Last Updated on March 3, 2020 by Jake
Computers produce hefty amounts of heat when used for extended periods of time, especially when gaming. While it’s inevitable, it’s best to help keep it under control with cooling systems designed particularly for such an issue. An integral part of the cooling mechanism is thermal paste. You’ll want to get the best thermal paste for your PC to keep it performing and lasting a long time.
Although computers do come equipped with pre-applied paste, many times it’s not long lasting. If you ever can physically feel the heat coming off of your PC, it’s probably time to apply some thermal paste.
You may not realize it, but a competent thermal paste has the ability to substantially improve heat handling and in turn, the performance of your CPU or GPU. Now, the real question pops up, what’s the best thermal paste out there? How to apply it? Are there any special factors you should be aware of?
Well, we’ll be answering all that and more with our list below on the best thermal paste followed by instructions on how to apply thermal paste. Without further ado, let’s get to work!
Top Picks – Quick Look:
|ARCTIC MX-4 - Thermal Compound Paste For Coolers | Heat Sink Paste | Composed of Carbon Micro-particles | Easy to Apply | High Durability - 4 Grams||Check Price on Amazon|
|MasterGel Maker Nano-High performance MGZ-NDSG-N15M-R1||Check Price on Amazon|
|Arctic MX-4 - Thermal Compound Paste For Coolers | Heat Sink Paste | Composed of Carbon Micro-particles | Easy to Apply | High Durability - 4 Grams||Check Price on Amazon|
|Noctua NT-H1 3.5g, Pro-Grade Thermal Compound Paste (3.5g)||Check Price on Amazon|
|Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut Thermal Grease Paste - 1.0 Gram||Check Price on Amazon|
Best Thermal Paste Reviews
Kicking off our list, we got one of the highest rated thermal pastes, the undoubtedly earned its spot. It was released as the successor of Arctic Silver 5, which we’ll get to later on, and it has been a hit ever since.
The reason begins with the fact that it’s composed of Carbon Micro-Particles, which makes for outstanding thermal conductivity without being electrically conductive. So it’ll do a great job of cooling while avoiding any circuit damage.
It doesn’t contain silver or other metals which explains the lower conductivity of 8.5W/mK. But it does outperform the Arctic Silver 5. Adding the 8-year life span, the Arctic MX-4 thermal paste is one you simply can’t go wrong with.
What we like:
- Carbon-based, with high thermal conductivity
- Safe to use with delicate circuitry
- Durable, 8-years of years is promised
- Easy to work with out of an application tube
- Efficiently handles overclocking heat rise
- Compatible with nitrogen, compression, air, and liquid coolers
What we don’t:
- The pricing may be considered high, however, you get a generous amount
MasterGel Maker Nano by Cooler Master
- Ultra-high conductivity for Chipset (11 W/m.K)
- Nano Diamond particles maintains through a wide range of temperatures (-50 to 150℃)
- Excellent Viscosity makes it easy to spread or remove without cracking or drying out
Next up, we have the Cooler Master MasterGel Maker, marketed for extreme cooling with a name that happens to attract users based in its ring alone.
This thermal paste is manufactured using industrial-grade diamond particles of nano size, serving graphite-like conductivity and once again, non-electrical conductive traits. Transferring heat at 11W/mK, this paste can compete with some liquid metal products out there.
Being Nano also allows for lightweight and smooth application, avoiding oxidation over time. It handles a rather wide range of temperatures from -50 to 150 °C, so it should fit just fine with liquid nitrogen or compressed fluid systems. At a reasonable price, you’ll have nothing to complain about with the MasterGel Maker Nano-High Performance.
What we like:
- 11W/mK thermal conductivity
- No electrical conductivity
- Soft, comes with a spreader
- Effective temperature range of -50 to 150°C
What we don’t:
- The tip can pour out too much paste if you aren’t careful
Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Paste
- WELL PROVEN QUALITY: The design of our thermal paste packagings has changed several times, the formula of the composition has remained unchanged, so our MX pastes have stood for high quality
- EXCELLENT PERFORMANCE: MX-4 thermal paste is made of carbon microparticles, guaranteeing extremely high thermal conductivity. This ensures that heat from the CPU/GPU is dissipated quickly & efficiently
- SAFE APPLICATION: The MX-4 is metal-free and non-electrical conductive which eliminates any risks of causing short circuit, adding more protection to the CPU and VGA cards
- HIGH DURABILITY: In contrast to metal and silicon thermal compound, the MX-4 does not compromise over time. Once applied, you do not need to apply it again as it will last at least for 8 years
- EASY TO APPLY: With an ideal consistency, the MX-4 is very easy to use, even for beginners
“Old is gold” is what the Arctic Silver all about. With such age, you’d think it’s way past its glory, but it performs so well giving many of the current market competitors a run for their money.
At 8.9W/mK thermal conductivity, it does an excellent job of dissipating heat matching some of today’s popular thermal pastes as it contains micronized silver particles for optimum stability. It pushes through a various range of temperatures, handling liquid nitrogen, compressed fluids like a champ, although you do have to run it for 200 hours of heat cycles first.
In theory, it’s branded as electrically non-conductive which should check out, but the presence of highly conductive silver still presents the possibility of short-circuiting. The curing time is on the longer end of the spectrum as well.
What we like:
- Remarkable thermal conductivity
- Can work with liquid nitrogen and compressed fluid setups
- Simple application, great for beginners
What we don’t:
- 200 hours curing period
- Renowned premium-grade thermal compound for optimal heat-transfer from the CPU or GPU to the heatsink; more than 150 awards and recommendations
- Easy to apply (no need to spread before heatsink installation) and easy to clean with dry paper towel or tissue (no cleaning alcohol required)
- Not electrically conductive and non-corroding thermal grease: no risk of short-circuits and safe to use with all types of heatsinks
- Trusted Noctua quality with excellent long-term stability: recommended storage time up to 3 years, recommended usage time on the CPU up to 5 years
- 3.5g pack for around 3-20 applications (depending on CPU size, e.g. ~3 applications for TR4, ~20 for LGA1151)
With an established reputation for cooling solutions, Noctua presents us with the NT-H1 thermal paste, used by tons of overclocking enthusiasts for numerous setups. The motive behind this release was to compete with Arctic Silver 5, turning its weaknesses into strengths.
Right off the bat, the thermal conductivity of this past checks in at 8.9W/mK, neck and neck with Arctic Silver 5, but comes just a bit short in practical performance. However, the lifespan of the NT-H1 is truly incredible, as one application will last you almost 5 long years without having to reapply.
The NT-H1 is specially designed to complement liquid and compressor cooling systems for top-notch overall performance. Application is kind of tricky though because the paste can be a little too thick, so it’s not super easy to get out of the tube. Overall, the Noctua NT-H1 offers nice quality at an affordable price.
What we like:
- An amazing lifespan of 5 years
- Highly compatible with liquid nitrogen and compressor cooling systems
- Great for overclocking
- Impressive conductivity
Things we don’t:
- Thickness makes application somewhat difficult
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut
- Convenient 1.0 gram syringe, making this thermal paste very easy to apply
- 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
Finishing up our list, we just couldn’t skip one of Thermal Grizzly’s exceptional creations, the Kryonaut thermal grease, which to us is a clear candidate for best thermal paste.
Despite what the name suggests, this thermal paste doesn’t deliver sub-zero freezing, but still delivers a rather incredible cooling job compared to other contenders. Using a sweet 12.5W/mK thermal conductivity, the frosty effect can put a fight against numerous liquid metal thermal pastes.
Moreover, the Grizzly Kryonaut isn’t going to short circuit your electronics at all, so don’t fret if you got a splash of your precious graphics card or motherboard. What’s even better is the ability to endure temperatures up to an insane 300 °C, enough to satisfy your overclocking desires. It goes without saying it’ll also work perfectly with liquid nitrogen coolers having no issues with extremely low temperatures.
What we like:
- Highest thermal conductivity at 12.5W/mK
- Withstands both temperature extremes
- Highly non-conductive
- User-friendly application
What we don’t:
- On the expensive side
What is Thermal Paste and How does it Work?
Thermal paste, otherwise known as thermal grease or gunk, is a matter usually grey in color with zinc oxide as a basic ingredient and functions as a heat transfer agent.
We already established that a computer generates lots of heat, so much that it can seriously damage its components especially sensitive ones like processors and graphics cards. Your cooling system is responsible for dissipating this heat away from the CPU into what is called a heat sink.
A heat sink is either air-based or utilizes water to achieve the cooling effect. It sits on top of the CPU, receives heat which is then transferred via copper wires to an end where fans are blowing air to combat the heat away. Alternatively, water runs over the heat sink, gets heated up and travels into a radiator which also has fans blowing on the water to cool it down before returning back to the heat sink.
Sound like a flawless system right? Well, not exactly. Since they’re made of metal, heat sinks, coolers, and CPUs are never totally flat. If you look closely you’ll find holes, bumps, and many other imperfections where air can potentially get trapped. This air doesn’t conduct heat so some of it remains trapped there and the efficiency of cooling drops, leading to a high risk of overheating.
This is where the best thermal paste comes in, filling in all the grooves so no air gets stuck in between the layers. It’s also engineered to be thermally conductive so it helps move excess heat into the heat sink. So you see, if you’re a heavy user, plan on overclocking your CPU, or just own expensive high-end parts, you need to use a thermal paste.
Things to Consider Before Buying Thermal Paste
On your trip searching for the best thermal paste, a few terms or concepts may seem confusing and a bit overwhelming, which is why we’ll be going through them to better understand why you should keep them in mind.
This is the most important property to look for in the best thermal paste. Thermal conductivity tells how good of a job a thermal paste does in moving hear from one place to another, which is the whole point of using it.
Its value is typically measured in watts per square meter of area (W/mK) and, generally, the higher the number the better. When you’re buying the best thermal paste, make sure it has good thermal conductivity to conduct heat reliably. You’ll find liquid thermal pastes to have the highest thermal conductivity.
What this relates to is how thick or thing the thermal paste is. Higher viscosity means a thicker texture, actually like a paste, which will stick more to your processor.
A lower viscosity means a more liquid form which won’t adhere as quick as paste, but rather over a few days time.
This is a property you want to stay away from when it comes to the best thermal paste. If your paste conducts electricity, there’s a very good chance it will affect and even harm your processor or other components due to short circuits.
Metal thermal pastes, although do a superb job conducting heat, are unfortunately electrically conductive as well. Ceramic and Silicon-based thermal pastes, on the other hand, don’t conduct electricity.
How to Apply Thermal Paste
When it comes to applying thermal paste, there are a few different techniques you can try, all leading to similar results in the end.
The first method is called the “Pea method”. This is the most popular one where you pour a dot or pea-sized amount of thermal paste onto the middle of the surface of your graphics card or processor. As you lay the heat sink over, it will spread evenly.
Another method is placing a vertical line of paste across the CPU surface without going beyond the edges. You can also go with a circular pattern or an ” X” shape, as long as you create thin lines.
Sometimes you’ll get a special tool or brush with your thermal paste to spread it out equally.
Tips for Applying Thermal Paste
Before applying thermal paste, be sure you’re working with a clean surface. Use isopropyl or rubbing alcohol on a paper tissue because it’s non-conductive.
Don’t go too high or too low on the quantity. Going overboard with thermal paste will fireback giving you a lousy performance as the extra paste will act as an insulator, retaining heat instead of removing it. At the same time, using too little amounts won’t do the job adequately.
Even the best thermal pastes out there can be electrically conductive, so try not to spill your thermal paste over other parts of the motherboard. You don’t want to experience short circuits action.
Removing and Reapplying Thermal Paste
As an unwritten rule, you should change your thermal paste after 1 year, in the least, from the first application as well as when you reinstall your cooler. You don’t need to really worry about this as long as you routinely clean your PC.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about how it’s done. Isopropyl is the way to go here, it’s quite the most effective substance to clean electronic components with. Just pour some on the targeted part, let it sit for a couple of minutes, wipe it with a fresh piece of cloth, and voila! You’re good to go.
Best Thermal Paste Wrap Up
As a heavy gamer, I often tend to overclock my CPU which is why I want the best thermal paste to efficiently cool my processor, along with my worries, under extreme heat conditions. This is why the Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut has my vote this time. However, if you’re more of an average user, the Arctic MX-4 should leave you more than pleased.
Need ideas for a PC build? Check out our post on the best gaming PC builds under $1500.
Last update on 2021-04-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API