Getting the right thermal paste and properly applying it can significantly improve the temperature and therefore the performance of your CPU or GPU. Just as the wrong kind of paste and a bad appliance method can actually worsen the performance.
Luckily for you, in this buyer’s guide, we’ll go into details about all kinds of thermal compounds that are out there as well as how and how much thermal paste to apply.
This guide is mainly designed to help beginner PC builders and alike, though if you are an experienced user, you may learn something new as well. If not, feel free to share your tips and hints in the comments below.
The 5 Best Thermal Pastes For 2019 – Expert Picks
These are the best thermal pastes for your CPU that you can buy today.
|Best Non-Capacitive Thermal Pastes||Arctic MX-4||Carbon-Based||Easy to apply||Not for OC|
|Noctua NT-H1||Ceramic||Good for OC||None if properly applied|
|Arctic Silver 5||Ceramic||Excellent Performance||Slightly Capacitive|
|Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut||Ceramic||Superior Performance||Expensive|
|Best Liquid Metal Thermal Compound||Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut||Metal||Huge Performance Boost||None if properly applied|
What is Thermal Paste?
Also referred to as the thermal compound, heat sink paste, thermal gunk, or simply TIM, this usually grayish material conducts heat off the CPU or GPU and dissipates it to the heat sink and the cooler. As a result, you can get up to 10 degrees lower temperature depending on the quality of the thermal compound and your PC components.
Even though some heatsinks/coolers may seem to perfectly fit onto your processor, thermal paste is still needed to fill the microscopic space in-between and in turn, improve the overall cooling and performance.
There are different types of thermal paste including silicon, metal, ceramic, and carbon-based. The metal paste is the most effective heat conductor, but it is also capacitive. So, you need to be careful not to spill the paste on metal contacts on the motherboard. We’ll go more into details about metal pastes later on.
Next on the list is the ceramic thermal paste which doesn’t contain any metal and therefore isn’t capacitive. They are much cheaper but won’t give you the same decrease in temperature as the metal paste. However, they are easier and safer to use and still give great results which is why they are most popular.
The silicon thermal pastes are already pre-applied to the thermal pads which you can place between the heatsink and the processor. These are very easy to use but not nearly as effective as the other pastes.
Make sure to avoid the adhesive paste as it permanently sticks whatever you paste together, leaving you in trouble should you decide to replace your cooler, for instance, after a certain time.
How Much Thermal Paste Should I Apply?
There are many different methods to apply the paste and though most of them will give nearly equal results, you should make sure not to put too much or too little paste. Overall, the most popular method is the ‘pea’ or ‘dot’ method where you simply pour paste onto the middle of the surface.
The paste will then evenly spread as you pressure the heat sink on it. The rest is up to your cooler and how well the airflow is managed in your PC case.
Alternatively, another good way to apply the thermal paste to the CPU is in the form of a line, vertically across the surface. Some people put the paste in the form of an ‘X’ or a spiral which is somewhat excessive as you’ll be using more paste than it’s needed. Either way, as long as you don’t put way too much or too little, you’re good to go.
Certain thermal pastes also come with a specific tool such as a brush which you can use to evenly spread the paste. Unless you’re dealing with a liquid metal paste, spreading the compound isn’t really necessary.
Removing and Re-applying the Thermal Paste
If you’re wondering how to remove old thermal paste, the answer is simple – 99% isopropyl alcohol. It’s the single most effective tool for cleaning the bits off the CPU, heatsink, and processor surface.
Simply but carefully pour some of it on the part you’re cleaning, let it do its magic for a few minutes, and then wipe it with a clean piece of cloth.
There isn’t a specific time after which you should take your CPU cooler off, remove the old thermal paste, and apply the new. Truth is, even after a whole year or two, the performance will not decrease at all. In fact, simply cleaning out your PC is more beneficial than re-apply the paste.
So, if you’re bored, you may change the heat sink compound whenever you’re cleaning your computer, but unless it’s been over five years or so, there really is no need.
Well, that’s about everything you need to know about the thermal paste and how to use it. The following thermal compounds have proven best performance in their corresponding categories, continue reading to find out why and which one will fit your needs.
Best Non-Capacitive Thermal Pastes In 2019
Arctic MX-4: Best Carbon-Based Thermal Paste
The Arctic MX-4 is one of the most popular heat sink compounds. It’s cheap and easy to apply due to its practical syringe design. Moreover, it doesn’t consist any metal so it’s not electrically conductive. The moment you pour the paste, you’ll be able to place the cooler as the paste doesn’t require any settling time.
Although the Arctic MX-4 does the job almost flawlessly for the regular use, overclockers will still need something a little bit stronger for that extra push.
Noctua NT-H1: Great Thermal Paste for Overclocking
In comparison to the Arctic MX-4, the Noctua NT-H1 can keep your CPU up to 2° cooler. The Noctua NT-H1 application process is rather easy even though the paste is drier and thicker than the usual thermal compounds. Furthermore, it also requires no settling time.
The Noctua NT-H1 TIM is a bit it cheaper than the Arctic MX-4, but it also contains less paste though still plenty – enough for over 15 applications. It conducts heat very well even at high CPU loads and it’s not capacitive.
Arctic Silver 5: 99.9% Silver Thermal Compound
An excellent alternative to the previous thermal pastes is the Arctic Silver 5 with a slightly better performance thanks to its 99.9% micronized silver. Regardless of its silver compound, it’s still considered as a ceramic TIM, though the manufacturer still urges you to be careful not to spill it over the PC components.
The micronized silver efficiently conducts heat making the CPU work great even at higher and more demanding performance. However, the paste takes a bit longer to settle in, meaning that it will do its best only after a few hours have passed. Nothing critical, just something to keep in mind.
There are certain ceramic TIMs on the market which feature micronized diamonds. We recommend you avoid these as they’re abrasive and the difference in performance is either nonexistent or not worth it.
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut: Best High-End Ceramic TIM
The Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut is the best non-capacitive thermal grease out there. It’s also one of the most expensive pastes. Priced twice as much as the Noctua NT-H1 yet it contains only 1G of paste, the Thermal Grizzly is aimed only at hardcore PC builders.
Although pricey, the paste delivers what it promises. With 12.5W/mk it’s the most thermally conductive ceramic paste and it doesn’t conduct electricity at all. It requires no settling time, it’s easy to apply, and provides you with up to 3-4° lower temperature than the Arctic Silver 5 and Noctua NT-H1.
If properly applied, the TIM will be good for 3-4 applications max. You can also get the Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut 11.1G version which is more cost-efficient in the long run.
Best Liquid Metal Thermal Compound For 2019
Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut: Best Thermal Paste for GPU and CPU Overclocking in 2019
The metal thermal pastes require a bit more expertise and caution to apply, and that is not just because they are electrically capacitive. Firstly, the heatsink needs to be thoroughly cleaned by isopropyl alcohol before the paste can be applied.
Then, you need to apply very little paste and spread it evenly with the provided brush. Luckily, the Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut comes with all the tools that make the application process as easy as possible; simply follow the instructions.
Keep in mind that you must not use it on aluminum heatsinks as the liquid metal can cause damage to it and leave black stains.
Depending on your cooler, heatsink, and the rest of your computer rig, the Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut thermal grease can lower your temperature by over 10°. Lower temperatures will hence allow you to further overclock your GPU and/or CPU offering you a much better performance.
With 73 W/mk, the Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut is the best thermal paste on the market right now. Those who wish to push their performance to the max should definitely give this metal paste a chance. Just be careful and take your time when applying it, and you won’t be disappointed.
Whether you need to apply the thermal paste to your brand new cooler/heatsink or you want to replace the stock thermal paste from your old CPU, it’s always good to have a high-quality TIM lying around.
In short, if you just want a reliable and cost-effective thermal paste, get the Arctic MX-4. For overclocking, get the Noctua NT-H1 or the Arctic Silver 5 depending on how you feel about the non-capacitive micronized silver.
For best results, get the Thermal Grizzly which is more expensive though absolutely worth it if you want to boost your performance to the max. The Kryonaut is safe and easy to use while the Conductonaut should perhaps be handled by experienced users only.
Samuel is GamingScan’s editor-in-chief. He describes himself as a hardcore gamer & programmer and he enjoys getting more people into gaming and answering people’s questions. He closely follows the latest trends in the gaming industry in order to keep you all up-to-date with the latest news.