There’s no doubt among computer savvies that cooling down the CPU surface and keeping its temperature within a low-level during heavy workloads is highly important if you are serious about gaining the utmost of your CPU performance. And if you’re someone who excessively uses their computer in tough data processing environment, such as extreme gaming, professional video editing, and complex 3D animation design, then the temperature level of CPU must be one of your top priorities.
In any CPU cooling system, whether it’s based on air or liquid, the presence of a thermal paste is undeniably substantial and totally indispensable. If you’re building a professional high-end computer with cutting-edge parts, you shouldn’t then underestimate the important role a thermal paste will carry out in this high-end build. That’s because the more effective a thermal paste is, the better performance the CPU has during heavy and complex data processing. For this significant reason, we have decided to help our readers find the best thermal paste for their heat-sink and CPU, that offers top level of effectiveness.
How Did We Make the Recommendations?
In order to make a fair judgement on the performance of a particular thermal paste, it must be tested in different environments and conditions. A thermal paste working just fine with one cooler may be a bad fit for another. Therefore, and to get the most precise final judgement, each thermal paste must be tested on 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.
This methodology of comprehensive testing is usually beyond the capability of amateurs, or even professionals with limited resources who can only test a thermal paste on their personal computers. For this major reason we don’t give high credits to the results they obtained and published on forums or blogs.
Additionally, we conceive that our own lab experiment results won’t add any considerable value to the particular tested paste due to the limitation of our resources first, and the very long time the nature of this sort of testing requires. Therefore we have decided to follow a better plan on finding the best CPU thermal paste on the market—to fulfill a deep research on this subject, by reading the reviews published by prominent IT professionals on their official websites, and find out which thermal pastes they deem the best or top-notch, and we lay them out in a unique list in the descending order, starting from the top winner.
Note that only the top two winners in the list are selected according to this method, and the rest are picked based on our opinion. We also didn’t forget to include the testimonials of these IT Professionals in the Quick Review section below the top 2 winners. So make sure to read that section before you make any decision.
But before going to our list, let’s discuss one important point about liquid metal pastes and why we don’t recommend them.
Liquid Metal vs. Conventional
Liquid metal thermal pastes are known to be better performing pastes than the conventional ones due to the high heat conductivity they boast, but the performance gap between the two is really small and unremarkable, especially if the top-notch conventional pastes are used in this comparison. What if you know also that liquid metal pastes come with serious disadvantages that should hold you back from considering one, that are:
- Usually higher in price.
- Hard to apply that needs good skills to do it correctly, and any mistake in application can be a disaster due to their high electrical conductivity that can cause electrical shocks within the micro circuits on the motherboard if applied incorrectly.
- Not compatible with aluminum coolers, so you are stuck to copper or nickel.
- Very difficult to remove once dries out.
If you want to know if liquid metal solution is worth its high price and taking the risk, the best we can do is answer with a non-committal maybe. Enthusiasts requiring an expensive, hard-to-apply thermal compound to lower Tcase by 2 or 3 degrees Kelvin (which could mean as much as 5 degrees Tcore) might want to consider their build goals. According to our experience and the reviews we read, we can state with some confidence that the supposed improvements of 5 to 7 Kelvin Tcase are overoptimistic. If you see that big of a gain, it’s because you weren’t doing something right with the paste you were using before.
In 2013, Tom’s Hardware tested the best liquid metal thermal paste at that time (Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra) against the best conventional thermal paste (Gelid GC-Extreme), and stated:
Asked whether the 1.5 °C ΔT, which the Liquid Ultra holds over Gelid’s GC-Extreme with a closed-loop cooler, or the 2.7 °C ΔT, which it does in the boxed cooler test, are worth extra effort and cost, my personal answer is no. But of course, some enthusiasts swear by the liquid metal. Most folks don’t need the stuff; it’s really for the overclockers functioning at the very top of their game.
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut vs. Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme
Just a final note here. In August 2015, a new high performance thermal paste was released and reported to be little 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 improvement 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, then 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.
Listing the Top-notch Thermal Pastes
The list below features the substance and summary of our long research, where the best CPU thermal pastes are involved and arranged in the descending order.
|1. Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut||1 g||Quick Review|
|2. Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme||3.5 g||Quick Review|
|3. Prolimatech PK3 Nano Aluminum||5 g||Quick Review|
|4. Arctic MX-4||4 g||Quick Review||5. IC Diamond||4.8 g||Quick Review|
Essential Primer to Thermal Paste World
You don’t have to read this section if you already know the basics of thermal paste. This section is merely for novices who are totally new to this world.
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.