Thus were my words to Icrontic’s staff on Monday night. I had only been home from work for an hour and was planning on running some PhysX tests with my NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX. I currently main a Radeon HD 5770 because DirectX 11 is teh pwnage, but I keep my trusty 8800 GTX on standby as it still packs a punch, and it’s hip to the PhysX jive.
I swap GPUs as necessary, depending on what I want to do. Icrontic Gaming writer Chris White predicted that my card-swapping antics would eventually lead to failure. Unfortunately for me, Chris predicted the fate of my GPU, which happened only three hours later.
After installing my 8800 GTX on Monday night, I booted to a scrambled screen, then to a Windows 7 recovery screen. A similar thing had happened at our Oktoberfest event when I was swapping back from some Radeon HD 5870 testing, but a reboot fixed the issue and I paid it no mind. Like last time, a reboot seemed to fix the issue and I set about my business as usual.
Suddenly, after about 15 minutes of use, the screen scrambled into all-too-familiar colored blocks and lines. The GPU was fried. I performed a host of tests with no luck–my 8800 had seen its last polygon. Devastated and heartbroken (we geeks become attached to our hardware), I entered the staff chat to find comfort in friends. Upon explaining what had happened, Icrontic Tech writer Robert Hallock spoke first.
“Bake it in the oven,” he said to me. What in the world was he talking about?
“Bake the card in the oven,” he restated.
“…does that actually work?” I inquired.
“I wouldn’t be suggesting it if it didn’t,” he replied.
And with that, I was preheating the oven to 385°F.
It’s a piece of cake to bake a pretty… GPU
I have to admit, I was completely skeptical of this technique. I had lost video cards in the past (alas, poor Radeon 9700 Pro! I knew him, Icrontic!) and it was always an exercise in “trash n’ buy.” You don’t recover from a failure like this. But the Internets told stories of intrepid young gamers giving their dead GPUs to the inferno of an oven, and receiving working cards in return–literally baking a dead GPU like it was a potato. What could possibly go wrong?
I had nothing to lose. I was ready to IDDQD my 8800 GTX, or die trying (in the ensuing fire that one must assume can only be produced by tossing an expensive piece of electronics into a receptacle reserved for making green bean casserole). The preparation was rather simple: Get that oven preheated to 385.
Wait a minute!
Let’s get serious for a moment and talk about this concept, and why it is not completely insane.
A video card’s many chips–especially the GPU–depend on each and every solder contact being 100% healthy. Unfortunately for video cards, they are regularly subjected to dramatic temperature changes that cause their PCBs to undergo thermal expansion and contraction, a process that can ultimately warp the board and cause hairline fractures in the contacts.
By baking the card at 385°F, you’re exposing the card to a constant and evenly-distributed amount of heat. It is just enough heat to soften up the solder (a process called “reflowing”) which, after setting, should reconnect every component and cause the card to function properly again… But it’s still an absurd thing to see and do.
And now back to baking…
To prepare the GPU, the large cooling assembly must be removed before baking. It’s a simple process with the 8800 GTX: There are a few silver screws on the bottom of the board, and two black screws on the end near the DVI ports. Once these are removed, the heatsink can be carefully worked away from the GPU and memory modules. A quick disconnect of the power cable for the fan, and you have yourself a nekkid 8800 GTX.
As a final step, you’ll want to clean off any remaining thermal compound on the GPU itself; this is best achieved with Q-tips and isopropyl alcohol.
Next, rummage up baking pan. I layered mine with a clean sheet of aluminum foil just to ensure that no residue from cookies, potatoes, chicken nuggets, or Lord knows what else could possibly come into contact with my GPU.
Following that, roll up four small balls of aluminum foil–one for each corner–and set the GPU on top. Make sure the video card’s GPU is facing upwards! Now it’s time to get your bake on, soldier!
Place the GPU cake into the oven on the center rack, close it up, and set a timer for 10 minutes. I have to say, this step was one of the most difficult and awkward things I have ever done.
Placing a near and dear piece of hardware that once cost me $550 into a frigging oven just feels wrong. Like playing Half-Life on the Xbox wrong. Like editing in Windows Movie Maker wrong. Like bringing Natty Boh (Ed: Lonestar?) to a party wrong.
After ten painstaking minutes elapse, remove the GPU from the oven (careful: contents are hot). Set the GPU cake on the counter and let it cool over night.
In the interim, you’ll notice a very interesting new smell filling your kitchen. No worries though, as the 8800 GTX is RoHS compliant! Feel free to safely enjoy the savory scents of a baked GPU!
I left a note for my relatives to not touch my cake in the morning. At the bottom, in small lettering, it read: “Also yes, I did, in fact, bake my graphics card in our oven last night. Fear not, it is for SCIENCE!”
Serve with icecream
The following morning was the moment of truth. I brought the GPU back into my computer room to frost the cake with Arctic Silver; once the icing was on, I re-mounted the cooling assembly and secured the screws. It was now time to install the baked 8800 GTX and see if the cake was a lie (I am so, so sorry).
I installed the card, connected the PCIe connectors, turned on the PSU, and–after taking a deep breath and saying a prayer–pushed butan. The blower on the 8800 GTX spun to life, the motherboard yelped its POST, and like the phoenix rising from the ashes, my HP w2207 displayed the boot sequence. I had successfully resurrected my dead GeForce 8800 GTX by baking it in an oven.
I write this piece on a display powered by that very 8800 GTX and I have had no problems in the last 24 hours of operation. I’ve gamed, browsed, rendered, and relaxed, and the card is completely stable.
My mind is blown. I would have never expected this to work. My 8800 GTX may now be a zombie, but it’s a happy zombie, and that makes me a happy Dr. Frankenstein.
Disclaimer: Engaging in a bake-off with computer components can be dangerous, can destroy your hardware, and will certainly void any and all warranties. Attempt at your own risk.