomorrow.

Thanks for your interest, and your patience. They are much appreciated.
    
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post #9 of 17
i just did mine and installed them yesterday. at max load my core goes up to about 45c (3600+ Brisbane @ 3.0Ghz)

i wet sanded up to 2000grit. make sure you use a drop of dish soap on the sand paper along with some water. it makes the sand paper last (doesn't clog up) and makes the item your sanding slide a little smoother vs skipping.


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post #10 of 17
Thread Starter 
Step 3: Wet Laps

Since I used both the Coarse Lapping Kit and the Premium Lapping Kit, I had the luxury of having two of the 400 grit papers. I therefore decided to use the one from the Coarse kit for dry lapping, then switching over to the Premium’s red 400 grit paper for wet lapping.

The dry lapping was done first. By this point, I was pretty confident of the flatness of the Ultra 120’s base. I therefore was simply “polishing out†the scratches made by the preceding grits. In fact, as I’d suggested earlier, as I progressed on from the lower grits to the higher ones, I took less and less time with each subsequent progression. The reason for this is simple: You’ve removed the majority of the material with the earlier grits already, and now you’re just leveling off the finish. Even using the 400 grit paper dry didn’t make the sanding motion difficult.

The Premium Lapping Kit is composed of 400, 600, 800, 1000, 40 micron, 25 micron, 20 micron, 15 micron, and 10 micron grit sheets. If choose to use all of these grits, you’d likely end up with a mirror-like finish. Perhaps strangely, I didn’t want a super-smooth finish, simply because I wasn’t sure about how much thermal interface material (TIM) would be appropriate for such a super-smooth finish on my contact surfaces. Consequently, I decided to stop at the 1000 grit.

I used the grits progressively, and it took less and less effort with each grit to move the Ultra 120 across the surface of the sandpaper. Wet sanding lubricates the surface, but then again the decrease in friction is also due to the emerging smoothness of the base. By the time I reached the 1000 grit paper, it was casting fairly good reflections.
    
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