Do you build your own PC? If so, you’ve most likely used thermal paste before installing your CPU’s heatsink or custom cooler.
Thermal paste is that gray/silver compound that you put on top of the processor before you place the cooler. But, what does it actually do? And, is thermal paste really necessary?
In this article, I will talk about what the Thermal Paste is, its uses, and I am also going to recommend some of the best thermal pastes on the market.
Before I recommend some products, I will first talk about the thing. What really is a Thermal paste?
What is a Thermal Paste?
The thermal paste is a high heat-conductive compound and is best used when installing the CPU’s heatsink/cooler or for the Graphics card as well.
People are wondering why they need to put thermal paste first before putting on the heatsink as they can see that the cooler can be seated perfectly.
Unbeknownst to many, even when the heatsink is placed accordingly, it still leaves some microscopic gaps that can mean poor heat dissipation. Thus, leaving you with a hotter CPU that can get potentially damaged in the long run.
The thermal paste ensures that these microscopic gaps and imperfections will be eliminated by filling in those gaps. And, since the thermal paste conducts heat, it effectively dissipates heat off from your CPU or GPU and onto their coolers/heatsinks.
Thermal paste is also referred to as TIM, thermal compound, thermal gunk, silicon compound, heat sink paste, just to name a few.
There are three common types of thermal pastes: Ceramic, Silicon, and Metal
The metal thermal pastes are the most popular ones since it conducts heat better than the other two types. The major problem with metal thermal pastes is that because of its nature, it is also electrically conductive as well. Make sure that you apply the right amount of thermal paste if you happen to use this type of compound.
Another popular type of thermal paste is the ceramic-based ones. They are popular because they are nearly as good as the metal types, except that they do not conduct electricity. This is a good thermal paste for people who are still beginners when putting on heatsinks since spillage onto the motherboard will not pose problems since it doesn’t conduct electricity like the aforementioned type of thermal compound.
Lastly, the silicon-based thermal pastes are usually embedded on thermal pads that directly attach to either the heatsink or the processor. This is the worst performing thermal compound compared to the other types, but it still does its job at dissipating heat from the processor or graphics card.
Now that you know what a thermal paste is and its different types, I am now going to recommend some of the best thermal pastes on the market.
Best Thermal Pastes 2017
Arctic MX-4 Review
Pros: Easy to apply, High value for money
Cons: Falls short in peak temperatures
The first thermal paste on this list is the Arctic MX-4. This is one of the most popular thermal pastes on Amazon and it is for a number of reasons. This carbon-based thermal compound is probably one of the easiest to dispense and apply mainly due to the syringe tube it came in.
People are able to put a good amount on the chip and it requires no settling time, allowing people to mount the cooler immediately after putting in the paste.
You might have noticed that this is carbon-based. This type of thermal paste falls relatively into the ceramic category because it still does a pretty good job of dissipating the heat from your processor without the electric conductivity mostly found in metal-based thermal compounds.
The MX-4 is also a marked improvement over its predecessor, the Arctic MX-3 as it is not as viscous as the latter. This means that it is easier for you to apply the TIM as it is not as thick as others.
In terms of performance, the Arctic MX-4 remains to be a consistent performer, but it does lack a bit of performance when it comes to peak temperatures.
Still, the easy application and the consistent temperature are what makes this thermal paste one of the best on the market.
Arctic Silver 5 Review
Pros: Highly Thermal conductive compound, Trusted brand
Cons: Needs to settle for maximum performance
The next thermal paste might confuse you, but I am going to say that Arctic and Arctic Silver are two completely different brands.
With that out of the way, the Arctic Silver 5 is another one of the most popular thermal pastes on the market. In fact, this thermal paste has been around for so many years and yet people still recommend it to this day.
So, what is so special about the Arctic Silver 5 Thermal paste? Well, its main difference is that it comes with 99.9% Silver compound which is known to be highly thermally conductive.
It is definitely one of its main selling points given that the performance of this thermal paste is pretty good.
Now, despite its key ingredient, the Arctic Silver 5 is still considered a Ceramic type of thermal paste, which means that the paste itself is not electrically conductive.
However, even though this is the case, the manufacturer still wants you to avoid spilling the thermal paste over to your motherboard as the compound is still capacitive. This means that, though not entirely electrically conductive, it can still conduct a little bit of electricity, especially when it comes into contact with metal components.
Now, it is a given that the performance the Arctic Silver 5 is one of the best out there, but it is important for you to know one thing: the thermal compound needs to settle first.
What I mean by this is that the thermal paste needs to settle for a couple of hours or even days before you can unlock its full potential. This isn’t really something of a major concern since all thermal pastes do require a settling time, but this thermal paste just requires a bit more time to settle than others.
If you want to have a thermal grease from a trusted brand, then the Arctic Silver 5 definitely fits the bill.
Noctua NT-H1 Review
Pros: Great performance right after application, Long-term stability, Easy to apply
You’ve probably heard of Noctua as they are one of the prominent companies that create amazing air coolers. So, it is no surprise that they, too, want to join in when it comes to creating thermal pastes.
The Noctua NT-H1 is a thermal compound that is deemed to be one of the best performing out there.
A lot of people praise this thermal compound to have maximum performance even on first use. What I mean by this is that whenever you stress your CPU or GPU immediately after applying the TIM, it instantly performs really well without that really long settling time.
The Noctua NT-H1 is a bit on the thicker side and it is a bit dry compared to the other thermal pastes I have mentioned. And, since this is a ceramic-based thermal paste, it doesn’t conduct electricity which is pretty good, especially for beginner PC builders.
When pitted against the ever-popular Arctic Silver 5 above, the Noctua NT-H1 performed better by beating the aforementioned TIM by a maximum of 5 degrees Celsius, which is a sizable difference if you ask me.
Even though the thermal compound is thick and dry, I am quite surprised that the Noctua NT-H1 is easy to clean using a 70% Isopropyl alcohol.
Whether you’re going to use this on your next CPU or GPU, the Noctua NT-H1 performs admirably well right off the bat.
Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra Review
Pros: Great thermal conductivity, Promises a cool CPU/GPU
Cons: Has a set application process, Expensive, Doesn’t work with Aluminum heatsinks
As you can see from the previous recommendations, all of them are of the ceramic type which although not electrically conductive, still falls a bit behind when pitted against a metal-type thermal paste.
The Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra is a certified metal thermal paste and is actually made of different metals such as Gallium, Rhodium, Indium, Silver, Zinc, and Bismuth. All of these metals are guaranteed to be highly thermal conductive which, as you’ve probably guessed about now, will do wonders when it comes to the cooling performance of your coolers.
Now given its ingredient list and how it naturally performs, the Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra blew me away with its performance. The temperature difference is huge at about 8-10C on average compared to the other three I’ve mentioned. This is after running Prime 95 Large FFT for about thirty minutes.
Do note that mileage may vary depending on your cooler, but for thermal paste’s performance, it is definitely on top of the echelon.
Despite its highly impressive performance, there is a huge con that might put off potential buyers and that is its intricate application process.
Where the previous thermal pastes only require you to put a small amount of thermal compound on the processor or the GPU, the Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra actually has a 3-step process you need to do to ensure that you apply the TIM correctly.
First, you need to clean the surface of the CPU or the GPU with a 70% Isopropyl alcohol (for those of you who do not have it on-hand, the product comes with two alcohol wipes that you can use).
Next, use a cleaning pad to further clean the surface of the CPU or the GPU. This is to ensure that there are no impurities prior to the application of the thermal compound.
And lastly, you can then put a small amount on the surface. But wait, you also need to spread it evenly using the included brush. The brush is, well, too small and it can bend easily. So, you need to be extra careful. Also, since this is a metal-type thermal paste, do not let it come into contact with your motherboard’s other metal components.
After the somewhat tedious application process, the Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra can now be used and you can then mount your cooler of choice.
Another downside to this product is that it is way more expensive than the previous recommendations. But, its performance is topnotch that the price is warranted.
Lastly, this thermal paste is only compatible with copper or silver-based heatsinks as the compound reacts with aluminum heatsinks, insulating it in the process.
If you want a really good metal-type thermal paste, the Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra stands out among the rest.
CoolerMaster High-Performance Thermal Paste Review
Pros: Very easy to apply, on par with some of the best thermal pastes in terms of performance
Cons: The paste is a bit runny
CoolerMaster is a company that’s known to provide amazing PC chassis, power supplies, and coolers. They’ve even created a great budget air cooler in the form of the Hyper 212 EVO.
Since the company has experience creating coolers (and some good ones at that), they’ve also ventured into creating its accompaniment: the thermal paste.
The Cooler Master High-Performance Thermal Paste is, well, a good performing thermal compound that can remove the heat from your CPU or GPU effectively.
This is a metal-type thermal paste in that it has some metal oxides that are proven to remove heat from one source (this being your CPU or GPU) to another) this being your cooler.
Anyway, this thermal paste also comes in a syringe packaging which allows you to easily dispense it to the surface of your graphics card or processor.
Although I do have to say that this TIM is a bit runnier than the others, which means that you need to be extra careful when putting it on the surface of the CPU, for example.
It also comes with an included spreader so you can spread the thermal compound evenly on the surface, though, it is not really necessary.
Performance is on par with most of the ceramic-type thermal pastes, although for a metal-based one, it underperformed by a couple of degrees. Not too much, but it is something to keep in mind.
I am just surprised why this thermal paste is $1 more expensive than the other ceramic-type thermal compounds. I think it is due to it being a metal-type thermal paste?
Anyway, the Cooler Master High-Performance Thermal Paste is one that you can consider getting if you want a quality thermal paste.
Applying the Thermal Paste: Which Method is the Best?
Now that you know some of the best thermal pastes on the market, it is now time for you to know how to apply it.
A lot of people make the mistake of putting a lot of thermal compound onto the surface of your CPU or GPU because they think this is the best way to go.
But, less is more when it comes to applying the thermal paste. There are a number of methods you can apply it, but which ones are actually the best?
Below are just some of the best methods you can use to apply the thermal paste:
Probably the most popular method when applying the thermal paste. Place a pea-sized amount of thermal paste on the IHS of your processor or graphics card and then mount your cooler.
Vertical Line Method
Used primarily on Intel CPUs, the vertical line method is done simply by squeezing a small amount of the TIM and then slowly drawing a vertical line (do not go beyond the surface of the IHS).
This method in applying thermal paste is where you will create a circle using the compound. Do note that the circle should be thin so as to not introduce too much thermal paste on the IHS.
Thermal Paste Tips
Always clean first before applying- The first thing you need to do before applying the thermal paste is to actually clean the surface or the IHS or Integrated Heat Spreader (that metal part that you see on the processor). Clean it using Isopropyl or Rubbing alcohol. Also, use tissue paper as it is a non-conductive material.
Less is More
As previously mentioned, less is more when it comes to applying thermal paste. The more thermal paste you put in, the crappier the performance since the excess thermal paste acts as an insulator. Therefore, it retains heat rather than dissipating it.
Too less is bad
On the other hand, too little thermal paste is also bad for your CPU or GPU. What is the recommended size, you ask? Just refer to the previous section as I’ve highlighted three of the best methods of applying the thermal compound.
When applying thermal paste, make sure that you do not spill over the paste to the other components on the motherboard. This is because some thermal pastes are electrically conductive and it can short other electrical components.
Thermal pastes generally last long. So, when do you need to reapply it? Well, you should reapply the thermal paste when you’re reseating or installing your cooler. Also, as a general rule of thumb, change the thermal paste at least a year after initial application.
Now that you’ve finally reached the article’s conclusion, I am pretty sure that you know the reasons why you will need a thermal paste.
As previously mentioned, your CPU/GPU cooler might not come into close contact with the IHS or the Integrated Head Spreader. That is because the cooler might have a concave of convex design.
Because of such designs, it leaves microscopic gaps that create problems with heat dissipation as these gaps create air bubbles that make hot air harder to remove.
That is where the thermal paste comes in. It fills in those gaps nicely and coupled with its heat conductive ingredients, is a perfect accompaniment to your cooler since it maximizes heat dissipation.Although there are a lot of thermal pastes on the market, I’ve narrowed down the best five so that you do not have to waste any more time scouring the internet for information about the best of the best.
Although there are a lot of thermal pastes on the market, I’ve narrowed down the best five so that you do not have to waste any more time scouring the internet for information about the best of the best.