Thermal paste, also known as thermal compound or interface material, improves heat transfer between the central processing unit (CPU) and the heatsink. It is one of the most critical components of a computer’s cooling system. It is recommended to be implemented when installing a CPU cooler or replacing the heatsink or the CPU.
But does a CPU need thermal paste? While it may not be a strict requirement, the use of thermal paste has its fair share of benefits in certain situations. In this article, we will go through the reasons that make the thermal paste a necessity for the CPU and provide some answers for those considering using it.
The most apparent reason for the importance of thermal paste is its role in providing the necessary cooling to the CPU. The CPU is one of the most complex components of a computer and thus produces a lot of heat, which the heatsink can dissipate quickly.
The contact between the CPU and the heatsink is essential for adequate cooling, but it is recommended not to put their weight on the CPU because of how heavy it can be. The two components also form tiny gaps, where excess air gets trapped and limits cooling. Thermal paste can help fill gaps and create the needed contact between the CPU and the heatsink.
Regardless, it is essential to note that thermal paste is not the sole solution for cooling the CPU. It is still recommended to add further cooling measures to improve temperatures.
How to Apply Thermal Paste on a CPU?
Applying thermal paste on a CPU is one of the most confusing processes for those new to building their PCs. But worry not; the steps below will help you with it without any issues:
- Clean the CPU and the heatsink. Use a lint-free cloth and isopropyl or rubbing alcohol to clean any dust or debris. Be sure to dry both components before proceeding further.
- Place a small amount of thermal paste on the center of the CPU. A pea-sized amount is recommended.
- Install the heatsink on the CPU using the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure to apply it properly so that there’s a fair amount of contact between the CPU and the heatsink. Screw the heatsink accordingly to the instructions.
- Power on the computer and test the CPU and its temperatures to see if the heatsink is properly functioning. If the CPU is still running at a high temperature, it may be a good idea to reapply the thermal paste.
Don’t forget to be extra careful with the implementation of these steps. Incorrectly applying thermal paste or installing the heatsink with errors can result in poor cooling and potentially damage the CPU.
Are There Any Alternatives for Thermal Paste?
The good news is, thermal paste is not the only option for improving the connectivity between the CPU and the heatsink. There are some alternatives, with a few arguably offering improved performance. Some of the most popular thermal paste alternatives are:
- Thermal pads: These are made of a soft, flexible material that can be placed between the CPU and heatsink to improve thermal conductivity.
- Thermal tape: These thin, adhesive tapes can improve the thermal conductivity between the CPU and heatsink. They can easily be installed and removed.
- Thermal grease: While many may confuse it with thermal paste, the two have certain differences. Thermal grease is usually classified with a higher thermal conductivity, which is also why it is more expensive but also guarantees a better performance.
The best alternative, however, depends on the specifications of your PC, as well as the intended uses for it. A thermal paste is typically enough for most PCs, but in some cases, stronger or weaker alternatives are recommended.
What are the Best Available Thermal Pastes?
For something as arbitrary as a thermal paste, there are many options to choose from.
Each thermal paste has its facets of uniqueness in terms of both the ingredients and the performance. Selecting the best thermal paste can be tricky, but fret not; we will explore some of the best thermal pastes in the market here.
Here are the best thermal pastes to get in 2023:
- Arctic Silver 5: Arctic Silver 5 is extremely popular for its high thermal conductivity and ease of use. It is made with a mix of silver, aluminum, and other materials that are designed for maximum cooling performance.
- Noctua NT-H1: A thermal paste made for high-end CPUs. It offers some of the highest performances for high-end CPUs. It uses a hybrid compound that features the benefits of both silicone-based and metal-based thermal pastes.
- Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut: A top-tier thermal paste known for its high thermal conductivity and outstanding temperature stability. It is made with a blend of metal oxides.
- Cooler Master MasterGel Maker: Another high-performance thermal paste that is not only high at thermal conductivity but also easy to apply. It is also made with a proprietary blend of metal oxides.
The best CPU, however, will depend on the CPU and the overall PC build itself, as well as the intended use for the PC.
Thermal paste is essential for improving the conductivity between CPU and heatsink.
It is used on the surface of the CPU for filling any microscopic gaps between CPU and heatsink so the two components could have a better contact. The microscopic gaps can trap air between the two components, which can lead to worse performance or even overheating.
While thermal paste is not a strict requirement, it is beneficial for the CPU in most situations, and highly improves the cooling performance of the CPU. Alternatives like thermal pads, thermal tapes, and thermal greases can also be used instead.
It is also a relatively confusing process, so it is recommended to be precise or seek professional assistance.