Graphics card cooling has improved a lot in recent years, with bigger, better, and quieter coolers being used as standard. Even the stock coolers that come with reference models from AMD and Nvidia – such as the Nvidia RTX 4080 Founder Edition and AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX – have abandoned horrible blower-type designs in favor of quieter, more efficient units.
However, while the latest coolers deal with the main gaming GPU, memory, and (usually) other hot spots on one side of the PCB, the rear of the card, which also gets very hot, is often left to its own devices. Even if there’s a metal backplate, they rarely actually make thermal contact with the PCB, meaning the rear of the card can get extremely hot. Moreover, this has been known to cause clock speed throttling, especially with RTX 3000-series GPUs.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to check if your graphics card backplate is being used to cool your card’s PCB and add your own thermal pads to boost its cooling.
1. Check for existing thermal pads
If your graphics card backplate is warm to the touch when it’s in use, this isn’t necessarily an indication that there are thermal pads installed underneath. Look at the PCB from the side, and you should be able to see them if they’re present.
2. Search for online teardowns
Some cooler housings can make it tricky to see if thermal pads are in place out of the box. If this is the case with your card, check Google for any online teardown videos of your particular model, as they will likely show if pads have been used.
3. Check backplate material
There’s no point adding thermal pads if your backplate isn’t made of metal, so check you have a metal one first. If you remove the GPU from your PC for a few hours in a cool room, it should feel cold to the touch if it’s made of metal.
4. Measure backplate temperature
To see if your tweaking makes an impact later, first measure the temperature of the backplate using a thermal probe or IR probe. It’s also worth seeing if the core GPU temperature drops, using software such as GPU-Z. RTX 3080 owners can also see the memory temperature using HWMonitor.
5. Work out pad thickness
Each graphics card is different, so you’ll need to measure the required thickness of thermal pads. They need to make good contact between the PCB and backplate, so it’s worth ordering one set of thick pads and a set of thin ones in case you need a little more thickness.
6. Remove cooler and backplate
Removing the cooler and backplate may void your warranty, so proceed with caution. Some backplates require the cooler to be removed first, but others will come straight off. In our case, we needed to remove the screws holding the core and VRM heatsink sections together, exposing the backplate screws.
7. Identify pad locations
You’ll want the rear of the GPU core, memory modules, and VRMs to have corresponding thermal pads connecting the PCB to your backplate, so have a look at these areas on the front of the card (we’ve marked them with the pads wrapped in plastic here), so you know where to put the pads on the back.
8. Apply thermal pads
If necessary, cut the pads (we used Gelid GP Extreme) to size, but you can be generous here as there’s no point having piles of unused pads. Make sure the entire GPU core, memory, and VRM areas are covered, and if the heatsink makes contact with any other small hot spots on the front, add pads to the rear of these places too.
9. Reinstall cooler and backplate
Finally, check the pads make contact with the backplate by first cleaning it and then reinstalling it. We found that the peak GPU core temperature fell by 4°C and the backplate temperature rose by 6°C, showing that the backplate was now definitely aiding cooling with the pads installed.
That’s it for our graphics card thermal pad upgrade guide but for more graphics card cooling options, which out our guide to how to fit 120mm case fans to your graphics card or how to water-cool your RTX 4080 and RTX 4090 cards. Also, check out our best graphics card guide for our pick of the best gaming GPUs you can buy right now.