The decision of buying a thermal paste is a very undervalued one in PC gaming, as many novice PC builders and even some enthusiasts tend not to splurge on aftermarket thermal interface materials. However, buying the best thermal paste for your particular PC can be a great way to reduce your CPU and even GPU temperatures without changing the cooling solution itself. The thermal interface material can be the weak point of your whole cooling solution and changing it can provide an impressive improvement in thermals in certain situations. Moreover, changing the thermal paste to a premium one is not a hard process and should be one of the first steps in the process if you are having issues with temperatures.
Over the past few years, we have seen a rise in the amount of performance-oriented thermal pastes that are available on the market. However, not all of them are a wise investment and one should do their research beforehand in order to purchase the best thermal paste for their particular cooling solution. Metrics like the thermal conductivity and temperature limits can be helpful in making this decision, while user reviews can also prove to be handy in determining the performance and endurance of the paste in question. Nevertheless, it should be noted that not all thermal pastes on the market are ideal for all computers, and there are certainly some factors to be considered if you are to buy the best thermal paste for your CPU and GPU.
The Best Thermal Paste Picks for your PC Build
Ranking thermal pastes can be a bit of a tricky subject due to the number of variables involved in it, so it is understandable that this purchase decision can get a bit overwhelming for novice PC builders. However, it is a decision that can prove beneficial in both the short and long term. It should be noted that some thermal pastes are only suitable for CPU applications and not for GPU applications, so a clear distinction should be made in that regard. Others are only good for laptop CPU applications so if you are looking for those, you should be on the lookout for the best thermal paste for laptops. Keeping that in mind, here are the best thermal paste options for both CPUs and GPUs in 2021.
Thermal Grizzly is widely renowned in the hardware enthusiast community as one of the finest manufacturers of thermal pastes out there. They have a versatile product lineup with several excellent options both for normal consumers as well as those who want to go the extra mile with exotic compounds such as liquid metal. We will be considering the Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut compound for this roundup, which is of the standard variety.
The Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut falls in the former category and is one of the best performance-focused thermal compounds you can buy in 2021. Thermal Grizzly has provided the Kryonaut in a variety of package sizes, including 1g, 5.5g, and 11.1g. Out of these, we found the 1g variant quite insufficient and also very expensive for what it offers, and we would definitely recommend the 5.5g variant as the sweet spot. Certainly, the Kryonaut is not one of the cheaper offerings on the market.
In terms of performance, there are few that challenge the claim of the best thermal paste, period. The official thermal conductivity rating of this paste is 12.5W/m.K which is one of the highest when it comes to traditional pastes. Moreover, this paste is also really effective for both CPU and GPU applications, owing to its excellent thermal resistance of 0.0032 K/W and density of 3.7 g/cm3. The Kyonaut is also one of the best thermal pastes for laptops, but it might be a bit too expensive for that application.
All in all, the Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut is an excellent option for enthusiasts who want to keep their temperatures to an absolute minimum, and might also want to try their hand at some strenuous overclocking. A drawback of this paste is its price, however, which might make it a bit too luxurious for a normal buyer.
Arctic has been a trustworthy name in PC cooling for a long time now, and they have produced many products for both general consumers as well as enthusiasts. The Arctic Silver 5 compound targets the latter part of the community directly, as it is a somewhat exotic paste that is focused on performance, first and foremost.
The Silver 5 has a unique trick up its sleeve that differentiates it from most of the pastes we see on the market. The paste uses micronized silver particles along with ceramic particles to create a unique blend that offers high performance as well as outstanding endurance. The paste is quite a bit denser than other pastes due to the metals present in it, and that is obvious as soon as you squeeze the tube. Arctic offers this paste in 3.5g and 12g packages which make up a good selection of sizes.
Even though its thermal conductivity is only 8.9 W/m.K which is middle-of-the-road in the performance category of thermal pastes, the actual performance of the Arctic Silver 5 is enhanced due to its unique blend of Silver and ceramic particles. The paste is also non-conductive which adds to the peace of mind, especially considering the addition of metal particles. The performance of the Arctic Silver 5 comes close to the Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut, even though its thermal conductivity might be a bit lower.
Overall, the Arctic Silver 5 is a unique choice in the category of performance-focused thermal pastes. The addition of silver and ceramic particles makes the paste a bit denser than competitors, but also simultaneously enhances its thermal performance. However, it is also a bit on the expensive side which might deter the average consumer from buying this paste.
Another reputable brand makes the list as Cooler Master is our third choice with the fan-favorite MasterGel Maker thermal paste. It is common knowledge by now that the MasterGel Maker is a rebranded version of the original MasterGel Maker Nano product that was also released by Cooler Master. This is a paste that goes head to head with the top-performing thermal pastes on the market like the Kryonaut and the AS5.
Like the Arctic Silver 5, the MasterGel Maker also provides a unique twist with its composition. It contains nano-diamond particles that offer very high thermal conductivity, and therefore make the paste ideal for overclockers. In fact, the MasterGel Maker is an excellent choice when it comes to CPU overclocking, but it falls a bit behind the competition when it comes to GPU repasting. Still, the performance that you get from the MasterGel Maker is nothing to scoff at.
Speaking of the performance, the thermal conductivity rating of the paste is also quite impressive at 11W/m.K which places it directly against the best thermal pastes on the market. CoolerMaster provides this product in a single variant of 1.5ml, which equals about 4 grams of thermal paste. This is a decent amount and should be enough for multiple applications, however, we would have liked more size options for this particular paste from Cooler Master.
Conclusively, the MasterGel Maker definitely competes for the title of best thermal paste for CPU. Its performance is among the best when it comes to CPU thermals, and it has decent endurance on top of that. Its high price might be the factor that breaks the deal for some people but nonetheless, the MasterGel Maker is a well-rounded product.
One of the most popular thermal pastes on the market comes our way from Arctic Cooling with the Arctic MX-4. The MX-4 has made its place in the market as a fan favorite due to its excellent performance paired with an incredible price-to-performance ratio. The relatively inexpensive nature of the MX-4 has also helped make it more accessible to users who don’t necessarily classify as enthusiasts.
As far as the performance of the paste is concerned, it can be classified as above-average which is a very good result, considering its middling price point. The MX-4 has a thermal conductivity rating of 8.5W/m.K that places it in the middle of the pack when it comes to performance-focused thermal compounds, but its excellent value proposition helps it surpass the competition in sales. It should not be used extensively for overclocking, but it is still a good option for CPUs and one of the best thermal pastes for laptops.
Arctic provides the MX-4 in a multitude of size options including 2g, 4g, 8g, 20g, and 45g, all of which offer satisfactory price-to-performance ratios. The MX-4 also includes a small spreader that increases the convenience factor slightly. One should be careful while purchasing the MX-4 because this particular compound has a very popular replica market that tries to exploit the inexperience of novice PC builders. Clearly, this is a result of the incredible popularity of this thermal paste among enthusiasts.
As a result, the Arctic MX-4 is a great value choice that provides more than decent performance in terms of thermals, at an affordable price point. It does have slight issues with durability and is not the best thermal paste for GPUs, but other than that it is quite a sensible buy for both regular users and enthusiasts.
The ProlimaTech PK-3 Nano Aluminum thermal paste is a paste strictly for the overclocking enthusiasts out there. While yes, the general consumers can also buy this paste and experience its incredible performance, its high price tag makes it an unreasonable purchase especially in wake of competitive options that are cheaper. Moreover, the small improvements in thermal performance would be hard to notice if you are someone who likes to set up their PC once and then leaves it as is.
In terms of performance, the ProlimaTech PK-3 Nano Aluminum really separates itself from the bunch. It hangs quite close to the Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut and even some liquid metal compounds, which should give you an idea of the amount of performance it delivers. The thermal conductivity rating is 11.2 W/m.K, which makes it an excellent choice for both CPU and GPU applications, as well as being a great option for overclockers.
To achieve this excellent thermal performance, ProlimaTech has also taken some innovative measures. The compound is moderately viscous and is integrated with aluminum and zinc oxide particles, which increase its thermal conductivity quite effectively. While it does contain metal particles, in essence, the paste still remains non-conductive so users can apply this on their CPUs and GPUs with total peace of mind. ProlimaTech provides the PK-3 in 1.5g, 5g, and 30g package choices, which is quite a versatile selection.
The price tag of the ProlimaTech PK-3 is a bit inflated for a standard thermal paste, but it is still a bit cheaper than the Kryonaut. Nevertheless, this compound should be better suited to overclockers or general enthusiasts who like to keep their temperatures down, even if it means splurging a little on a premium thermal paste.
There are few brands as popular as Noctua when it comes to PC cooling. Noctua has products that cover almost all the facets of PC cooling, and it is the general consensus among enthusiasts that they generally excel in each category. Noctua is often considered the benchmark when it comes to cooling products in the PC hardware industry, so it is no surprise that their NT-H2 thermal compound has set a high bar for itself in terms of quality.
The Noctua NT-H2 comes in a 3.5g package and Noctua offers only one package size for this thermal paste, which is a bit of a downside. Although no spreader is included in the package itself, Noctua does include some alcohol wipes of the NA-CW1 variety which makes the application process a bit streamlined. One should keep in mind to manually spread the compound when applying it on a bare GPU die since GPU coolers are not the best at doing that automatically. The lack of a spreader does seem to be a minor annoyance in this regard.
When it comes to performance, however, there are not a lot of complaints. Noctua claims that the NT-H2 is a hybrid thermal compound that integrates a variety of micro-particles to increase thermal conductivity. The actual thermal conductivity rating, however, is kept under wraps by Noctua but conservative estimates put it at around 9 W/m.K. The density of the compound is judged to be 2.81 g/cm3 which actually makes it denser than its predecessor, the NT-H1. Nevertheless, the Noctua NT-H2 is an above-average performer when it comes to thermals, and also boasts excellent durability.
Overall, Noctua has provided a well-rounded package with the NT-H2. It offers a better value for money than the Kryonaut and PK-3 but also performs slightly worse which makes it a balanced offering in the market. The NT-H2 seems to be a good choice for both enthusiasts and regular consumers owing to its excellent durability and good performance.
Thermal Conductivity: 8.5 W/m.K | Temperature Limits: –45°C to 180°C | Package Size: 1g, 3.5g, 10g
- Good Value For Money
- Non-Curing and Non-Corrosive Nature
- Included Gelid Applicator
- Questionable Endurance
- Moderate Thermal Conductivity
- Average Performance on GPUs
- Long-Term Reliability Issues
The overclocking enthusiasts among you might be familiar with Gelid, but it is a name that is probably not that common among general consumers. The Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme is another excellent thermal paste option that makes its place in the market due to its attractive value proposition. While it is surely not the best thermal paste in terms of raw performance, its relatively reasonable price point makes it a good choice for general consumers.
The performance of the GC-Extreme is certainly nothing to scoff at, but it just falls behind the top performers on our list like the MasterGel Maker and the Kryonaut. We would consider the GC-Extreme to be on par with the Arctic MX-4 in terms of thermals. This dynamic is further visible in the thermal conductivity ratings of these two thermal compounds, which is at 8.5 W/m.K for both of them. The GC-Extreme is also not a conductive thermal paste which is always good to know beforehand.
Gelid provides the GC-Extreme in 1g, 3.5g, and 10g packs so there is something for everyone here. Gelid has also included a small applicator with the paste, which is something Noctua should take note of. The endurance of this paste is not the best, but that is to be expected given the price point. The GC-Extreme is also a non-corrosive and non-curing type of thermal compound which is a positive point in the long run. However, one should avoid using this thermal compound for GPU repasting or laptop use because it produces unsatisfactory results in those applications.
All in all, the Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme is a solid package with satisfactory thermal performance and an excellent value proposition that should make it a great choice for both enthusiasts and normal consumers. It may not be the best thermal paste for laptops or GPUs, but it is certainly more than enough for moderate CPU overclocking and is ideal for regular use on stock settings.
Best Thermal Pastes – FAQs
Do you need thermal paste for water cooling?
Yes, of course. Water cooling requires thermal paste for the same reason that it is used in traditional air cooling. The thermal paste fills in the microscopic gaps and anomalies that are intrinsically present on the surface of the heat spreaders as well as the contact plate of the cooler. Be it a custom water cooling block or an AiO water cooler, thermal paste is necessary to ensure maximum heat transfer between the CPU die and the dissipation material such as radiators. It is also advisable to remove the pre-applied thermal compound that is present on most AiOs and use a fresh application of a good quality thermal paste.
Is pre-applied thermal paste good?
The quality of pre-applied thermal compounds can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but it is a general consensus among hardware enthusiasts that the compound should be replaced if you want to perform any sort of overclocking on the CPU down the line. The compound used on most stock coolers and AiOs is good enough for moderate thermal performance, but for optimal overclocking experience and longevity, you should consider replacing the stock TIM with an aftermarket option.
What kind of thermal paste to use for CPUs?
While the option of liquid metal is also available, it is highly advisable to stay away from that material if you are going to be using it on a traditional CPU with the heat spreader intact. Liquid metal works best on exposed dies and that is not possible in a standard-setting with a CPU. Normal thermal compounds with a paste-like consistency should be used for CPUs in general. Using thermal pastes with Silver particles or Diamond particles is also acceptable as those metals do not hold the same properties as liquid metal when installed on a CPU.
Does the thermal paste brand matter?
Typically, the particular brand of the thermal paste does not particularly matter as every product is different and has different properties with respect to thermal performance, consistency, and durability. However, some brands are particularly popular and considered reliable among enthusiasts for their consistency across their product range. Noctua, Arctic, and Thermal Grizzly are some of the names that many enthusiasts swear by, due to their excellent products both at the high-end and low-end of the price spectrum. However, there is no reason that other brands can't make a competitive or even better product.
How long does thermal paste last?
The lifespan of thermal paste can vary depending on the paste itself and the component that the paste is used on. Typically, one can expect normal thermal pastes to last around 4-5 years on CPUs when installed under a normal air cooler. Thermal pastes on GPU dies can last even longer than that since it is a more enclosed application on an exposed die. It is important to note that the thermal paste should definitely be replaced if you remove the CPU or GPU cooler and the paste is exposed. Thermal paste is not a material that can be reused effectively.
Factors To Consider While Buying
Buying the best thermal paste for your particular PC build can be a challenging task. Most novice PC builders and even some experienced ones tend to gloss over the choice of thermal interface material for their cooling systems. While it may seem like an insignificant choice, going down the wrong route in this purchase process might have catastrophic consequences down the line. Therefore, one should keep in mind certain factors that are crucial in the purchasing process that will help you find the best CPU thermal paste or even the best laptop thermal paste
The first one is pretty obvious. Since the thermal paste acts as the interface material for heat transfer between the CPU heat spreader and the cooler surface itself, the thermal performance of the paste is understandably very important. There are ways to judge the efficacy of a thermal paste without first-hand experience. The rating of thermal conductivity is often publicly available on the product page and generally, the higher the thermal conductivity the better the performance. However, that rating is not always reliable since some thermal pastes use materials like Silver and Diamond which drastically change the thermal conductivity rating. Another good way to judge the thermal efficacy of a particular thermal paste is to judge the user reviews of the product which are often indicative of the performance quite accurately.
Thermal pastes come in a variety of compositions and the general consumer can easily get confused looking at the product pages full of marketing terms. Thermal paste is known by many names including “thermal paste”, “thermal compound”, “thermal grease”, or even “thermal interface material” or TIM. Commonly, the “regular” thermal pastes are either ceramic or metallic in nature. Metallic pastes often have metal micro-particles integrated into the paste, much like the Silver in Arctic Silver 5. These pastes can be conductive or non-conductive depending on their manufacturing process, therefore it is wise to always pick the non-conductive option when you are buying regular thermal compounds.
There is another class of thermal compounds that is a bit more exotic. Liquid metal thermal compounds such as the Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut have risen in popularity over the past few years due to their outstanding thermal conductivity. These compounds are always electrically conductive so one has to be extra careful in their application. A single drop of this compound (which is essentially metal) spilling on the motherboard or GPU PCB can lead to a short circuit and a dead PC. Moreover, these are also prohibitively expensive, therefore are only popular among hardcore overclocking enthusiasts who are willing to take extra risks.
Durability and Longevity
The longevity of the thermal paste refers to the duration of time in which the paste functions within its optimal performance bracket. Every thermal paste, after a certain period of time, becomes ineffective and loses its performance characteristics due to the natural process of drying out. As the thermal paste is the heat dissipation material, it goes through multiple cycles of heating and cooling which ultimately results in the drying out of the paste itself. This process is more rapid in CPU installations and slightly prolonged in GPU applications, but it is inevitable nonetheless. Better thermal pastes usually have higher longevity and better durability in general as compared to inferior options, and that is one of the factors that you should consider in the buying process. Again, user and expert reviews are a good source for this information, however, it can be a matter of trial-and-error as well.
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