If you are a miner like I am, than you know that hardware is expensive, and you probably have some fear of running it into an early grave. You probably spend at least some time on maintenance and making sure your hardware is hashing at an optimal rate, while trying to keep your electricity costs to a minimum. I thought I'd take some time to share some things I have learned and hopefully some of it will be useful to you. These tips will be especially helpful for new miners, or miners who are maybe not tech savvy, but wanting to learn how to keep their gear running well.
With either GPU's or ASIC's, dusting is going to probably be the number one thing you do. Keeping fans running smoothly, and avoiding components that are smothered in dust is a good way to keep things running for a long time to come. Note: Your hardware, especially GPU's, is designed to run at pretty high temperatures over extended periods of time without failure, but that doesn't mean you should neglect it altogether. I know many large mining farms don't do anything with their gear, and let it get dusty, rusty, and pretty worn out before selling it all in bulk and buying new gear to keep going. I have purchased quite a few cards like this, and with some care I was able to bring them back to life and they are still working.
CLEANING AND DUSTING YOUR GPU
For cleaning the fans you will need compressed air cleaner, or a compressed air device for removing dust from the fans and heatsink. You will also need 99% alcohol for cleaning caked on dust and gunk, or component cleaner.
To start, use the compressed air to blow off as much lose dust from the fans and in and under the heatsink. Once this is complete, if you want to do a more thorough cleaning, you will need to take the fan shroud and heatsink off and remove the fan shroud from the heatsink. I will attempt to show you in detail how this is done.
First remove the screws holding the heatsink/shroud in place. Below is an example of which screws to remove.
Note: Damaging the sticker on the top left screw will more than likely void your warranty.
Note: The screws with the red x next to them on this model are holding a separate heatsink on the board, and do not need to be removed. On other cards, the unit may be integrated and therefore those other two screws would need to be removed.
Note: In some cases, after removing the heatsink, you may notice that the thermal compound is dried out, you should absolutely replace it. I will show you how to do so in another section below.
Note: Sometimes during removal of the heatsink, thermal pads may become displaced. Please be careful and note their position so you can put them back in place before replacing the heatsink.
Once you have removed the heatsink, and then removed the fan shroud from the heatsink you should have easy access to the back of the fan blades, which will allow you to clean off any excess dust or matter that might be attached to the blades. You can use alcohol on a pad or q-tip to do this.
Another useful thing to do if you have your card completely apart is lubricate the fans. This can be done by applying a drop or two of sewing machine oil into the small hole on the back of the fan. I use Singer sewing machine oil, which is available for a few dollars on Amazon or eBay. This hole may be covered by a sticker or a plug of some sort. Occasionally, the fan doesn't have a hole, and you can simply remove the back from the fan and place the oil inside. (See pictures.)
REPLACING THE THERMAL PASTE/THERMAL PAD
Replacing the thermal paste or thermal pads on a gpu can make a difference in terms of cooling. There are many options for high end thermal paste that can give you a few degrees advantage in how cool your card runs. Sometimes manufacturers of GPU's will use inadequate thermal pads as well, or will occasionally use pads that don't completely cover the component they are trying to cool, causing inefficient cooling.
This is what an MSI RX 470 8gb mining card looks like with the heatsink and fans removed. There is a fan cable attached to the back end of the card that you will need to remove to completely take off the fan shroud and heatsink. From this picture, it is clear that the blue thermal pads to the left and the pink colored thermal pad are in bad shape and should be replaced. There is also a thick thermal pad to the right that is covering a bank of memory. That one looks to be dirty, but in overall good condition.
Replacing these are simple. You can purchase pre-cut squares or sheets of thermal pad and fit them over the component you want to have make contact with the heatsink for thermal transfer.
On the heatsink you can see two more thermal pads that cover the corresponding memory banks that are not covered from the picture above. Notice the gray thermal paste on both the gpu chip and the heatsink. We are going to remove it with an alcohol prep pad.
Shiny. Now that the heatsink and chip are cleaned, we will add some new thermal paste to the gpu chip (not the heatsink).
I have as an example both a syringe style thermal paste, and one that comes in a jar with a spreader. Both should work equally well, as they are both good quality paste, however, thermal paste in a syringe is much easier and less messy to use.
Note: You don't need quite that much paste. I used the paste in a jar, and it's hard to measure out the right amount. Less is more when it comes to thermal paste. Don't overdo it.
CLEANING THE FANS
As I mentioned earlier, sometimes you want to give your card a thorough, deep cleaning.
To do this you will want to get behind the fans to clean off any dust that is not removed by the compressed air.
Start by removing the screws holding the fan shroud to the heatsink. On some units it is on the back, however on these MSI cards, the screws are in the front below the fan blades on the top and bottom.
Once you have removed the screws, you can start giving your card a thorough cleaning.
Using an alcohol prep pad (or 99% alcohol on a paper towel) Clean off the back of the fans until the look shiny and new.
Once you have given your card a good cleaning, reassemble the card, taking care to make sure the thermal pads don't slip off from their position, and that the fan cable is reattached.
Once reassembled, be sure to test the card and make sure the gpu and memory temperatures look good. A good thing to remember when mining is don't spare your fans. They can take the abuse and are easily replaceable. Tracking down and repairing a bad component on the pcb is much more time consuming and difficult. Run your fans at whatever speed will achieve for you a cool gpu and memory. I
try and keep my gpu temps at or below 65 degrees. In almost three years of mining I have only ever lost one card. Which is the card in the pictures above. I have not had the time to try and repair it yet, but it looks overall to be in excellent condition, with no noticeably burnt or damaged components.
I hope this simple guide is helpful for someone, I know that when I first started mining cryptocurrencies I didn't understand much about how to mine, or what it involved, but after learning how to setup the mining software and tweak your cards for optimal hashrate and power draw, I was well into my journey. Now, these things are easy and most of what I do is occasional upgrades to software, and general maintenance on the cards and motherboard.
Most of the cards I own were purchased used from eBay. These came from large mining farms, and were in generally poor condition. Despite their lack of care, I was able to get 99% of them working and looking good, and as I said earlier, all but one of them have been running almost non-stop for years.
With GPU mining being profitable again, but with the economic conditions, and the general supply shortages, we have seen a dramatic increase in the cost of GPU's across the board, and even used mining gear which was normally sold for less is astronomically expensive to purchase, so it's even more important for us smaller miners to take good care of the equipment we have, because of the difficulty in replacing it.