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Many PC gamers are trying to cool down their GPUs and CPUs by purchasing a thermal paste without adequately informing themselves. Before you lock in a purchase, you should know a few things first to make sure that you’ve got the best thermal paste for your gaming rig.
Buyers Guide For The Best Thermal Paste
Thermal Paste Types
Here are the main kinds of thermal paste or thermal compound that you will typically find in the current market:
This type of thermal compound uses ceramic powder or metal oxides that are suspended through a silicone compound. They offer great performance and are often cheaper compared to their Carbon and Metal counterparts.
The metal oxides that are commonly used for these thermal compounds include Aluminum Oxide, Aluminum Nitride, Boron Nitride, Silicon Dioxide, and Zinc Oxide. These metal oxides will greatly influence the performance and quality of a thermal paste, along with a few other particles. Silicone/Ceramic thermal compounds have low electrical conductivity and are often gray to white in appearance.
The thermal conductivity of the compounds that fall under this type is very good, and will always be a good option for anyone on a tight budget. However, we recommend that you avoid thermal pastes made from pure silicone since they will only give you subpar thermal conducting performance.
If you want the best thermal paste in terms of performance, a metal-based thermal compound is the one you’re looking for. Heatsink compounds that fall under this type use metal particles as their filler, resulting in high thermal conductivities.
Silver and aluminum are often the most used particles for metal-based thermal compounds and are typically expensive because of the materials that it uses (the former being especially pricey). Metal thermal pastes are generally gray in color or sport a silver sheen.
This is most suited for those who want a high-performance for intensive gaming or for people who regularly overclock their PC system. However, you should avoid using this if you’re current rig features sub-zero overclocking using liquid nitrogen as the coolant.
The biggest disadvantage of this thermal compound type is they are very electrical capacities and conductivities, so they require extra care when implementing them into your rig. Doing a shoddy job might short-circuit your components and damage them. These thermal pastes also have an average of 200 hour cure time, which is very long compared to the other types.
These thermal compounds have a similar performance to their metal-based counterparts. These commonly use graphite powder, diamond powder, ceramic powder, and graphite oxide as their fillers, and usually sport a gray appearance.
They have a thermal conductivity that’s almost as high as thermal metal compounds, and are generally just as expensive, especially if you compare their prices with silicone/ceramic compounds. One upside of the carbon thermal paste is that they are electrically non-capacitive and non-conductive, unlike metal thermal pastes.
- Hybrid Thermal Paste
A hybrid thermal compound will contain a mixture of particles within one paste. For instance, this type of paste can use a mixture of metal particles, metal oxides, and a few undisclosed materials that are unique to the manufacturer who made it.
These compounds will generally offer great performance with little to no curing time, and they usually have a grayish coloring. Most are expensive but are still used by many overclockers and gaming enthusiasts because of their performance.
Thermal conductivity is one of the most important aspects of a thermal paste. Compounds with high thermal conductivity are more desirable because they can transfer the heat produced by your PC components to your cooling system. With poor thermal conductivity, most of the heat will stay put, and the temperatures of your components will climb to unsafe levels.
Different compounds will have varying levels of thermal conductivity. For example, most metallic compounds have a conductivity range of 4 W/mK to 10 W/mK, while liquid-type compounds can have thermal conductivities as high as 70W/mK.
Density And Viscosity
The density and viscosity of a thermal paste can make its application process much easier, where compounds can be easily squeezed throughout your component without making a mess. Liquid compounds have far less density and viscosity than normal thermal pastes and should be handled more carefully.
Opting For Liquid Metal
Liquid metal compounds have very high thermal conductivity, making them very suitable for transferring heat between your components and a cooling system. However, they can only be applied to a de-lidded CPU by putting the compound on the chip directly. And some liquid pastes will have high silicone content to keep their alter their viscosity, which negatively impacts their thermal conductivity.
Applying Thermal Paste Properly
It can be tough to pick the appropriate applying technique for thermal paste, but any method will work well as long as the viscosity and quantity of the compound are correct for the kind of application you’re using. Here are some of the methods you can employ:
Liquid thermal pastes such as Revoltec’s Thermal Grease Nano are easily applied with brushes, making them very easy to use. However, liquid thermal pastes come with their own unique set of problems. As mentioned before, most of them have high silicon contents that negatively impact their thermal conductivity.
Generally speaking, most liquid thermal pastes will give subpar performance compared to higher viscosity compounds. There is a middle ground between these pastes in the form of semi-liquid compounds, but take care not to wind it up too much when using the brush method.
Many individuals make the mistake of adding too much paste during the application, and this results in the product oozing out from the sides of your PC component. This can have a very detrimental effect if you’re paste has high electrical conductivity because any surrounding hardware will be damaged.
Placing a strip of paste between your components will prevent any oozing from happening. Try to be frugal with your application, and don’t worry about any bare spots. The heat spreader’s edges don’t contribute to thermal transfer significantly, so having no thermal paste on them has little to no effect on performance.
If your cooler has a backplate and it applies significant amounts of mounting pressure, this will make the paste spread further, so be sure to take this into account. Generally speaking, low-viscosity pastes and high mounting pressure heat sinks will make your thermal compound spread even more.
The blob method is a good choice for both beginners and experts, and it works with even the most high-viscosity compounds, assuming that you’ve chosen the best thermal paste that applies good mounting pressure. Applying to small an amount might hurt thermal conductivity because the hot spot won’t be fully covered, resulting in an overheated component.
What kind of cooler you have should be taken into account as well. A heat sink sporting a backplate that’s screwed down will be able to tolerate a smaller paste application compared to say an Intel push-pin sink or an AMD hook-lever system.
If you’re using a high-viscosity paste, you need a cooler that can apply additional pressure, and it’s fine to use a bit more compound since it has fewer chances of overspreading. A general blob size you can use can lie within the range of 2mm and 4mm in diameter. Any more than that and you risk overspreading.
How Do I Know If My Thermal Paste Is Correctly Applied?
This is an excellent question to ask yourself after you’ve finished applying your thermal compound. Often times, people will do dubious tests they’ve found on the internet to test the accuracy of their application. If you’re using a benchmark that completely ignores the differences in fan speed before and after application, or doesn’t take other onboard component’s temperatures into account, there’s a high chance that it’s faulty.
- A Change In Data Values Aside From Temperature
Unless you’re using a water-cooling system for your rig, which doesn’t require fans, there are control mechanisms in places such as Nvidia’s GPU Boost or AMD’s PowerTune that will affect clock rate, fan speed, and voltage regulation when you’re GPU’s thermal behavior is changed.
So, for example, if you’ve measured the temperature of your newly pasted GPU and found them the same as it was before, it’s possible that the card is holding higher boost frequencies over longer periods of time, or maybe its fans are rotating much slower because it doesn’t have to compensate as much. Lower GPU temps usually mean a reduction in fan activity, often resulting in higher thermal loads for your other PC components.
- Burn-in Time
Each paste will have a different “burn-in” time where it will reach peak performance after this time period passes. This is why we’ve let our pastes operate over 24 hours before testing to ensuring that we’re getting their maximum performance.
- Final Word Regarding Thermal Application
In general, we prefer using the blob method for thermal application and tighten the heat sink’s screws in a crosswise manner, but choosing the right paste for your rig is often the more important task.
For a brief recap, using a blob, the size of a lentil is already enough, and it’s fine when a little bit of the paste leaks on the sides after you’ve tightened the screws. After the burn-in time is over, double-check the screws in case they need re-tightening.
Removing and Re-applying the Thermal Paste
If you’re components already have paste in them that need replacing, you need 99% isopropyl alcohol to wipe it off. This is also an effective tool for cleaning any dirt off your heatsink, processor surfaces, and CPU.
Take care not to pour it on your components while you’re cleaning accidentally, though. Apply it to a cloth, and use that to wipe down your components. There usually isn’t a specific time frame where you need to replace your thermal paste or your CPU’s cooler for that matter. Most will last you one or two years without seeing a decrease in performance. Overall, thoroughly cleaning your PC system can be more beneficial in keeping the heat down compared to applying a new thermal paste.
If you have spare time, you can change your thermal compound after you’ve finished a cleaning session. There’s no need, though, unless it’s been more than half a decade Now that we’ve tackled everything you need to know about thermal compounds, here are the best thermal paste units that we’ve encountered during our extensive testing to help narrow down your list of potential choices.
The Best Thermal Paste Units Of 2019
Arctic Silver 5
This thermal paste is one of the most advanced compounds you will find in the current market, offering a high-density product that can easily be squeezed out from its tube. Owing much to its micronized silver material, it offers efficient and consistent thermal transfer performance. Micronized silver has the capacity to transfer the heat from a component efficiently, even during demanding or high-power performance.
Applying this paste might take a bit of time because it can only perform at its best a few hours after being placed, leaving it some time to settle. The actual application process is pretty easy, and beginner-friendly since this thermal paste offers much in terms of safety and convenience for its users.
Arctic Silver 5’s silver particle material provides excellent thermal conductivity owing to its elemental properties and particle size. This metallic substance can be easily mixed with liquid nitrogen, and it’s fully compressible in fluid form, making it versatile on where you can apply it. The main design of this compound is to provide easy use for good performance by enhancing your processor’s long-term stability. So you don’t have to worry about replacing this application for a long time.
It is also has a break-in period that’s designed to change the consistency of the paste to increase performance automatically. One this period is finished, you don’t have to turn off your computer to see the change in temperature. This paste has very low electrical conductivity, so the components of your PC are safe in that regard.
We have tested this using different kinds of processors, and it offers consistently good performance among each of them without any issues arising. It has a thermal conductivity rate of 8.9 W/mK, so it can be used by a wide range of users.
The MX-4 is definitely one of the best thermal paste compounds available, being made from carbon microparticles that significantly improves the pastes’ thermal conductivity and efficacy.
This paste is also very beginner-friendly, and you don’t have to worry about high electric conductivity since the majority of this paste isn’t composed of metallic materials. It only uses a small number of fine silver particles to increase its durability while maintaining a low electric conductivity. It doesn’t have any required settling time as well, unlike most thermal pastes in the market.
It can be used to connect every pin on your CPU with its soft and smooth consistency that some pastes lack. It comes in a 0.64-ounce container, which is more than enough for multiple thermal paste applications. The container also has a very simple design that reduces the risk of spills or over application. This is a solid choice if you want a high-performing thermal paste that will last you a long time.
It gives a high conductivity rate value of 8.5 W/mK, owing to the properties of its carbon-based material that can give superconductivity. The carbon compound used by this paste also enhances overall performance. It is compatible with liquid, nitrogen, and air coolers in case you have those cooling setups in your rig.
Definitely one of the best thermal paste compounds, the NT-H1 will help keep your system cool even during heavy use and demanding performance. It provides a reliable thermal bond between your CPU and its heat sink’s contact base. This hybrid compound offers high-level cooling without the risk of electrical conduction. You will also be able to witness its performance much faster, owing to the fact that it doesn’t need a burn-in period.
This paste uses a unique combination of microparticles to give an overall better performance, essentially a hybrid that allows for long-term stability and minimal thermal resistance. The paste is composed of thicker particles that enable faster drying times and easier application. With a lifespan average of two years, you won’t have to replace this tube any time soon.
The application process is quick and simple; you just put a small amount of the paste right in the middle of the heat spreader or processer, then tightly press the cooler right above the CPU. It is compatible with every material and specifically well suited with copper and aluminum coolers, and it delivers well even in lower temperatures.
Cooler Master MasterGel Maker Nano
The MasterGel Maker Nano is designed to give impressive levels of thermal conductivity for demanding chipsets and CPUs. Unlike other thermal pastes, this compound isn’t electrically conductive, effectively bypassing any short-circuiting accidents while providing an extra measure of protection even with long-term use.
It’s made with diamond nanoparticles that that lessens its weight, makes it easier to spread and removes any chances of erosion during application. It also has the appropriate amount of silicon to enhance its viscosity and improve spreadability. This unique combination of materials that are mainly composed of carbon particles (diamond) produces a paste that has high thermal conductivity.
It has a very smooth texture that makes application easier, and it produces a thermal conductivity rate of 11 W/mK. It can also be used in cooling systems that use liquid nitrogen, so this paste has decent versatility.
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut Thermal Grease
If you want impressive cooling performance that will enable you to test the limits of your CPU without overheating and overclocking, the Kryonaut paste is an excellent choice. This past is grease-based and fully capable of delivering optimal heat transfer from your CPU to your cooler. It has very low electric conductivity, so you can spread this paste over your processor without worrying about short circuits.
Its container comes in the shape of a tiny syringe that’s perfect for applying even in cramped corners and spaces. This paste is silicon-based, though, so it may be a bit harder to spread and apply. The strip method of application is suitable for this paste to make spreading a bit easier compared to the blob method. Remember to apply it gently and spread it over your component’s heat resistant sport.
If applied correctly, this thermal paste can lower the temperature of your component by 10 degrees or more depending on your heat sink, cooler, and other CPUs in your system. It features a thermal conductivity rate of 12.5 W/mK.
Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut Liquid Metal
This liquid metal compound offers maximum thermal conductive performance, making it one of the best thermal paste compounds in the market if applied correctly to the right system. It can easily prevent your CPU or system from overheating or overclocking due to demanding games or drawn-out sessions.
With a thermal conductivity rate of 73 W/mK, you’d be hard-pressed to find a thermal compound capable of reaching that number. While it is liquid-based, it’s viscous enough to reduce the risk of overspreading or spilling, making it a little easier to handle and apply. The syringe used is small and contains up to a gram of the compound, and it’s designed in a way that makes it safe and easy to use even in cramped spaces.
One minor drawback to being a liquid metal compound is its high electric conductivity, so take care not to place it in any other component apart from the one you’re applying it to. And it’s also not suitable for compressor-based or liquid nitrogen cooling systems, but it works excellent with air coolers.
Getting the wrong thermal paste for your PC and incorrectly applying it will have detrimental consequences, and it would have been better if you didn’t use it in the first place. However, picking the best thermal paste for your gaming rig will significantly improve performance and lower the temperatures to safe levels.