With a good thermal paste, you can improve the performance of your CPU or GPU, but it is crucial that you use the right kind of product and that you apply it correctly. Using the wrong type of thermal paste and applying it incorrectly can have the opposite effect and make things worse. If you don’t know how to choose the best thermal paste, don’t worry, in this guide we’ll go through the different options available and will also tell you how to apply thermal paste to get optimal results. We’ll start by finding out more about thermal paste and its correct application method.
What is thermal paste?
Thermal paste, thermal compound, heat sink paste, thermal gunk or TIM, as it is also known, is a material that usually has a grayish color and that conducts heat off the CPU or GPU, dissipating it to the heat sink and the cooler. Thanks to this, the temperature is reduced up to 10 degrees, depending on the thermal paste used and your computer’s components. Although some heat sinks and coolers may fit perfectly onto the processor, thermal paste should still be used to fill even the tiniest space in-between, and to get better cooling and performance.
Thermal paste is available in a variety of materials including metal, silicon and ceramic. While the metal thermal paste is considered as the best in terms of heat conduction, it is also capacitive, so it is very important that you avoid spilling it on metal contacts on the motherboard.
The silicon thermal paste is very easy to use and it is already applied to the thermal pads that you can place in the middle of the heat sink and the processor. However, silicon thermal pastes are less effective than other types of thermal compounds.
The ceramic thermal paste is metal free, meaning that it is not capacitive. This kind of thermal paste is popular due to its lower price, ease of use and safety, but it doesn’t offer the same level of temperature decrease as you can get with the metal paste. Still, it provides good results and it is widely used.
It is best to avoid adhesive paste since it sticks to anything you paste together, which could cause issues if you want to replace components at a later stage.
How to apply thermal paste
You can apply thermal paste following different methods and in most cases, the results will be almost the same. The main thing is to apply the right amount of paste. The “pea” or “dot” method is the one used more frequently and it consists in simply pouring the paste onto the middle of the surface. Then the paste is spread evenly while you pressure the heat sink on it. What follows depends on the cooler and how well your PC case manages the airflow.
Another good method to apply the thermal paste to the CPU is to form a vertical line across the surface. Although some people apply the paste forming an X or a spiral, this can be too much and you may end up wasting paste. Regardless of the method you select, make sure that you don’t use too much or too little paste.
There are thermal pastes that include a brush or a similar tool that allows you to evenly spread the compound. However, if you are not using a liquid metal paste, you don’t really need to spread it.
How to remove and re-apply thermal paste
If you need to remove old thermal paste, you can use 99% isopropyl alcohol. This is the easiest and most effective way to remove any remains of paste from the CPU, the heat sink and the processor. You just need to carefully pour some isopropyl alcohol on the area that you want to clean. Allow it to work for a few minutes and then use a piece of cloth to wipe it off.
There is not a set amount of time to take the CPU cooler off, remove the thermal paste and re-apply it. You won’t notice a significant improvement over time by re-applying the paste. Simply cleaning out the PC is actually better. If you want, you can change the heat sink compound whenever you are cleaning the computer, but this is not really necessary, unless it’s been five years or more since you applied it.
The best thermal pastes
|Best Non-Capacitive Thermal Pastes||Arctic MX-4||Carbon-Based|
|Arctic Silver 5||Ceramic|
|Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut||Ceramic|
|Best Liquid Metal Thermal Compound||Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut||Metal|
Now that you have the essential information about thermal pastes, it’s time to check the best options available. The list is organized by categories so you can find a thermal paste that is suitable for your needs. What they have in common is that they all offer high quality and performance.
Non-Capacitive thermal pastes
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut
When it comes to ceramic thermal compounds, the Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut is the best solution hands down. However, it is also one of the most expensive ceramic pastes available and it would be more suitable for advanced PC builders. The paste is worth the high price since it can reduce the temperature between 3 to 4 degrees more than other non-capacitive pastes. The Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut is easy to apply and it is available in 1G and 11.1G versions.
This is an ideal thermal paste for overclocking and while it is drier and thicker than most thermal compounds, it is easy to apply. You don’t need to allow for settling time. The Noctua NT-H1 is a non-capacitive thermal paste that can keep you CPU up to 2 degrees cooler than Artic Mx-4 and is available at a lower price. It is a great option when overclocking.
The Artic MX-4 is a carbon-based thermal paste and apart from being very popular and affordable, it is the best option of its kind. It features a syringe design that makes the application very simple. Since it doesn’t contain metal, it is not electrically conductive. Once you pour the paste, you can place the cooler immediately since it is not necessary to allow time for the paste to settle in. If you are looking for a solution that is suitable for regular use, the Artic MX-4 will get the job done.
Artic Silver 5: 99.9% Silver Thermal Compound
The Artic Silver 5 provides gets ahead in terms of performance (even if only slightly) due to its 99.9% micronized silver. This thermal compound is considered as a ceramic option, but since it contains silver, you need to be careful not to spill it over the PC components. Thanks to the micronized silver, the heat is conducted efficiently, which results in great CPU performance, even under high demands. One thing to keep in mind is that the paste requires some time to settle. It will work at its best after a couple of hours. Although there are some ceramic thermal pastes that have micronized diamonds, it is advisable to avoid them as they can be abrasive and are not particularly effective.
Best liquid metal thermal paste
Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut
The Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut is the right choice for users who want the best thermal compound for CPU and GPU overclocking. Since it is a metal thermal paste (which means that it is electrically capacitive), it is very important to be careful while applying it. It should also be noted that before the application, you need to clean the heat sink scrupulously using isopropyl alcohol. Apply a small amount of paste and evenly spread it using the brush included.
The Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut includes all the tools needed for the application process and you just need to follow the instructions carefully. It is not suitable for aluminium heat sinks since the liquid metal can damage them. This thermal paste can lower the temperature by over 10 degrees, but this depends on the cooler and the heat sink. Thanks to the lower temperatures, you will be able to overclock your GPU/CPU, enjoying improved performance. If you are looking for a solution to boost performance to the highest level, the Thermal Grizzly Conductnaut is the answer.
A high quality thermal paste can improve the performance of your CPU and GPU and it is a good idea to keep this compound handy. The Artic MX-4 offers great value and it is an effective solution. The Noctua NT-H1 and the Artic Silver 5 work well for overclocking and the choice depends on your personal preferences. While the Thermal Grizzly products are more expensive, they are definitely worth the investment if you want to get the best performance. The Kryonaut works well for beginners and the Conductonaut is recommended for users who have previous experience with thermal compounds.