Top 3 Best Thermal Compounds for CPU Cooling
Using the correct thermal paste can make a significant difference to your CPU temperatures. Different thermal compounds have their own ups and downs, some are easier to apply than others and some can be electrical conductors.
We are going to pick our top 3 thermal compounds based on their performance and ease of use. A thermal paste may perform really well but be an absolute nightmare to spread on the CPU or may be conductive, which may put some users off as it could damage your hardware if applied wrong.
Absolute Best Performance Thermal Paste – Thermal Grizzly
So if all-out performance is your goal then the Thermal Grizzly thermal compound is going to be your best bet. This thermal compound boasts up to a 10 degree advantage over some of its competitors and is a truly awesome thermal paste.
It is however conductive, this means that it will be harder to use properly and if the thermal paste isn’t applied correctly then there is the potential for it to fry your motherboard. In order to apply this paste, you will need to spread it properly with the stick that comes with the compound. The reason you cannot use the pea method is that it could expand too far and spill over onto the motherboard where it could cause damage.
The Thermal Grizzly thermal paste is also more expensive than some of its competition. This may be due to the fact that it uses a liquid metal compound, but could also just be due to the fact that it’s the best performer on the market.
Something else to keep in mind with the Thermal Grizzly thermal compound is that you cannot use an aluminum heatsink with it because the liquid metal will damage the surface of the heatsink.
Thermal Grizzly Pros:
Thermal Grizzly Cons:
Harder to apply
Can’t use an aluminum heatsink
Best Overall Thermal Compound – Arctic MX-4
So if you want a great allrounder then the Arctic MX-4 thermal grease has been the go-to product for many PC builders. It manages to get all of the benefits without any of the drawbacks of the Thermal Grizzly paste.
It’s one of the highest performers of the non-conductive compounds, is easy to apply, can be used with any heatsink and is reasonably priced.
It falls just short of our next compound in terms of performance, but is easier to use and will be more than enough for everyone but the most extreme of overclockers.
Arctic MX-4 Pros:
Easy to apply
Arctic MX-4 Cons:
We haven’t found any!
Best Non Conductive for Overclocking – Noctua NT-H1
So the Noctua NT-H1 thermal grease can get up to a 2 degree advantage over the Arctic MX-4. However, it is a thicker paste which makes it slightly more difficult to apply.
It is non-conductive though which means you can use whichever method you prefer to spread it and if it does manage to spill over then it won’t fry your baby.
It also comes in slightly cheaper than the Arctic MC-4 but comes with less grease. There is still plenty in the tube for 10-15 applications though so chances are you won’t use all of it anyway!.
Noctua NT-H1 Pros:
Highest non-conductive performance
Noctua NT-H1 Cons:
Thicker consistency so is harder to apply
Which Thermal Paste Application Method?
This is a hot topic among PC builders, with many people defending their method to the death. We say it really matters on the type of paste you are using.
So if it’s a thicker thermal paste then you will want to spread the paste with a spreader or credit card. This is because it will be harder to spread with just pressure alone. If you are using this method then you will want to draw a line across the cpu then spread it out from there.
If you are using a conductive paste then you will also want to use the spreading method. This is to ensure that the thermal paste doesn’t spread out too far onto the motherboard and cause it to fry something.
The next up is my personal favorite, which is the pea method. The pea method is where you just blob a pea-sized amount of paste in the center of the CPU and then simply put the heatsink on top and let the pressure spread the paste evenly.
There is also the cross method where you apply a cross pattern in order to spread the thermal compound to all the corners with the pressure of the heatsink. We don’t think this is necessary and you run the risk of applying too much paste and causing it to spread to far.
The only exception where we would consider straying from the pea method if we were using a non-conductive and pliable paste would be if we were applying the paste to an odd shaped CPU like the threadripper. In this case, we would be inclined to either spread the thermal paste manually or to apply a line instead of a pea sized dot and then allow the pressure to then spread the paste as normal.
How to Apply Thermal Paste
So you may be wondering how to apply thermal paste if you have never had to do it before, or if you just want to refresh your knowledge.
It really is quite a simple procedure and not something to worry about (unless you are using conductive paste!).
- Remove heatsink
- Use rubbing alcohol or a specialized thermal paste cleaner to clean the top of the CPU and the bottom of the heatsink.
- Once clean and dry, apply your thermal compound to the top of the CPU using the method of your choice (see above)
- Replace the heatsink. If you are using the pea method then you may want to consider giving it a little twist once its the heatsink is back on in order to get the thermal compound to settle.
We told you it wasn’t complicated!
If you just want a simple thermal paste that performs well and is easy to use then the Arctic MX-4 is an awesome thermal paste that won’t let you down.
If you require the absolute best performance and have a bit of experience in applying thermal paste then the Thermal Grizzly is going to be your best bet. It will help you eek out those higher overclocks.
If performance is still important but you don’t want the risk of bricking your PC, then the Noctua NT-H1 thermal grease is going to be the best compound for you.
There is no point having thermal compound and no cooler to go with it so check out our Best CPU Air Coolers for 2018.
Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.