Best Thermal Paste

Thermal Paste Kit

We spent 72 hours trying and monitoring 12 different thermal pastes to come up with a list of the top 5 thermal paste. We factored in density, conductivity, composition and usage lifetime. We ranked the Artic MX 4 in the first place because it hit just the right number of checklist items all things considered. This thermal paste doesn’t conduct electricity so you don’t have to worry about an accidental short-circuit. We also didn’t notice a significant loss in thermal conductivity when compared to metal gels. Finally, this product is easy to apply, affordable, has a high usage lifetime of 8 years and is fairly easy to apply.

Thermal Paste Reviews

We are a group of 4 computer geeks who have a passion for building PCs from scratch. One of us actually builds custom gaming computers for a living so finding projects to try these on wasn’t difficult. We simply got tired of arguing back and forth about which is the best thermal paste.

Since we all have experience with these products, we picked out ones we used or are fairly common and put them to the test. We monitored the results over three days for each paste to come up with this review.

Top 5 Picks

1st Place: Artic MX 4

Placing the Artic MX 4 in the first place was a unanimous decision simply because of how well it ticks all the boxes. This carbon-based comes in an-easy-to-use syringe tube and at a very affordable price. We mounted the cooler very quickly after applying a good amount of paste so it was nice not having to wait around for it to spread out evenly.

We loved the fact that this is a carbon-based paste. This means there are no worries about conducting electricity while doing a great job to dissipate heat. We have had prior experience with Arctic thermal pastes so we were happy to see that this specific one isn’t as viscous as the previous models.

Its consistent performance impressed including a satisfactory job handling peak performance. We recommend this product for someone who has experience with thermal gel because it’s easy to put too much which affects performance. Either way, this paste doesn’t conduct heat so there is no risk of a short circuit. The usage lifetime is reported to be 8 years which is a lot better than most other products on the market.

2nd Place: Noctua NT-H1

The Noctua NT-H1 is also very simple to apply and we could see results running the computer at peak performance shortly after application.  Noctua is a notable brand around air cooler circles so it’s not a stretch for the company to also excel in thermal pastes. This is a ceramic paste so again, you don’t expect conductivity or any short circuit issues with metal-based pastes.

We especially loved that we didn’t have to wait for the paste to settle before working the CPU to maximum capacity. We were also able to easily clean some excess paste using 70% alcohol. One of our team members uses this paste on his computer for two years now at almost constant peak operating temperature with no issues.

We recommend the Noctua NT-H1 for someone with little or no experience applying thermal paste. The consistency is relatively thick compared to the Artic MX 4 which makes it a little difficult to over-do things.

3rd Place: Artic Silver 5

We’d first like to clarify that there is no relation between Artic and Artic Silver. These are actually two very different brands which are easy to mix up. Still, the Artic Silver 5 is a solid choice and well deserving of a third place on this list. You might have caught on to the trend so far as this is another non-conductive paste. This ceramic paste has withstood the test of time as a best seller for many years and it’s easy to see why.

This Arctic Silver is stable at peak operating temperatures that use the real silver compound to achieve its impressive thermal conductivity.

 The only reason this product wasn’t higher on the list is we had to wait a little longer than we would have liked for the paste to settle before getting to work. This is a negligible issue but we tend to be nitpicky about these things. This is yet another product we’d recommend to beginners as its viscosity makes it a little difficult to over-apply.

4th Place: Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra

This is the first metal thermal paste we liked and we have to admit that the Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra holds its own on this list. The truth is the thermal conductivity of metal pastes cannot be replicated. This paste worked exceptionally well operating at peak temperature for long periods of time; we just wish it was made from some other material without losing its exemplary performance. Based on performance alone, the Coollaboratory would have taken top position but it didn’t quite hit the other spots.

The downsides are not an issue for a professional or someone with good experience building computers. The application process can be a little taxing (requires three steps) so a beginner or first-timer would want to look elsewhere on this list. A small amount goes a long way with this product so read the instruction if you have never used this specific brand before.

We highly recommend this product for a professional who is only interested in performance and nothing else. Note that this paste isn’t compatible with aluminum heat sinks though this is rarely an issue.

5th Place: CoolerMaster High-Performance Thermal Paste

Finally, on our top five lists, we have another metal thermal paste, the CoolerMaster High Performance. True to its name, we were impressed by its performance even at optimum capacity. It uses metal oxides which have always proven their worth when it comes to cooling.

The application syringe is quite easy to use even for an amateur, but we do caution that the viscosity might be runnier than you are accustomed to. The viscosity is one area we had to take away a point or two, but the product more than makes it up in performance.

The spreader that comes in the package is a thoughtful addition though this may not be necessary if you know what you are doing. Overall, this paste is a solid choice and highly recommended for DYI’s with good experience working with these kinds of paste. This option is also a great choice for anyone only interested in performance.

Thermal Paste Buyer’s Guide

CPU Thermal Paste

What is Thermal Paste?

Thermal paste is a compound typically applied on a computer processor before installing a graphics card, custom cooler or CPU heatsink. Anyone with good experience building computers will tell you that this paste is absolutely vital if you want your heatsink or cooler to work effectively.

On the surface level, the base of a heatsink and your processor look flat. The truth is there are microscopic holes or gaps that fill with air. Air is a poor conductor of heat which means that your device won’t dissipate heat effectively.

Thermal paste basically fills in these holes or gaps. Since the paste is a good conductor of heat, it’s able to effectively bridge the gap to allow your heatsink or cooler to function effectively.

Other names for thermal paste include thermal compound, TIM, heat sink paste, thermal gel and silicon compound among others.

Types of Thermal Paste

There are three main types of thermal paste identified with their composition. The pastes may be made from metal, silicone or ceramic. The composition, of course, affects conductivity to some level as you will soon find out. 

Metal: Metal has great thermal conductivity qualities and these pastes tend to offer the best performance. The only problem is metal is a great thermal conductor as well as an electrical conductor. This conductivity means that there is the risk of a short circuit should the paste go beyond the application area to the mother board or other metal parts. It is for this reason we don’t recommend metal for beginners or first-timers. If, however, you are only interested in peak thermal conductivity and have good experience working with these products, a metal thermal paste is a great choice.

Ceramic: ceramic-based thermal pastes are favored over metal because ceramic does not conduct electricity. This option is much safer especially if you are not confident working with TIM. Ceramic also fares well in thermal conductivity compared to metal so what you give up in conductivity are often negligible.

Heat Sink Thermal Paste

Silicone: Finally, silicone base thermal pastes are typically used on thermal pads. These thermal pads attach directly to the processor or heatsink. Silicone doesn’t compare well to the other two options although it is still a good choice for someone who isn’t too keen on numbers and specifics.

What to Look for In Thermal Paste

Now that you have a good idea of what thermal pastes are all about, we tried to include suggestions in our review section to hopefully make your decision easier. The reviews aside, there are a few areas you should look into to determine which the best thermal paste is for you.

Composition

This refers to whether the paste is made from metal, silicone or ceramic. Metal is definitely the superior choice for thermal conductivity. Silicone, on the other hand, doesn’t give away too much in thermal conductivity while is a safer choice because it doesn’t conduct electricity.

Conductivity

Conductivity goes hand in hand with composition. The overview here is the choice between metal and silicone may boil down to the level of conductivity you need. The metal may be preferable for optimum performance over the long-term.

White Thermal Paste

Density

Also referred to as viscosity, this feature determines how easy or difficult the paste is to apply and spread. Thicker pastes may be preferable for beginners since these are difficult to spread away from the designated area. Density also affects how long you might have to wait for the compound to settle before you can start working specifically at optimum performance. Thinner pastes tend to settle quicker although the difference is negligible in most cases.

Usage Lifetime

Finally, usage lifetime refers to how long the paste remains effective. The lifespan, of course, depends on how you use your computer. As a general rule, thermal compounds have a lifespan of about 3 years although some such as the Artic MX 4 last up to eight. Also be sure to check the expiry date on the packaging before buying. Some thermal gels have a shelf life of two years which isn’t a problem unless you are buying it a few months or days to expiry.

Quality of Cooling System

The type of cooling system you have determines the level of conductivity would be most useful. High-performance air coolers and liquid coolers require optimum conductivity so metal thermal pastes would make sense. It is worth noting that the products on our list all work well with these types of coolers. We tested each option with both air and liquid coolers and the results were good enough for us to recommend each time.

Experience

You should also factor in your experience with thermal pastes. Some of the products such as the Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra require multiple steps. Ideally, the paste should be simple and straightforward to apply right out of the packaging if you have no experience with this kind of work.

Conclusion

The thermal pastes on the list come highly recommended and current sales indicate that we were on the right track with this review. Don’t be afraid to ask for a professional opinion in case you need extra help. We are however happy to say that you will be satisfied with the products covered here if you aren’t a stickler for details and specs.

These are also well-known brands so you should get some support easily in case you need any help with applications. Forums are always a great place to get additional tips and advice in case you need it.