Whether you’re building a rig from scratch or just upgrading a component, there are a few essential tools you’ll need to have on hand. While overlooked by beginners, the best thermal paste can save you a lot of headaches down the line, and extend the lifespan of pricey PC parts.
Thermal Paste and Why You Need It…
Thermal paste has been called many things over the years from CPU grease and TIM to heat sink compound. The name may change, but its purpose remains the same—keeping your components cool.
Thermal paste is generally used between heatsinks and components like your CPU. When applied properly, it takes care of any gaps between parts and directs heat where it needs to go while lowering the temp. If you’re a gamer with an overclocked rig or an upgrader, you’ll want to have some on hand at all times. It’s also a great way to fix heat issues with older PCs whose paste has degenerated over the years.
How To Choose The Best Thermal Paste
While we’re not going to go into delidding or walk you through the application process, here are some quick tips to help you find the perfect paste for your PC.
Thermal Paste Types
- Silicon – If you’re reading this on a PC you picked up from a big box retailer, there’s a strong chance it has silicon goop under the hood. It’s not an ideal replacement unless you’re building a machine for web browsing, but you can buy “pads” which make application a breeze.
- Ceramic – When you need to drop the temperature a bit, ceramic paste is your next best option. It’s a silicone-based solution, and something beginners should feel comfortable using compared to our next option. In other words, you don’t have to worry about getting a few drops on your motherboard.
- Liquid Metal – If you want to cool things down between 4 to 6-degrees, skip the rest and go for the best. In this case, it’s metal-based paste which excels with heat conduction but can cause issues if you’re not careful due to its capacitive nature. It’s also not safe for aluminum and other materials so read the label carefully.
- Carbon – One of the newer materials on the scene, carbon compounds have several advantages over other blends. They can cut heat like metal pastes but are safe as they don’t conduct electricity. They can cost a bit more, but it’s worth it if you’re inexperienced and don’t want to reapply the paste every few years.
Some manufacturers may have you believe that their thermal goop is easier to apply than another, but it all comes down to viscosity in the end. Thicker pastes can be harder to apply and require a different technique in some cases. Alternatively, you don’t want to soak your motherboard in liquid metal, so it pays to know a bit about a pastes viscosity before settling on a compound.
Serving Size and Shelf Life
How much paste you’ll get varies across the board, and everyone will need a different amount. Even the smallest tube has enough to handle one application although we highly advise you to buy a little more if this is your first build or upgrade. With that in mind, it may seem like a wise idea to stock up on a massive tube of thermal paste, but it’s not a good idea as shelf life is something to keep in mind when buying any perishable good online.
Thermal compounds and gels are no different as some last longer than others, and those numbers generally aren’t posted in listings. If you’re concerned about shelf life, check user reviews by date or drop the seller a message beforehand.
1. Innovation Cooling Diamond “7 Carat” Thermal Compound
When silver doesn’t impress you, diamond is another exotic option used in some thermal compounds today. Innovations Cooling’s 7-carat compound doesn’t quite live up to its namesake but is a great thermal conductor nonetheless.
7 Carat thermal compound has some unique properties compared to other greases on our list. It’s a high-performance substance that can outlast others with its mix of synthetic diamond. It provides more thermal conductivity than silver and will reach peak performance after only 2 hours of use. The break-in period is minimal with this paste.
While you won’t get 7 carats of diamonds from this syringe, it gets the job done and comes 1.5 grams per package. It’s one of the best thermal compounds around, and a little goes a long way given its consistency.
- Synthetic diamond powder compound
- Good consistency
- Thicker than other pastes
2. Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra Thermal Paste
Ready for some serious grease? If so, you’ll want to consider Coollaboratory’s compound which is guaranteed to drop your temperatures several degrees.
This thermal paste is another popular option gamers, and overclockers stand behind, but not one for novices. It’s liquid metal, so while it will cool things down, you will want to take care to and not let it get away from you. You’ll also want to clean the area thoroughly before applying Liquid Ultra if you want the full effect of this compound.
While you’ll need a good brush and some patience for this product, the results speak for themselves. It’s reasonably priced and made from 100% metal although only available in one size. It’s also not ideal for aluminum or other alloys that don’t play nice with liquid thermal pastes of this nature.
- 100% metal
- Applicator & cleaner
- 38 W/mk
- Price for the amount
3. MasterGel Maker Nano
If you’re looking for something exotic, Cooler Master has a solution. The company’s MasterGel Maker Nano uses an unusual substance in its mix which makes it easy to spread and immune to other issues.
Worried about oxidation or erosion in your build? This paste is designed to give you peace of mind in those areas. There are nanodiamond particles in this exotic hybrid compound, which means less gaps and a more efficient heat transfer between components and your heatsink. We’re also fans of the viscosity which makes removal and application simple, even if you’re inexperienced.
Cooler Master’s compound comes 4 grams per syringe which is par for the course with thermal paste. You may need more if you have a lot of components to deal with, but will appreciate the included spreader and cleaner either way.
- Nanodiamond particles
- 11 W/mk
- Applicator included
4. Noctua NT-H1
Some manufacturers give you the scoop on what’s in their syringe while others are a little more mysterious. NT-H1 from Noctua falls into the latter category as it’s a hybrid compound designed for use on tech that needs to stay cool under extreme loads.
This non-conductive thermal paste won’t corrode which makes it an excellent choice for GPU coolers of all styles. Compressor coolers are also a lock as this compound is easy to spread and doesn’t require a burn-in period like some pastes. This grey goop will need to be replaced every 3 years and has a shelf life of 2 years before it starts to break down.
We may not be sure what’s in Noctua’s syringe, but believe us when we say it works. Each package has a 3.5-gram syringe which is good for up to 20 CPUs or several sinks depending on their size. It’s an excellent paste overall, just keep the lifespan in mind as other compounds will hold up a bit longer.
- Unique blend of micro-particles
- Safe for aluminum and copper coolers
- Short lifespan
5. Thermal Grizzly Condutonaut
When you use a bear as your mascot and the term Grizzly in your product line, you better make sure you deliver the goods. Well, we’re pleased to say Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut is one of the best thermal pastes for CPU swaps and a fan favorite among PC builders.
This is a liquid metal compound that can deliver a drop of 8 degrees or better. It has increased indium content that’s mixed with tin, gallium and based on a eutectic alloy. It has a thermal resistance of 0.0021 K/W while the conductivity clocks in at 73W/mk, so it’s stable and not just in the short-term. In a nutshell, it’s an excellent compound that will not disappoint.
As mentioned, you’ll want to have some experience under your belt with liquid metal compounds, and Conductonaut is one of the more expensive options in this class. It’s well worth the money, but you’ll want to be careful as you’ll only get 1 gram in a syringe.
- High thermal conductivity
- Easy to apply (for liquid metal)
- 73 W/mk
- It’s expensive
- Small quantity
6. Arctic MX-4
Arctic makes a slew of PC accessories including CPU coolers and thermal compound paste. We chose a product from their MX lineup dubbed Arctic MX-4, a carbon-based solution for consumers that need to cut down the heat but aren’t comfortable using liquid metal.
Arctic’s thermal paste compound is non-conductive which makes it safe in case you get a little crazy with the syringe – it happens. The carbon mixture is ideal for heat transfer and durable to boot. The company claims you’ll get around eight years per application and there are three sizes to choose from. That’s handy in case you’re running a repair shop and need the best thermal paste for GPU upgrades or CPUs.
We feel this is one of the best TIM for users with high-end machines, but not much experience with compounds of this nature. That’s because it’s easy to use, and you won’t have to worry about damaging components if there’s a mishap. MX-4 is available in three sizes with 2, 4 or 20 grams depending on your needs.
- Carbon-based TIM
- 8.5 W/mk
- Easy to use
7. Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut
While liquid metal thermal compounds are amazing, you may need an alternative for your slick aluminum low profile CPU coolers. Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut is one such solution and a solid choice when Conductonaut isn’t an option.
Kryonaut is similar to the company’s liquid-based solution, but this one is a non-conductive thermal grease paste. That means it’s safe and perfect if you’re new to the scene although you still need to be cautious with the syringe. Let the applicator do the work, as there’s not much grease in the syringe and it’s only available in 1 gram sizes.
The only drawback to this paste is the price as it doesn’t go far but is very effective. It’s a definite step up from Arctic Silver in our eyes, just be prepared to pick up a few tubes if you have a massive setup or more than one machine to treat.
- Excellent thermal conductivity
- 12.5 W/mk
- The price
Thermal grease is not something most people consider as their laptop scorches their legs. The best thermal paste can breathe new life into that hold old PC and is something you can’t live without if you’re a hardcore gamer with a serious rig.