It’s no secret that modern high-end processors have exceeded many limits concerning speed and performance to the extent that they can now handle multiple heavy resource-demanding applications simultaneously instantly without a noticeable performance hit. But that’s not for no cost. Regardless the electrical power consumption, these processors produce big amounts of heat during their data processing times, specifically when these prepared-for-processing data are complex enough to compel the processor to dedicate more-than-usual resources to expend in order to accomplish these tasks, which eventually increases the thermal emission rate. Dissipating this generated heat has been a major concern for both CPU manufacturers and end users. As for the manufacturers, they keep improving the currently-employed electronic circuits to produce less heat, and developing new ones that better achieve this purpose.
As for the end-users, the only workaround for this issue they can carry out is to try to use a solid CPU cooling system that helps the CPU maintain a low temperature in spite of how complex the data processing tasks are going to be.
Heat management is important to consider when constructing or maintaining your computer. Too much heat can spell death for your sensitive components, and if you’re overclocking it’s even more of an issue.
The main structure of the cooling system consists of two major elements: The CPU cooler (also called a heat sink that may come with an air fan and may not) and the thermal paste/compound (also called heat sink paste/compound).
Here, in this article, we’ll be discussing thermal pastes and manifesting the most important aspects of which everyone must be aware before obtaining the right thermal paste that suits their needs. Then, in the last section we’ll make a few recommendations of thermal pastes that are regarded as the top-notch and best-selling on the market.
Why Heat is Bad for CPU Performance
In a nutshell, when the CPU processes the data sent to it, its electronic circuits generates heat as a result of this process. The increase of heat that passes the maximum-allowed temperature will have a bad and devastating impact on the CPU itself. Even if it doesn’t exceed its temperature limit, modern processors are programmed to reduce the performance as low as the half of the utmost performance level or even lower, all of that is for the sake of minimizing the generated heat, and this will not please most people. Moreover, if your CPU doesn’t get sufficient coolness, several problems can occur: freezes, random resets, reduction of the CPU lifespan, and even burning the processor in extreme cases. Therefore, if you find yourself fighting a stubbornly-low overclock, there’s a chance that your thermal solution isn’t working as effectively as it should.
The Concept Of Using Thermal Pastes
Everyone has a basic knowledge in physics knows that there is no absolute flat surface on earth. Each surface has its share of microscopic gaps between its atoms and protrusions above the level of the surface. Some call them mountains and valleys. Now when two surfaces are put to touch each other, these gaps and protrusions impede the proper thermal transfer between those two surfaces by causing a large air gap between these two surfaces which becomes like a hurdle in the way of this process to complete. The role of a thermal paste appears here. It simply works to fill those gaps to achieve a better heat conductivity between the two surfaces. If you could have a perfectly flat heatsink base, and CPU, you would not need thermal paste. But it is impossible to do so, and that’s why we need thermal paste.
Thermal Paste Definition
So if we go to define a thermal paste we would say that a thermal paste is a type of heat transferring agent that serves to fill in the microscopic gaps that naturally occur when two flat metal surfaces—such as your CPU and cooler—are pressed against one another. These air-filled gaps hinder the rate at which the cooler is able to absorb heat from the CPU, and filling them with thermal material greatly increases performance.
When to Use a High-Performance Thermal Compound
- If your processor is running very hot or your computer or laptop shuts down automatically due to overheating.
- If you want to extend the life of CPU.
- If you are a gamer then this is highly recommended for your CPU and GPU to protect them from overheating and even burning. It can be used with Intel and AMD processors without any problem.
- If you haven’t upgraded the thermal paste for years.
- If you are using a laptop or notebook whose processor and GPU heats up very much. Notebook CPUs and GPUs are more prone to overheating, a high-end thermal paste can reduce this problem.
A Warning Before Applying a Thermal Paste
The thermal conductivity of the compound is actually much poorer than the metals they couple. When applying the compound, it would be in your best interest to use no more than necessary when trying to exclude air gaps. The paste must be thin enough that it doesn’t inhibit thermal contact between the heatsink and CPU, but thick enough to ensure that the heatsink and CPU are in adequate contact with one another. A large amount of excess grease separating the metal surfaces will only further degrade conductivity.
Using a Thermal Paste for PS4
PlayStation 4 has its own processor that generates high temperatures during the gaming sessions. By time you’ll have to maintain your PS4 CPU cooling system by replacing the old and wasted standard thermal paste applied by the manufacturer to a new effective one to ensure that your PS4 processor can find better outlets for the generated heat which will help consequently have a better and smoother gaming experience.
The issue with PS4 is identical to that with PC. Like you would apply a thermal compound to the CPU heat sink in PC, you do that similarly in PS4. You may also change the default cooling fan of your PS4 for a better heat dissipation.
Which Thermal Paste is Right for You?
In general, a thermal paste is a cheap product, whatever price level it reaches, it remains cheap and affordable for most users. The most expensive thermal compound in our list is about only $15, and it’s not a real big loss of money, especially when you get a high performance that pleases you for a long time.
That said, the low cost of producing thermal compounds and the extremely escalating demands persuaded many manufacturers to release their own brand, and now you can understand why the market is crowded with a big number of different types of thermal paste.
For day to day users, any of these compounds would do the job nicely, but when you’re getting into the world of overclocking, benchmarking and water cooling, then you’ll want to invest in something suitable. Spending hundred on a CPU, motherboard, GPU, water cooling and more isn’t exactly cheap, but spending $10-15 on a good thermal paste isn’t going to increase your budget by a significant percentage and will have real-world benefits in the long run.
To obtain the best thermal paste for your system we have made our list here of the top performer compounds out there to make it easy for you to end your pursuit. Any paste here will work great for any system, except the metal-based Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra compound as it needs extra care when applying it to your CPU, so we don’t advise of it unless you are professional and careful enough. Moreover, this thermal paste doesn’t suit aluminum heat-sinks, while it works great with copper and nickel.
Liquid metal products (like Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra) clearly have the highest performance on the market. If you plan to delid your CPU or want to have the best possible temperature you should get a liquid metal product. However you have to deal with an electrically conductive product and it’s usually very hard to remove. Also keep in mind that it must not be used with any aluminium parts. For this reason I prefer normal pastes because they can be used with all kind of coolers, are not electrically conductive and are easy to remove.
Finding The Best Thermal Paste
As has been stated above, there are so many thermal paste brands over there, and it’s really difficult to determine which one is the top performer among all of them, because of a few hurdles in this pursuit, described by Igor Wallossek from Tom’s Hardware, who said:
“A thermal paste working just fine with one cooler may be a bad fit for another. Therefore, we have to test our thermal pastes on AMD and Intel CPUs with a water cooler, a premium air cooler with high mounting pressure, as well as a more pedestrian push-pin setup, which stands in for the boxed heat sinks you get bundled with most processors.“
Tom’s Hardware team has done well enough testing 39 of the most popular thermal pastes on the market. They were all subjected to hard performance tests in order to draw sound and precise conclusions. That’s why we’ve relied on their top thermal paste recommendation and listed it below as the best thermal paste for 2015, while the others were chosen based on other reviews online.
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut OR Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme?
Just a final note in this regard. Few weeks ago, specifically in August 2015, a new high performance thermal paste was released and reported to be a tiny bit better than what was deemed the best thermal paste for years (i.e. Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme). Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut is now assumed to be the winner in the performance competition, but the performance gain you’ll acquire compared to GC-Extreme is barely notable. For this reason we confidently say that whether you pick Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut or Gelid Solution GC-Extreme rest-assured that you have made the right choice.
Also bear in mind that the testimonials of IT Professionals on Gelid Solution GC-Extreme were said long time ago before the emergence of Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut.
Here is a summary of the items in our list. You may click any title to view the corresponding section of that particular item.
|Brand Name||Price||1. Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut||$13.13|
|2. Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme||$12.99|
|3. Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra||$11.25|
|4. IC Diamond 24 Carat||$16.65|
|5. Prolimatech PRO-PK3 Nano Aluminum||$14.97|
|6. Arctic MX-4||$7.91|
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut
Manufacturer’s Product Description: Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut Thermal Paste was specially developed for extremely demanding applications and the most demanding of Overlocking community. Kryonaut also recommended as a top product for critical cooling systems for industrial use.
Kryonaut uses a special support structure, with no drying processes and starts at 80 ° C. This support structure ensures that the contained nano-aluminum and tin oxide portions of the paste combine perfectly and so any unevenness of the heat output (eg the CPU) and a heat sink are optimally compensated with outstanding thermal conductivity.
- Delivers optimal heat transfer for larger-scale cooling systems, including water cooled systems
- Designed with extremely demanding applications
- Popular choice for overclockers and extreme gamers
- Thermal conductivity 12.5 W/mk
Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme
Created for Extreme Users on highest level the GC-Extreme thermal compound (3.5g) achieves the best heat conductivity from your CPU, VGA or even Chipset to your cooler. The GELID applicator enables an easier application. According to Tom’s Hardware, this thermal paste is the best thermal paste out of 39 pastes they tested. Created for Extreme Users on highest level the GC-Extreme thermal compound (3.5g) achieves the best heat conductivity from your CPU, VGA or even Chipset to your cooler. The GELID applicator enables an easier application.
- Thermal conductivity: 8.5 W/mK
- Density: 3.73 g/cm3
- Viscosity: 85000 Centipoise
- Net Content: 3.5 g
- Non-Corrosive, Non-Curing & Non-Toxic
- No Bleeding & User Friendly
Matei Mihatoiu, Winner of MSI Master Overclocking Arena EMEA 2011
Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra
This is the second best thermal paste in our list. Although it betters our first selection in performance by 1.5 °C ΔT with a closed-loop cooler, and 2.7 °C ΔT with a boxed cooler, its primary disadvantage is that because of its high electric connectivity, if a tiny drop falls mistakenly outside its relevant area, it might burn out your motherboard, otherwise this thermal paste is the best performing paste ever. The Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra was optimized for highest performance and optimal usability. After the overwhelming success of the Liquid Pro, the new Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra was developed. Of course the Liquid Ultra is also made of 100% metal, but it has an absolute new usability and offers an outstanding performance. Due to the paste-like texture the application is now very easy.
- Consists of 100% liquid metal alloy
- Contains no non-metallic additives (like silicone, oxides etc.)
- Does not contain any solid particles
- Surpasses the best high performance heat conducting pastes by a multiple.
IC Diamond 24 Carat
IC Diamond 7 Carat Thermal Compound maximizes thermal heat transfer between the CPU core and heatsink by taking advantage of diamond’s superior thermal conductivity. Purified synthetic diamond has a thermal conductivity of 2,000-2,500 W/mK compared to 406-429 W/mK for pure silver.Diamond’s five times better thermal conductivity compared to silver makes it a superior heat transfer material for cooling high performance CPUs and is electrically non-conductive and non-capacitive.
- Each tube of IC Diamond Thermal grease contains 24 carats of micronized diamond with diamond particle loadings @ 94% by weight. Material loading above 90% is recommended as the best combination of rheological and thermal properties to minimize interface pump out due to thermal cycling.
- Superior bulk conductivity
- < 40 µ maximum particle diameter
- Excellent thermal impedance
- Non capacitive or electrically conductive
Prolimatech PRO-PK3 Nano Aluminum
Like two hot lovers, a heatsink and the processor want to make full contact. But microscopic imperfections in their craftsmanship create small gap for air. These gaps act as thermal insulators, inhibiting the transfer of thermal energy from your components. PK-3 thermal compound is made up of specially designed nano particles, engineered to correct these imperfections. The nano particles work by filling in the small air gaps and allowing for peak transfer of heat away from your components.
- A new oil mixture, improved thermal filler properties and increased particle deagglomeration, dispersal and density enhance Céramique 2’s thermal performance and overall stability.
- High Thermal Conductivity.
- Low Thermal Resistance.
- Long-Term Stability.
- Low Dry-Out.
- Electrically Non-Conductive.
- No “burn-in” time required.
Manufacturer’s Product Description: ARCTIC MX-4 High-Viscosity Thermal Compound has the distinctive characteristics of being non-capacitive, non-electricity-conductive, non-corrosive and non-bleeding. This makes ARCTIC MX-4 much safer and easier to use around sensitive and delicate applications involving electricity and heat than metal-based thermal compound. Perfectly safe for use around today’s high-performance microprocessors (CPU) and graphic processors (GPU), accidental contacts with electrical pins/traces/leads will NOT cause short-circuits or static shocks compare to metal-based/capacitive thermal compounds. Under normal circumstances, carbon has the highest thermal conductivities of all know materials. ARCTIC MX-4’s carbon micro-particles effectively and efficiently fill up microscopic pores and gaps between contact surfaces for optimum heat transfer. High thermal conductivity and low thermal resistance translate directly into efficient and quick heat dissipation. ARCTIC MX-4 is not only safe and easy to use; it also lasts a long time as well with its amazingly proven 8-year durability. ARCTIC MX-4 is available in 20g high-capacity, easy-to-apply tube that are both cost-effective and practical for frequent and high-volume applications. ARCTIC MX-4 high-viscosity thermal compound is also pre-applied or included with ARCTIC’s award-winning coolers for today’s most powerful desktop/gaming CPU and GPU.
- Easy Application
- Optimal Thermal Conductivity
- Non-Electrical Conductive
- Low Thermal Resistance