Reducing the Northbridge temps on the MSI X58 PRO-E motherboard

If you’re using the MSI X58 PRO-E motherboard and have checked out the temperatures in your BIOS, you might be alarmed to find that the IOH temperature (northbridge) is quite high. Indeed, a little searching around will show that you’re not alone – plenty of these motherboard owners have expressed similar concerns.

The good news is that Intel designed the X58 northbridge to safely handle temperatures of up to 100 degrees celcius, so if you’re not quite there, technically, you should be safe.

The bad news is that if you’re flirting with high 80’s or 90’s already, a bit of overclocking or a hot day may very well put you over the top.

If you’re concerned about temperatures, you have a few options:

  1. Contact MSI and inquire about an RMA. Note that unless your temps are actually passing 100 degrees, they may simply tell you that it’s operating within design limits… which is true.
  2. Keep the environment cool, be careful with overclocking, and hope for the best. Worst case scenerio is the motherboard dies outside of the warranty period. Chances are you’ll be fine.
  3. Add some internal cooling. Internal fans help, or you can glue a little fan to the heatsink.
  4. Upgrade to an aftermarket cooler. Pricey, and it would probably cost less to simply buy a motherboard with better default cooling instead, but it’s an option.
  5. Remove the thermal interface pad from the Northbridge/Southbridge and apply some high-quality thermal paste instead.

Option #5 is the one we’ll be looking at here.

Feel free to watch the video below for a walk-though (skip to the 3.5 minute mark if you just want to see how it’s done). Alternately, you can scroll down for the write-up.

Reducing the Northbridge temperatures on the MSI X58 PRO-E Motherboard.

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Step 1: Remove the heatsink mounting screws from the back of the motherboard.

There are 2 screws for each the northbridge and the southbridge. Both have springs and a black rubber washer – don’t lose them, and don’t forget to install them later! Note that there are also 2 screws for the mosfet cooler – DO NOT REMOVE THEM, as you won’t be removing the mosfet heatsink. Not only to the mosfet’s already run fairly cool, but if you remove the heatsink & peel off the pad you’ll have contact issues when re-installing (I removed it in the video and gave the reasons/workaround there – suffice it to say with the work involved for something very much un-needed I probably wouldn’t do it again).

removing the 4 heatsink screws

removing the 4 heatsink screws

Step 2: Take off the northbridge and southbridge heatsinks.

With the screws removed, you can now work at wiggling the heatsinks until they come off. Note a few things here:

  1. Because the northbridge and southbridge heatsinks are connected via a heatpipe, both have to come free at the same time – otherwise you may bend/crack the heatpipe.
  2. The easiest way to get them free is to wiggle them both at the same time. Wiggle in different directions – clockwise, counterclockwise, up, down, etc.
  3. It will take time. Be patient. Don’t force anything, and don’t be tempted to “pry” the heatsinks up with anything (a screwdriver has a very good chance of damaging your motherboard). You also want to be gentle so that you don’t crack/break the die on the northbridge. If you crack it, the motherboard’s toast.
  4. It took me close to a minute. It may take you longer. If the heatsinks absolutely won’t budge after a few minutes of wiggling, you may want to leave it be – it’s not worth damaging the motherboard over.
the 2 heatsinks to be carefully removed

the 2 heatsinks to be carefully removed

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Step 3: Once the heatsinks are off, clean up the remaining thermal pad that’s stuck to them.

You can use a razor to scrape the pink gummy material off the heatsinks as long as you’re careful not to gouge them. A little isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol can help too. Don’t use anything metal to clean off material that may be stuck to the northbridge itself though – just use the isopropyl and nothing harder/sharper than a fingernail to gently scrape off the old material.

One thing to note is the black fuzzy square surround on the northbridge heatsink – don’t remove it – if you do, you may short out the northbridge when you re-attach it. If you accidently scraped it off, you may be able to make a new surround out of electrical tape.

remove the old thermal pad - you can use rubbing alcohol or gently scrape with your fingernail

remove the old thermal pad – you can use rubbing alcohol or gently scrape with your fingernail

Step 4: Apply a small amount of (preferably non-electrically-conductive) thermal paste to the center die of the northbridge, and to the southbridge.

Non-electrically-conductive paste is very very highly recommended. We’re well past the days where metallic pastes were better, so you should be using non-electrically-conductive pastes already. There are 2 methods you can use to apply it. The first is the “drop/line” method where you put a small drop (or line) of paste across the center and simply let the heatsink spread it out. The 2nd method is the “credit card” method, where you apply some paste and use a credit card to apply it uniformly and evenly across the contact point of the chip, thin as can be. Both methods have merit, and various tests have shown that the end result is almost exactly the same.

Note that if the paste you’re using is electrically-conductive, you have to be extremely careful about applying it and ensuring that it doesn’t end up somewhere it’s not supposed to go. You have to be very clean and precise.

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Step 5: Test the contact area before reattaching the heatsinks. Then, attach the heatsinks.

Because the paste is thinner than the old material, you want to make sure that the paste is indeed making contact with the heatsink. Simply grab the heatsink, put it in place on the motherboard by hand and use finger pressure to hold it on for a few seconds. Then take the heatsink off and take a look – if it’s still clean, you may need to apply the paste a little thicker. If it looks like it’s got good coverage, then you should be fine.

Once you’re sure you’re getting good coverage, put the heatsinks on and hold them in place while you flip the motherboard and attach the screws. Don’t forget the black washers and the springs!

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Step 6: Optional (I recommend you skip this): Replace the thermal pad on the mosfet heatsink with thermal paste.

The mosfet’s don’t really need much at all in the way of cooling. The only reason I removed the pad on the DrMOS heatsink and switched to thermal paste is because I didn’t realize the amount of time, work, and modification it would involve. You could very easily damage something by removing the thermal pad, and thus I highly recommend you do not do this!  That said, if you choose not to heed this warning and are determined to do it anyway, I’ll try to help you out here regardless.

The big issue is that the mosfets are actually slightly below other components. Normally, the heatsink would touch these components, probably shorting them out – however, the pad that MSI uses is so thick that it elevates the heatsink enough that it doesn’t touch. If you’ve taken off the heatsink and pad already, put the heatsink in place and rock it a little – you’ll notice it doesn’t sit flat on the mosfets – one edge is held up by the components on the CPU-side, and the other edge barely touches the mosfets.

To get around the contact issue, you have to grind down the edges of the heatsink. To determine where to grind, you’ll have to put a thick layer of paste on the mosfets, place the heatsink, take it back off, and look to see where the 5 squares are. You then have to mark where you’re grinding, and pull out the bench-grinder or dremel to remove as much material as you can from the edges you marked. If you grind too little, you’ll have contact issues. If you grind too much, you’ll take off some heatsink fins. Finding the happy-medium isn’t fun.

Next, just to make absolutely sure you’re going to short anything when the heatsink is installed, you’ll have to cut a lot of pieces of electrical tape and use a tweezers to get them in place completely covering all the tiny components around the mosfets. You could probably use a tiny brush along with form of non-conductive paint instead, but electrical tape is likely safer. Once you’ve taped off everything but the mosfet’s themselves, put the heatsink on and double/triple-check that you’ve got everything covered that it could touch.

If everything looks good to go, you can install the heatsink…. except that you’re also going to want to cut a tiny spring to use with the screw (to make it similar to the screws/springs for the north/southbridge). The heatsink didn’t need the springs before because the pad was so thick – now that you’re not using a pad, the screws are holding the heatsink in place, but not holding it tight. The springs you use have to be about the same diameter as the northbridge/southbridge springs so that they don’t slip and short something. They also shouldn’t be too long, or you’ll keep the screws from going in all the way. Finding the perfect balance is very difficult – both springs I used were cut to between 1-2 coils in length. Since your springs will undoubtedly be different, you’ll have to find your own “best fit”.

Finally, you want to make sure the thermal paste is contacting the heatsink. Depending on how much the components between the mosfets are sticking up (and depending on how much height the tape adds), you may not be able to get the heatsink close enough for a really snug fit. You could do some further grinding to the heatsink (between the mosfet locations this time) to alleviate this, but by the time you’ve come this far you’ll probably be content to just layer on the paste a little thicker.

Again, it’s not worth the work/hassle/risk, but that’s how you do it if you’re so inclined.

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You should be done! Reinstall the motherboard and hopefully your temps should now be lower than they were before!