Finding the right thermal paste is crucial for improving temperatures, which in turn, can significantly improve the performance of your CPU or GPU. 🖥️ 💨
Used between a heatsink and PC components, thermal paste can even extend the lifespan of your pricey gaming computer parts as long as you have the correct appliance method. Take a short break here and check out how to apply thermal paste; if you already know that, read on.
As thermal paste transfers excess heat from your CPU to the heatsink, finding the correct type of grease is necessary—and often overlooked. So, whether you’re looking to apply thermal paste to your new heatsink, or you simply want to replace the thermal grease on your old CPU, we’ve got you covered with the best thermal paste to buy in 2020.
Best Choice: Arctic MX-4
Pros & Cons
- Easy to Apply
- Doesn't contain metallic particles
- Not great for overclocking
- Thermal Conductivity: 8.5 W/mK
- Composed of carbon micro-particles
Arctic MX-4 Review
As the Arctic MX-4 is one of the most popular thermal compounds on the market, we just had to crown it as the best choice thermal paste for 2020. Not only is it widely available, but it's also easy to apply owing to its syringe-like design.
As it's a carbon-based thermal grease, the Arctic MX-4 is a compound suitable for those who need to cut down on heat, but don't wish to use an electrically conductive paste.
With a thermal conductivity of 8.5 W/mK, Arctic's carbon thermal paste is ideal for heat transfer for users with high-end gaming rigs. Plus, at $10, you get a premium thermal paste without the premium price tag.
Claiming around eight years of life per application, you really don't need to go buying this thermal paste in bulk either. Of course, it's not great for gamers who like to push their gaming PCs to the limits. So, overclockers will need something a little bit stronger—maybe our premium pick thermal paste will do the job?
Premium Pick: Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut
Pros & Cons
- Plastic applicator makes it easy to apply the grease
- Fantastic thermal performance
- Great for overclocking
- Expensive for 1 gram of paste
- Thermal Conductivity: 12.5 W/mK
- Outstanding thermal conductivity
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut Review
Although the next thermal paste on our list is a pricey option, it promises a thermal conductivity of 12.5 W/mK. Suitable for overclocking your CPU or GPU, the Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut grease is one of the best non-capacitive thermal pastes on the market.
It's easy to apply using the included plastic applicator, and once it's on, it'll maintain brilliant thermal conductivity for the best performance possible. So, although it’s pretty pricey, it’s definitely worth the investment. Blending a unique formula of zinc oxide and nano-aluminum for fantastic dissipation, temperatures will remain safe for long periods of time.
Just make sure that you know what you're doing before you go squirting this thing all over your PC components, as it's only available in 1 gram sizes. Nevertheless, it's our premium pick thermal paste as it boasts great thermal conductivity for a pretty affordable price.
Best Value: Arctic Silver 5
Pros & Cons
- Silver efficiently conducts heat
- Easy to apply and remove
- Competitively priced
- Takes a while to settle in
- Thermal Conductivity: 6.0 W/mK
- Made with 99.9% pure silver
Arctic Silver 5 Review
If you're on a pretty tight budget after splashing out on a high-grade gaming GPU, chances are you'll need to spend as little money as possible. Luckily for you, the Arctic Silver 5 is a thermal paste that costs a mere $6.20.
Although it is made up of 99.9% micronize silver, it's still considered a ceramic TIM, so try not to spill it over your other PC components. Thankfully, the design of the Arctic Silver 5 thermal paste allows for easy application, so chances are you won't go making a mess.
Micronized silver isn't always a bad thing, however, as it is known to efficiently conduct heat making your CPU/GPU work even better.
It does take a little while to settle in once you've applied it. Albeit, after a few hours have passed, you should be good to go. As it's so competitively priced, we really can't complain too much about the time it takes to settle in, it's just something to consider before playing demanding titles.
Best Cheap Pick: Cooler Master High Performance Thermal Paste
Pros & Cons
- Suitable for CPUs, chipsets on Mainboard, VGA cards, etc.
- Easy to apply
- 2 year shelf life
- Thermal Conductivity: 4.5 W/mK
- Comes with ZIF socket templates for accurate application
Cooler Master High Performance Thermal Paste Review
The least-expensive thermal paste on our list is by Cooler Master, a company known for producing fantastic computer cases and power supplies. Fittingly designed to be a high-performance thermal paste, this Cooler Master grease keeps temps low enough for intense gaming sessions.
So, even though it has the lowest thermal conductivity, it is a fantastic paste that shouldn't be overlooked. With a spreader and handy templates to help you apply the Cooler Master High Performance branded thermal grease to your CPU, applying the paste is a very simple process. I mean, if you mess this one up, you really are a fool!
All jokes aside, it's a superb thermal paste suitable for your CPU and graphics card. Plus, with a price tag of $5.99, it's the best cheap pick thermal paste on the market.
Thermal Pastes: Buying Guide
Before you go out and buy thermal paste for your gaming PC components, there are a few important things you need to consider. This way, you'll be able to choose the right thermal compound for you and your own personal requirements.
The Basics: What is Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste (or thermal grease) is a very high heat conductive paste used between a heatsink and a CPU/GPU for better heat conduction. To do this, it eliminates the air gaps between the two surfaces in order to maximise heat transfer and overall performance. This way, your PC components will last longer and you’ll be left with a high-functioning gaming rig.
Serving Size and Shelf Life: Thermal Compound Lifespan
If you only need to apply thermal paste to one computer, you won’t need a large tub of thermal paste. Even the smallest tubes—such as the 1g Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut—have enough grease to handle one application.
However, if you own more than one PC or you just want more paste in general, we advise that you buy a little more thermal grease. If you do end up purchasing a larger tube, it's a good idea to keep shelf life in mind as some thermal paste’s only last 2 years.
Thermal Conductivity: Crucial for Performance
One of the most important factors to consider when purchasing thermal paste is thermal conductivity. As you might have guessed, the higher the thermal conductivity, the better. Albeit, keep in mind that the placement of a paste determines its thermal conductivity.
Though, saying that, some thermal grease is just better than others at conducting heat. The thermal conductivity of our best choice thermal paste option, for example, is 8.5 W/mK—enough to keep things cool, but admittedly not the best type of paste for overclocking.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do You Really Need Thermal Paste?
Of course! You need thermal paste in order to move heat efficiently from your CPU heat spreader to the heatsink. You see, thermal paste fills the gap between your heat spreader and the heatsink, allowing for better transfer of heat to keep temps down. Therefore, if you don't use thermal paste, you will inevitably destroy your CPU.
How Much Thermal Paste Do I Put on a CPU?
You only need to apply a very thin line of thermal paste down the center of the integrated heat spreader. Once you've done that, you must allow the pressure of your CPU cooler to spread the paste as you secure it into place. It’s really that easy—even your grandmother could probably apply thermal paste! Just, please don’t let her apply it for you.
Can You Use CPU Thermal Paste on GPU?
At the end of the day, thermal paste is used for one thing and one thing only, to get better heat conduction. The only difference between using thermal paste on a CPU and a GPU is the application process. on a CPU, you only need a small line or dot in the middle. On a GPU, you have to spread it evenly on top of the cores.
What Can I Use to Remove Thermal Paste?
Removing thermal paste is a very simple process that should only be done when removing your heatsink or if you notice temps getting much higher than usual.
Other than that, a high-quality thermal paste will last a very long time. To remove the thermal paste, all you need to do is apply one or two drops of 99% pure IPA (isopropyl alcohol), Goo Gone, or even alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Once that's settled in for a minute or two, wipe it off using a lint-free cloth.
How Do I Apply Thermal Paste?
If you've never applied the thermal paste before or you simply need a reminder of how to properly apply thermal grease, here's a quick step-by-step guide:
- Clean off the old paste from your CPU and cooler:
- Apply one or two drops of rubbing alcohol onto the grease
- Wait a minute or two and then wipe it off with a lint-free cloth
- Apply a paper thin layer of thermal paste to your CPU—a small dot or line in the center will do
- Take your cooler and press it straight down onto your CPU so that the paste spreads evenly
- Lock your cooler down into place and then you're done
Note, that if you've applied too much paste, you'll need to wipe the excess from around the edges of your CPU. If you don't think you've applied enough, you will have to clean everything up and try again. But don't fret, it isn't the end of the world if you don't do it right the first time.
Can I Reuse Thermal Paste?
Although you technically can reuse thermal paste for temporary usage, it's best to remove it and reapply new grease. Reusing thermal grease can allow bubbles to form between the contact surfaces, therefore, heat transfer will be poor. Plus, at $5.99, thermal grease isn't exactly expensive, so it's best to replace it rather than reuse it.
What Can Replace Thermal Paste?
Ignore everyone on the internet telling you to use toothpaste as an alternative to thermal paste—toothpaste is for your teeth, not your computer! If you really want to freshen up your gaming rig, stick to a high-quality thermal paste. After all, we have some budget-friendly options on our list that I'm sure most gamers will be able to afford.
At around $10, even the best thermal paste on the market is extremely affordable. Just know that whatever paste you choose from our list, you must make sure that you apply it to your GPU or CPU properly. After all, the application of the thermal grease determines its thermal conductivity, which in turn, determines the overall performance of your gaming computer.
If you’re in the market for a new CPU, we’ve also got you covered with our guide to the best CPUs for gaming in 2020.
- Matt Bach, Thermal Paste Application Techniques, Puget Systems, November 12th, 2012