Data on the evolution of Earth's magnetic field intensity are important for understanding the geodynamo and planetary evolution. However, the paleomagnetic record in rocks may be adversely affected by many physical processes, which must be taken into account when analysing the palaeointensity database. This is especially important in the light of an ongoing debate regarding core thermal conductivity values, and how these relate to the Precambrian geodynamo. Here, we demonstrate that several data sets in the Precambrian palaeointensity database overestimate the true paleofield strength due to the presence of non-ideal carriers of palaeointensity signals and/or viscous re-magnetizations. When the palaeointensity overestimates are removed, the Precambrian database does not indicate a robust change in geomagnetic field intensity during the Mesoproterozoic. These findings call into question the recent claim that the solid inner core formed in the Mesoproterozoic, hence constraining the thermal conductivity in the core to ‘moderate’ values. Instead, our analyses indicate that the presently available palaeointensity data are insufficient in number and quality to constrain the timing of solid inner core formation, or the outstanding problem of core thermal conductivity. Very young or very old inner core ages (and attendant high or low core thermal conductivity values) are consistent with the presently known history of Earth's field strength. More promising available data sets that reflect long-term core structure are geomagnetic reversal rate and field morphology. The latter suggests changes that may reflect differences in Archean to Proterozoic core stratification, whereas the former suggest an interval of geodynamo hyperactivity at ca. 550 Ma.