An effective and efficient cooling system is as important as your PC’s performance. After all, it can either make or break your computer’s components. A good cooling system can prolong the life of your other hardware and optimize your PC’s gaming capabilities, while a half-assed cooling setup may not only slow your computer down but potentially damage its parts.
A good cooling system consists of CPU and case fans, but a carefully selected thermal paste is very important. Also called thermal compound, thermal grease, or conductive grease, a thermal paste is a heat-conducting substance that is applied to the heatsink to improve the heat conduction between it and the CPU.
- Things To Look For in a Thermal Paste
- The Best Thermal Pastes
- FAQs About Thermal Pastes
- Final Thoughts
Things To Look For in a Thermal Paste
Most of the time, new builders tend to overlook the importance of a thermal paste. This is understandable because most coolers already come with a pre-applied thermal compound. However, they don’t last forever.
Thermal pastes dry out and lose their effectiveness after around a year. Therefore you have to change it annually to keep your heatsink’s conductivity at its best. Here are the features you should look for when buying a thermal paste.
Not all thermal pastes are the same. They come in various ingredients and components that determine how effective they can be for your system. For example, a liquid metal thermal paste can reach 150℃ while some types of paste can withstand up to 300℃.
The composition of a thermal paste can determine the most important factors we should consider when buying one, like its thermal and electrical conductivity, its durability, and its viscosity. Here are the most-used ingredients in thermal compounds and how they differ from each other.
- Metal-based. These are the most effective heat conductors. Especially because of the presence of silver and aluminum, which are prime heat-conducting metals. Therefore metal-based pastes are very good in keeping temperature fluctuations in check.
However, they are also very electrically conductive, which means they can potentially damage your parts, so you have to take extra caution when applying this kind of paste.
- Ceramic-based. These compounds don’t contain metal, which means they are not conductive. They are safe to use and can provide great results despite the cheap price. The disadvantage with ceramic thermal compounds is they are not as good at quelling temperature as their metal-based cousins.
- Carbon-based. These pastes incorporate carbon particles as their main material. Carbon is non-conductive, and it does the heat conduction part pretty well too. The safety of your parts, paired with decent viscosity, makes them very efficient.
- Silicon-based. These are the pre-applied thermal pads that are very easy to use. However, they don’t offer the same effectiveness as other types of thermal pastes. Cheap and easy but not as efficient.
- Liquid Metal-based. These are the most expensive of the bunch. But spending extra would be worth it with the cooling effect it offers. This is the most effective type of thermal paste, and only the most tech-geek people use it. So if you want to treat your PC like a baby, go with this one.
Determining which type you want to use depends on how quickly your CPU heats up and how much you’re willing to spend. To help you choose the best one for you, here are other factors you should consider.
A thermal paste should do its primary job, transfer heat from the CPU, and disperse it to the heatsink. The capacity to conduct heat from one surface to another is called thermal conductivity, and it is measured in W/mK where a higher number is always better.
Non metallic compounds usually have a conductivity of 4-10W/mK, while liquid thermal pastes can reach as high as 70W/mK. Do you see the huge difference now?
This is an important factor, especially when you are applying the thermal paste on your own. Viscosity refers to the thickness or consistency of the compound. The thicker pastes are used to stick the heat sink compound to the processor.
Meanwhile, compounds with lower viscosity like the liquid ones can squeeze through the CPU easily but tend to slide to the motherboard if you apply too much. So you have to be careful when using this type of thermal paste.
Some thermal pastes can be pricey, so you have to make sure that you get your money’s worth. Although more isn’t always better, you would definitely appreciate having an extra amount of paste to spare if ever you make a mistake.
The Best Thermal Pastes
Now that you know what things you should consider in a thermal paste, it’s time to select which one to buy. You don’t have to dig the internet to find the best one for you. We’ve got you covered. Based on the criteria we mentioned above, we’ve carefully compiled 5 of the best thermal pastes available in the market.
Arctic Mx-5 (20 G) – Quality Thermal Paste
Let’s start off the list with one of the most efficient thermal compounds we found. The ARCTIC MX-5 is a carbon-based thermal paste that gives outstanding results with high thermal conductivity and lasting long-term performance.
ARCTIC MX-5 can fill the smallest of dents and cavities in your CPU and cooler floors with carbon microparticles that ensure efficient heat dissipation resulting in high thermal conductivity and keeping your system always cool.
Because ARCTIC MX-5 is carbon-based, it is non-conductive or capacitive. This takes short circuits and discharges out of the picture, so you don’t have to worry about damaging or corroding your parts.
Its viscosity also allows easy application even for beginners, keeping air pockets and leaking to the minimum.
This thermal compound also has non-drying and non-bleeding properties making sure that the quality performance you get at first would last for a long time. This pack comes in 20g, and with its versatile properties, you can easily apply it to almost any surface without fear and hesitation.
Overall the ARCTIC MX-5 is a very solid all-around choice, especially if you’re new to this stuff.
Syy 2 Grams CPU Paste Thermal Compound
SYY is a metal-free and non-conductive thermal paste that ensures that there would be no short circuits and adds to the safety of your CPU, VGA card, and their components. This is also a carbon-based compound which has a very high thermal conductivity of 15.7W/mK.
It can diminish the heat of your PC parts without compromising safety. Because carbon serves as its main component, it can contact any metal pins, and you don’t have to worry about damaging your precious hardware.
What sets it apart from other thermal pastes besides its insane thermal conductivity is its very high-temperature range. It can be used with temperatures as low as -30°C all the way up to 280°C
It also offers easy application with its balanced viscosity. Not too thick and not too thin, giving beginners an easy time using this paste for the first time. With its thermal conductivity and efficiency, it rivals even liquid metal pastes, which are considered to be the best for heavy-duty devices. But it comes at half the price of premium thermal compounds.
A cheap alternative that offers almost the same results. Overall, the SYY thermal paste is one of the best buys you can get.
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut Thermal Grease
The Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut Thermal Grease is designed for extremely demanding applications and the needs of the overlocking community. It is a silicon-based thermal compound that incorporates aluminum to get better thermal performance and lower operating temperatures.
It is specially made to withstand high temperatures as it can withstand up to 80° Celsius. It has an extremely high thermal conductivity of 12.5K/mK, ensuring that your system stays “kryo” or cold.
It has aluminium and zinc oxide nanoparticles allowing efficient thermal conduction between your CPU, GPU, LEDs, heat dissipation fin plates, and fans. The consistency of this compound is just enough to give you an easy time when applying it. Plus, it comes with a specialized syringe and spatula for spreading the grease easily.
This is another great option when you’re looking for a high-quality thermal paste.
Arctic Mx-4 Thermal Compound
Arctic has been one of the most well-known and trusted brands when it comes to thermal compounds. So you can guarantee quality when it’s their product. The ARCTIC MX-4 is no exception, it still has that high-quality Arctic formula that has been trusted for a long time.
The ARCTIC MX-4 is a carbon-based thermal paste that offers high thermal conductivity and safety for your CPU, GPU, Graphics card, and other components. Without metal particles, you can be sure that there would be no short circuits that may damage your computer.
What makes the ARCTIC MX-4 better than metal and silicone compounds is the fact that it doesn’t compromise over time. It offers a long-lasting performance of up to 8 years! If it’s your first time applying thermal pastes, you don’t have to worry because it has the right consistency for easy application.
With high thermal conductivity, safety, long-lasting performance, and easy application, you really get good value.
Noctua Nt-H1 3.5G, Pro-grade Thermal Compound Paste
Noctua’s NT-H1 is a renowned hybrid thermal compound that offers great heat conductivity and long-term stability. At room temperature, you can store it for up to three years, and you can use it on your CPU for five years. It is one of the favorites of overclockers and PC enthusiasts because of its capabilities and long shelf life.
But what we like most about the Noctua NT-H1 is the ease of use. This is probably the easiest thermal paste to apply. No need to worry about it leaking, you don’t even have to spread it. All you have to do is put a small amount of the compound on the CPU, and you’re good to go.
It’s very easy to clean as well. No alcohol or solvent is required, you only need a tissue or a paper towel and a moist cloth. Even a kid can easily apply this paste with instructions. SO we strongly recommend this for first-timers.
FAQs About Thermal Pastes
Now you know a lot about thermal pastes. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions that you might want to know the answer to as well.
How Long Do Thermal Pastes Take To Expire?
Manufacturers give their products somewhere around 3-5 years of lifespan. If you want longevity, then go for carbon-based compounds, which offer a longer performance of up to 8 years.
How Much Thermal Paste Should I Use/Apply?
Most of the time, you will only need a small amount. You can use a pea-sized amount and allow the heatsink to spread it over the CPU evenly. When using a liquid compound, you can use a paper-thin layer over the CPU to avoid leaking.
Choosing a great thermal paste can be quite tricky, especially for first-timers. But with this guide, you can easily find what compound is best for you. Each and every option we have put in this list is guaranteed to satisfy you with its performance and results.
Your confusing search is over, and now all you have to do is select which one fits your budget. If you have extra money to spend, then we recommend going for it since it’s your PC we’re talking about here—time to give it the love it deserves.