Thermal paste is one of the least exciting components to buy for your computer but it is an essential component that prevents overheating which could result in stuttering from throttling, blue screens and random shutdowns. It fills the microscopic gaps between the CPU and heat sink to boost the transfer of heat from the processor to the cooler, allowing it to cool more efficiently and protect your system from potential damage.
Different types of paste have different formulas and properties. Almost all are designed to flow into these tiny imperfections on the surface of the two surfaces, which improves the thermal transfer once they’re together. They also differ in what’s called cure time, which is the amount of time they need to reach peak performance once they’re applied. Some, such as Arctic Silver 5, require up to 200 hours for full curing, while others such as Thermal Grizzly’s Kryonaut are instant.
Most are made from ceramic or metallic materials suspended in a binder to allow for easy application and spread as well as simple cleanup. Some, like Gelid’s GC-Extreme, have relatively moderate viscosity which makes them stable during application and allows for even coverage. Other pastes, such as Liquid Metal, have an extremely high electrical conductivity and are therefore only suitable for use on chips with dedicated heat spreaders or areas that don’t have nearby exposed components because a single drop out of place can short-circuit motherboards and CPUs.
If you’re a beginner, it’s best to avoid Liquid Metal pastes as they contain micro-metallic particles that are highly electrically conductive. A small spill could potentially short circuit your system, and it’s not very forgiving if you apply it too lightly either. You can still get great results with a carbon-based paste though, as these don’t conduct electricity at all and are the safest option for novices.