What is thermal paste?

Thermal Paste (otherwise known as compound or thermal interface material) is, as the name suggests, a paste. More specifically, it is found in various parts of your PC. The most common area is between your CPU and the heatsink. However, it is also found on graphics cards between the GPU and the heat sinks. In terms of purchasing thermal paste though, this is normally done for the CPU as not many people replace this on their graphics card as it usually invalidates the warranty.

The purpose of the thermal paste is to act is a bridge between the heatsink and the CPU. By doing so, it minimises the potential for air gaps to form and therefore also increases the potential overall heat reduction by way of transferring it from the chip to the heatsink and fan and is a crucial part of thermal management and computer cooling. In terms of the composition of this paste, there are many components to choose from. Frequently used components are diamond and silver due to them having the highest level of thermal conductivity. The greater this is, the greater the ability of transferring heat away from the chip is. Some are metal based, which means there is also the chance of damage to your components if you get any of it on your motherboard due to them being conductive. Due to this, a lot of people instead opt for a ceramic paste variant instead which isn’t conductive at all. The trade off with this though is that it won’t result in as extreme cooling as metal based compound will. However, when paired with the right cooler you’ll still be able to get great results.

How to apply it

There are numerous ways that this can be applied in terms of patterns. The most common method is one single line, slightly larger than a grain of rice in the middle of the CPU. It should be noted that that both surfaces that the paste will be in contact with should be thoroughly cleaned before application. The best way to do this is to clean these contact points with 91% IPA (isopropyl alcohol) and a lint free towel.

It is important to note though that the thickness of the amount you apply to the CPU should be closely monitored. It isn’t the case that the more that is applied, the better. A grain of rice or a pea sized amount is more than adequate. After this, the heat sink or water block should be applied in such a way that there is even pressure across the entire CPU and it should be perfectly straight and line up with the mounting screws on the motherboard. If it was the case that you made a mistake during this process, it’s much better to clean both parts with IPA and reapply the paste.

Noctua NT-H1

Noctua are more commonly known for their cooling abilities when it comes to fans. However, their NT-H1 thermal compound is a fantastic way to keep your CPU cool.
Not only is it extremely easy to apply, but it works exceptionally well in high end processors. This includes the latest line from AMD: Threadripper. Overclocking is a common process with PC enthusiasts, especially those with an Intel i7 processor. Of course, when it comes to CPU cooling and overclocking, water cooling is usually adopted. However provided the cooler that you pick is able to dissipate the heat properly, your overclocked CPU should be able to run flawlessly. This is also in part thanks to the large presence of micro particles. What this means is that because there are so many of these particles, it increases the surface area of the paste. This in turn allows more heat to be transferred away from the CPU to the CPU cooler and therefore dissipated by the fan on the cooler.

NT-H1 is non-conductive, nor does it cause corrosion. The corrosion aspect can be a problem for those that choose to go down the route of using a water cooling system since there is always the possibility that the water block could be corroded. This is not the case with NT-H1, though. It is perfectly safe to use with copper and aluminium heat sinks for your air cooler and water blocks (should liquid cooling be your desired option).

Its application is extremely easy as the tube comes in the form of a syringe. This allows you to safely and accurately apply your desired amount of compound to ensure you’re getting the correct level of heat transfer. Users should expect up to three years before the need arises for it to be re-applied. However, should the water block or heat sink be removed for any reason then more paste will need to be re-applied.

Arctic Silver 5

A fan favourite is Arctic Silver 5. As the name suggests, it does contain silver and therefore it has a high level of heat conductivity. Some might worry that due to the presence of metal in the paste that it will conduct electricity and therefore may damage their components. However Silver 5 has been manufactured to protect against this whilst at the same time maximising heat.

A unique aspect of Silver 5 is the phase change functionality of it. This is where during the first 200 hours of use, its consistency changes. When it is first used, the heat that it is exposed to causes it to thin down. This allows it to penetrate any small groves that are on the chip which are invisible to the naked eye. During the normal heating process of the PC, the paste will then start to thicken and due to these small groves and imperfections being filled, it means that more heat can be transferred away from the CPU. This is particularly useful for high performance users who are looking for the best possible cooling solutions when they are opting to overclock their system.

As with the Noctua NT-H1, the application is extremely easy. This is also done by way of syringe and it can be properly applied to the desired size. It offers great value for money and it can also be used on your GPU.

Last update on 2020-02-20 As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.