When it comes to computers, it sometimes boggles the mind how a small and seemingly unimportant component can ultimately make or break your entire configuration. Thermal paste is a very noted example of this – if applied properly, it will drastically improve the performance of your rig and give you more options for overclocking. If done wrong, you will experience performance drops and system crashes, and that’s if you’re lucky, with the worst case scenario requiring a trip to the shop to buy expensive replacement components.
The role of thermal paste is to fill in air gaps around a component’s heat sink, thereby improving heat dissipation and ensuring your machine is cooled properly. Because of its critical role, and the fact that there are quite a few brands available on the market, we’ve decided to carry out some tests and give you the results in an easy-to-digest format – a list consisting of our top 3 choices.
This paste is made up of carbon micro-particles which, aside from being advertised as providing outstanding thermal conductivity, also means it can be used on both CPUs and GPUs, conferring a significant level of versatility to this product.
Aside from not containing any metal, this product is also noted for being non-conductive, which can be extremely helpful, particularly for novices in this field, because it means there is no danger of creating a short circuit. This fact significantly eases the stress during the application because the margin for error is greater (you still need to be careful about how much and where you apply it, but if the paste does end up coming into contact with an electrical pin, it won’t turn into a disaster).
Another aspect in which the ARCTIC MX-4 reigns supreme, at least according to its manufacturer, is durability. Advertised as non-degrading over time, unlike metal or silicon based thermal pastes, it is supposed to be good for at least 8 years after application. Now, while we couldn’t really test it over such a long period, it did not show any signs of degradation during our time with it, and if it does manage to live up to such lofty claims, that would essentially make it a permanent solution for any one computer, because 8 years is an eternity in this field.
As far as the downsides go, this paste’s consistency could be problematic for some. It’s rather thin, probably more so than most other products, which could be an issue when it comes to the application, particularly if you’re used to something else.
High Performance Thermal Paste
Cooler Master is a company well-known for its high-quality coolers (surprising, we know), so it stands to reason they would also be making thermal paste, as the former simply cannot function without the latter. We’ll start by pointing out that this is the most versatile product on our list, suitable to be used on CPUs, graphics cards, as well as chipsets on the motherboard, etc.
To go along with this versatility, we also have its ease of use – the package comes with 2 socket templates which are there to help with the application of the paste and ensure you don’t accidentally get it on a surface it’s not meant for. We really appreciated this gesture by the manufacturer, as the templates can be of huge help to anyone who doesn’t have a perfectly steady hand.
What really stands out about this product is its heat resistance. The compound should retain its consistency even at temperatures as high as 177°C (350°F), which should give you plenty of room when it comes to overclocking and allow you to really squeeze your components for all they’re worth in terms of performance (provided it’s accompanied by an appropriate cooling system).
The only thing about its thermal conductivity rate is that, while very good, it is not the absolute highest out there, although this really should not be an issue unless you have particularly extreme requirements (for example, if you’re planning to heavily overclock your computer and you also live in a tropical climate).
Arctic Silver 5
Finishing off the list with an industry favorite, Arctic Silver 5 is frequently considered the benchmark thermal paste for CPUs, against which all others are compared. Consisting of 99.9% pure silver, this metallic content guarantees unmatched thermal transfer, but also means it should be used exclusively for central processing units (you may get away with applying it to a graphics card, however we advise against it).
One thing to note about its performance is the fact that this brand exhibits a certain “break-in” period – namely, it requires around 200 hours of use before it reaches peak performance. However, due to the outstanding results this paste displays immediately upon application, this just means that your readings will keep getting better and better as time goes by, culminating in a truly spectacular reduction in your CPU’s working temperature.
We’ll also point out that this product comes in a pack of 2, which means even professional users can get a lot of mileage out of one purchase. Finally, the last attribute we’ll address is the stability of the compound. During our tests, there were absolutely no signs of separation or “bleeding”, which is of the utmost importance not only for general performance, but also for the one downside we could find to this product (which we’ll get to next).
The downside in question is the fact that, while not electrically conductive, this paste is slightly capacitive, meaning the user needs to pay great attention that it doesn’t come into contact with electrical pins or leads, or it could cause problems. Just remember, take your time when applying it and precision is key – if you can do that, you’ll be awestruck by the results.
All three products have shown exemplary results during our tests and are miles ahead of the generic stuff that usually comes pre-applied when you purchase a new component. ARCTIC MX-4 and Cooler Master’s Thermal Paste have shown comparable results, with the main difference being their composition. ARCTIC MX-4 is carbon-based, while Cooler Master’s Thermal Paste relies on silicone – depending on the component you’ve chosen, one of these substances could be preferable, so this can be a good way to make your decision.
However, the winner in our opinion would have to be the Arctic Silver 5, simply due to its performance. It is an outstanding product for both the aspiring layman looking to eke out some extra performance from their home computer and for the seasoned professional who’ll be able to use the two-syringe pack to meet the needs of numerous clients.