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An In-Depth Look At The Best Thermal Paste 2022
What is the best thermal paste in 2023? Thermal paste is often the overlooked product for a lot of new builders’ computer setups. This can be down to a lack of experience or the simple fact that some coolers already come with thermal paste pre-applied. We know that there’s nothing wrong with pre-applied thermal paste, but we know we can do better. It’s always a better idea to buy and apply your own thermal paste when installing your CPU for better temps at stock speeds.
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The thermal paste needs to be changed annually, as it will eventually become dry and as a result, its thermal conductivity will suffer. If you leave the thermal paste on too long, you will begin to see performance issues and gradual overheating which can damage your CPU in the long run – you’ll notice this though, don’t panic.
The aim of this article is to inform you of the best thermal pastes on the market, as well as to educate you a little about how to use them and when to change them.
Can you just apply any thermal paste? What is the best thermal paste for your needs? Let’s take a look and break down what truly is the best thermal paste available right now.
Some of the recommendations in this article may have been released before 2023. But we assure you, these are still some of the best choices for thermal paste in 2023.
If you’re in the market for a new cooler, why don’t you check out some of our ‘best CPU cooler’ articles? They are as follows.
When it comes to thermal paste we suggest you take extra care to ensure you get a quality product to fit your needs.
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Once we have that final list, we purchase the various brands of thermal paste and begin to test.
Knowing what the best paste is is one thing but picking the best thermal paste for your needs can be tricky. There is a thermal paste for almost every situation so which one is it?
There are several things you should consider when buying a paste for your needs. First though, let’s go over what thermal paste is, and why you need it.
Thermal paste (also sometimes known as thermal grease or thermal compound) acts as a heat transfer agent on a CPU’s heat spreader or IHS (Integrated Heat Spreader). Its basic compound consists of zinc oxide.
Your processor generates a lot of heat. So much heat that you could literally fry an egg on it.
This is bad, high heat can fatally damage components very quickly, especially high-end graphics cards and processors. In order to combat this, we have heat sinks.
A heat sink is what you put on the CPU to transfer the heat and keep it cool on top of a CPU heat spreader or IHS (integrated heat spreader). Traditional air heat sinks have a metal base that touches the processor. The heat is transferred through that block of metal and usually channels into copper pipes, which are then attached to layers of thin metal fins with a fan blowing on it to dissipate the heat further.
Water coolers work on a similar principle. The heat sink sits on top of the AMD or Intel processor with water running over it (sound dangerous, right?). This heats up the water, which gets funneled into a radiator. The radiator has channels and metal fins on it with fans that blow on these metal fins. This cools down the water before its return trip to the CPU heat sink.
So where does thermal paste play into all this? Glad you asked.
Thermal paste sits as a layer in between the processor and the heat sink; here’s why.
Metal isn’t typically perfectly flat. No matter how flat it may look to the naked eye there is always microscopic abrasions, bumps, grooves, little holes, and divots. These imperfections trap air when another piece of metal is pressed against it.
This isn’t ideal as air is an excellent insulator of heat. This means the heat transfer from your AMD or Intel CPU could be impeded by inefficiencies caused by uneven contact surfaces and trapped insulating air. This could cause your CPU to run hotter than desired and eventually burn out the chip.
Thermal paste resolves this issue. Not only is it engineered to be thermally conductive (meaning it helps to transfer heat from one area to another), but since it’s in a liquid form, it can flow into the little crevices the two contact points create, allowing the thermal paste to force out any insulating trapped air and help make the contact between the cold plate and the CPU IHS way more efficient.
That’s why you need to use a thermal paste – specifically a paste that performs well with like-named brands (Arctic, Thermal Grizzly, etc.).
When looking at thermal paste, there may be a few properties you’re unfamiliar with, or you may be unsure how a paste positively impacts thermals. Let’s take a look at what those are and how they fit into the puzzle.
This refers to how thick/thin the thermal paste is. Those with higher viscosity are thicker, and more like actual paste, and usually will adhere your heatsink better to your processor.
Those with a low viscosity are more liquid and will tend to dry up over a few days after being applied to set in. It is worth noting that a lower-viscosity thermal paste can potentially leak onto your motherboard quite easily if too much is used.
Specific gravity is how dense and heavy the thermal paste is, and generally isn’t listed on most thermal pastes, and isn’t usually needed to take into consideration. That being said specific gravity is expressed in g/cm³ which stands for grams per cubic centimeter.
This is the most important measurement to pay attention to. This unit of measurement tells you how good the thermal paste is at transferring heat from one material to another.
This is measured in watts per square meter of surface area, shown as W/mK. Let’s look at a couple of examples from our list:
Generally speaking, the higher the number, the better the paste should be at conducting heat away, but there are always other variables and this may not always be the case. The reason Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut has such a lead is that this is one of the liquid metal thermal solutions on offer in today’s market. We will discuss the pros and cons of liquid metal cooling a little later on in the article.
TDP stands for thermal design power and is the maximum amount of thermal energy a component can produce under normal operating conditions. This does not include overclocking, overclocking exponentially increases a component’s TDP due to the presence of higher voltages and increased output expectancy. A CPU with a higher TDP will need a better thermal paste and cooler pair to negate the thermal energy.
You can find this number listed on your processor specs under TDP.
The air around your system can play a huge part in determining how cool (or hot) your system runs. If you live in an area where the temperature is constantly hot, you might want to look at upgrading your thermal paste.
The air inside of your system that is situated around your processor can affect results as well. If your other components run hot (say like your GPU), that ambient air can affect your system as much as the temperature outside can. the heat convection coefficient essentially teaches us that the hotter the air is around the object you’re trying to cool, the harder it is to cool that object. So make sure your system isn’t located near any large heat sources like radiators.
Choosing the correct cooling solution can have a huge impact on your system overall. Even if you have the best thermal paste on the market, if the rest of your system isn’t set up to handle the amount of heat your processor generates, it’s not going to matter. AIO or liquid-based cooling is always the best, but Air coolers tend to be a favorite for their simplicity.
We’d always recommend an AIO liquid cooler if your budget allows for one because, the extended cooling capacity will pair well with our best thermal paste choice, together making one heck of a well-cooled system. Thermal paste is only really as good as the cooler it’s attached to.
How comfortable you are with working on your own components may play a factor in what thermal paste solution you decide on.
If you’re a beginner and you’re worried about the possibility of harming your components, you may want to look into thermal pads instead of a paste. While not as effective as a paste, it’s very quick and easy and won’t harm your components.
Whether or not it’s electrically conductive is something else you should think about if you’re comfort level isn’t very high, as some thermal pastes are made with materials that conduct electricity.
There are also liquid metal thermal pastes, and these require special care to apply without harming your components.
This is a question best suited to having its own article but it’s important to at least touch upon it here. Liquid metal is an extremely conductive material, both in terms of thermals and electricity. Liquid metal is a way better alternative to thermal paste in terms of thermal conductivity, however, it isn’t for everyone.
Applying liquid metal is more complex than applying thermal paste and comes along with its own risks. Some thermal pastes are made of non-conductive materials, but there’s no chance liquid metal will be none conductive, for obvious reasons. This could cause a huge problem if you spill or otherwise accidentally apply the liquid metal to an area containing electrical contacts.
The application method is also different from that of normal thermal paste. You must apply the metal and spread it out over both the IHS and bottom of the cooler contact plate on your CPU cooler, taking extra care to ensure your cooler cold plate is NOT aluminum as this will cause a nasty reaction, copper or zinc-coated copper is fine.
When we sat down to bring you the best thermal pastes of 2019, we did our research and found out how many options were available as a consumer.
The options are endless, and they all proclaim better performance than the last. We knew we had to test them out personally, to make sure we recommended only the ones that work as well as they claimed.
We used an old in-house system to do all the testing so we could maintain consistency. We went with our Ryzen 1700 setup. Here’s what it’s running.
When designing the test, we wanted to make sure to cover all of our bases to bring you the best results.
Temperature during idle
The temperature during full load
The temperature during full load, while also using the GPU to generate more ambient heat
Before testing, we cleaned the processor using a thermal paste cleaning and polishing kit from Arctic Silver. While isopropyl alcohol will work, we wanted to make sure to get the heatsink and processor as clean as possible so that the results for the next thermal paste weren’t contaminated.
For the test itself, we used Prime95 as a CPU stress test. This program makes good use of a processor’s computing power to generate as much heat as possible.
While most of your gaming time probably won’t be spent with a maxed-out CPU running complex mathematical equations, we wanted to make sure we got the proper data for testing our thermal paste.
If the thermal paste can handle the stress of Prime95, it can handle almost any gaming load.
We ran Prime95 for an hour on its own to bring the processor up to temp. After the hour, an additional hour of gaming was added on top of it WHILE Prime95 was still stress testing.
This lets our memory and GPU start generating heat, adding to the ambient temperature inside the case. This can affect load temperatures as the heat difference between the processor and the air around it starts to come closer. The heat from the processor will start to dissipate less efficiently at this point.
After the testing was done, we reset and went again with the next thermal paste.
Here, we will review each of our thermal paste choices in a more in-depth manner.
Thermal Conductivity Rating
It’s already 2022 but if you’re looking for a thermal paste that’s been tried and tested, then look no further than Arctic Silver 5. As mentioned earlier, I’ve been using this thermal paste for years and I’ve never had a heat-related component failure due to my thermal paste going bad.
In our testing, Arctic Silver 5 did very well, being one of the coolest-scoring pastes on our list. Even under full processor load, our processor never made it over 53°C (127°F).
Thermal Conductivity Rating
The Arctic MX-4 is the highest rated thermal paste on our list, and the results show why.
It’s a little on the expensive side but you get a large, 4g tube of paste, which they claim has an eight-year life span, so it should last you for a long time to come.
The results don’t lie! This thermal paste showed it can handle some heat, coming in at a nice chilly 57°C (134°F), even under full load during gaming.
Advertised Thermal Conductivity
The next selection up from Thermal Grizzly is their Hydronaut. And yup, you guessed it, it’s designed for water-cooling setups. Although it’ll work for any coolers, not just water.
The Hydronaut did even better than the Aeronaut paste, never getting any warmer than a nice and a cool 54°C (113°F). There was nothing I could throw at this paste that it couldn’t handle while gaming.
Advertised Thermal Conductivity
Another heavy hitter from Thermal Grizzly: Kryonaut. The naming scheme doesn’t quite follow the others when it comes to this one as it’s not designed for sub-zero cooling solutions; it’s just a word that indicates cool temperatures. Name aside, this is another great product from Thermal Grizzly. There’s also another exceptional brand of TG called thermal Grizzly Conductonaut, But it didn’t quite make it onto this list.
I don’t know how Thermal Grizzly does it, but this one tested even cooler than the previous one. Coming in at a nice and frosty 53°C° degrees Celsius (127°F), this is probably the best CPU thermal paste (it’s also likely the best thermal paste for GPUs, but we didn’t test it on GPUs).
Advertised Thermal Conductivity
Thermal Grizzly is where we start to enter the little bit more expensive, “premium” thermal pastes. However, they are widely known as a company that makes great thermal pastes for extreme solutions.
The first in their line is the Aeronaut. As you can probably guess from the name, it’s made more for people running air cooling solutions, such as a simple fan and heat sink.
The Aeronaut paste did very well in our tests, never reaching higher than 57°C (134°F). This will keep your system nice and cool, even if you’re on any air coolers you’d find in the market.
Advertised Thermal Conductivity
Made by the same guys as Arctic Silver 5, Arctic Silver Ceramique uses a ceramic base instead of silver.
Giving their consumers a non-conductive, beginner-friendly thermal paste was a good choice by Arctic Silver. This thermal paste won’t short anything out if you accidentally get some overspill when applying it to the processor.
In our testing, the Arctic Silver Ceramique didn’t score quite as well as its predecessor, but the results were still very favorable for gaming. This paste never got over 61°C (141°F), keeping our processor cool even during intense gaming.
Advertised Thermal Conductivity
We guess being great at making cases and power supplies wasn’t enough for Cooler Master, as now they’ve now branched out into thermal pastes!
The first one we tested was the Cooler Master High Performance branded thermal paste. Designed to be a great overall thermal paste, it doesn’t quite hit the mark in our opinion compared to the other selections here. It does however come with a credit card-like spreader and sticker templates to help you apply the thermal paste to the processor with no mess-ups!
In our testing, this thermal paste came in with a load temp of around 63°C (145°F), which is the second-highest temp result of any paste on this page, though not much higher than the 61°C many achieve. Still, in that 60-degree area, it’s more than suitable for intense gaming.
Advertised Thermal Conductivity
Gelid Solutions is another one of those companies that I hadn’t really heard about, but the thermal paste was suggested to me, and so on the list of pastes to test it went! The Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme performed to a respectable standard in our testing trials, comparing favorably to some bigger names on this list.
The Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme is non-corrosive, non-toxic, and requires no curing time. It also comes with a handy spreader to take the guesswork out of the equation when applying the paste.
It does come in a larger tube, though, which means you are paying more overall for thermal paste you might not necessarily need too often.
I was pleasantly surprised with the GC-Extreme, as it came in at 61°C (141°F) under full load while gaming, making this a worthwhile consideration.
Advertised Thermal Conductivity
Prolimatech may not be a brand you’re familiar with, but that shouldn’t stop you from considering it. Made with a non-conductive nano aluminum compound, the PK-3 showed great results in our tests.
The Prolimatech PK-3 was one of our better testing thermal solutions coming in at 53°C (138°F). This is right under the frosty 60-degree range, making this a great pick for your gaming machine.
looking for a good CPU cooler to pair the best thermal paste with? The ASUS Ryujin ii blows ‘good’ out of the water with its stunning industrial looks, its astonishing design, and its almost unrivaled cooling efficiency.
The Ryujin ii is available in two sizes, 240mm and 360mm. The LCD screen can be used to display any and all manor of gifs, animations, and images. This time around, ASUS partnered with Noctua to bring the cooling performance of ASUS’ AIO coolers to the power of Noctuas fans, only this time with a stunning black finish. Tickle your fancy? read the full ASUS ROG Ryujin ii review on our site.
Whether you can use a thermal paste you bought for your CPU on your GPU and vice versa is an incredibly common inquiry, but you’ll be happy to know that there’s really no difference; thermal paste is thermal paste. What’s of more importance is what your thermal paste is made up of, how effective it will be, and how you should apply it.
GPU chips are incredibly delicate, so you’ll need to be extra careful when giving it a thermal touch up. We highly recommend avoiding metal or liquid-metal-based thermal pastes as their ultra-conductivity can kill your GPU if it gets anywhere it’s not supposed to. Carbon, ceramic, or silicone-based thermal pastes are your safest bet.
Whether it’s worth your while to change the thermal paste on your CPU largely depends on its performance and how you wish to use it. The factory paste should do a good job for the first two years of solid gaming. After this period, you may notice your average CPU temperatures are creeping upward. This is because thermal paste has a shelf life and eventually expires, becoming dry and brittle. In this instance, applying a new layer of thermal paste will definitely boost your PC’s performance.
Bear in mind that thermal paste will expire whether a CPU is being used or not, so if you’ve found yourself a bargain CPU with a stock cooler that’s been sitting on the shelves for a while, you may need to switch up the paste sooner rather than later.
If you ever remove or replace your cooler, it’s definitely worth changing the thermal paste on your CPU, as when you screw your cooler back into place, there will be tiny air pockets in the link, preventing optimal heat transfer from your CPU’s heat spreader to the cooler.
If you’re something of an OC wizard, you may want to change your CPU’s paste right out of the box because factory paste doesn’t have the best thermal conductivity. Stock paste is usually a silicone formula, and silicone has the weakest heat conductivity of all the types of paste.
If your cooler covers your whole CPU, you only need enough paste for a thin layer over the surface of the heat spreader. It can reach near, but ideally, should never stretch beyond the edges of the chip.
There are a few methods of application, but these are the best…
If you have a direct touch cooler with copper piping, simply apply a thin straight line along each contact pipe and screw the cooler in place.
As long as excess thermal paste doesn’t come into contact with any important workings of the motherboard socket, applying a little too much shouldn’t have any side effects. You can simply wipe most of the surplus away as it’s squeezed out when you tighten your cooler into place. That said, you should be extra careful with metal-based pastes due to their conductivity.
If the worst has happened, and you’ve applied way too much thermal paste, a couple of awful things can happen. Firstly, it can actually increase the chances of overheating. Secondly, there’s a small chance that when you next remove your cooler, your CPU is going to come right on out with it due to the suction of the thermal paste. Separating them can be a real pain.
The factory thermal paste between the GPU and cooler should last at least 2 years, possibly longer depending on the formula. Unless you need to upgrade your GPU’s thermals for manual overclocking, it might not be worth the money and effort to change the paste before this time has elapsed.
When the time does come to spruce your GPU up with a fresh application, you can buy certain pastes that last upward of 8 years, so unless you switch out your cooler, you’re probably set until you upgrade your GPU.
How widespread a thermal paste needs to be depends on your cooler. Basically, any points of contact between your cooler and your CPU’s heat spreader need to be coated.
If your cooler’s designed to make contact with the whole heat spreader, an even coat from edge to edge is preferable. If your cooler features copper contact pipes, you’ll only need to apply the thermal paste along those pipes and screw the cooler down to spread the paste automatically across the contact zones.
It may seem obvious to the experienced gamer gods out there, but under no circumstances should you get any thermal paste in the socket areas of your CPU or motherboard. It should only ever be applied to the heat spreader, which is the metal backplate of your CPU.
Thermal paste can help to prevent overheating because it eliminates any gaps between your cooler and CPU, ensuring optimal heat transference. However, you shouldn’t rely solely on changing the thermal paste to prevent your system from overheating.
Combine reapplication with some fan maintenance and testing to check they’re working efficiently. This multi-pronged approach is far more likely to bring running temperatures down.
Now we have been through what the best thermal paste could be, what will you pick for your system? Personally, I’ve been running Arctic Silver 5 on all my previous systems (this one too).
Arctic Silver 5 has worked out very well for me, and I’d recommend them to anyone looking to up their thermal paste game.
But what about you? What do you use? Is it on this list or something else entirely?
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