Thermal paste is one of the most overlooked products for many gamers who are new to building their own computer from scratch. It’s not often that many PC gamers buy the cheapest possible option or even completely forget about thermal paste as a whole.
Since thermal paste is a crucial component of your CPU as it plays a direct role in regulating the system’s temperature, the Pure Gaming team and I have taken on the challenge to explore, compare, and review the best thermal paste’s on the market today.
We laid out a rigorous criterion that only the best thermal pastes possessed, and made a selection based on qualifying products. Some of the features that we looked for were the properties of the thermal paste such as viscosity, conductivity, specific gravity, and TDP or also known as thermal design power.
From our final selection, we had 7 fantastic thermal pastes, which you can explore further down in this guide and three system-specific thermal pastes that best performed for air-cooled systems, water-cooled systems, and overclocked systems that required higher cooling efficiency.
Without further ado, let’s dig deeper into each of the thermal pastes that made this list, and hopefully, by the end, we will have found the perfect one for you.
Our personal favorite is the Thermalright TF8. At 13.8 W/mK, in our eyes, this thermal paste is the best combination of heat conductivity and durability.
Yes, it is significantly more expensive as compared to any of the other thermal pastes within our selection, but when compared, the TF8 is hands down the best.
If you have a powerful PC that is used a lot and is producing a decent to a high level of heat, the TF8 is truly a fantastic solution to all problems. For just over $20, you could also be extending the lifetime of not only your CPU but all other parts surrounding your CPU that are most likely left to deal with the heat with the help of a few fans.
Besides, despite our recommendation to annually change your thermal paste, this particular thermal paste can easily outlive your CPU.
The price at the time of writing was $24.99.
For Air-Cooled Systems
Are you using a standard, air-cooled system to manage the heat of your CPU? Then, the Arctic MX-4 really is a great one-time choice as it was specifically designed for air-cooled builds.
It is not only amongst the best thermal pastes within our selection as it can successfully conduct heat at 8.5 W/mK under a range of performance-driven circumstances but can also easily last for over 8 years. Thus, unless you plan on using the same CPU for 8 or more years, you won’t have to think about thermal paste for nearly a decade.
If you are a complete beginner, this thermal paste is also great because it is metal-free and non-electrical conductive, which eliminates any risks involved when it comes to causing a short circuit and ruining any of your brand new PC parts.
The price at the time of writing was $12.99.
For Water-Cooled Systems
If you’ve had the budget to build a water-cooled system, you cannot miss out on the Thermal Grizzly Hydronaut. This thermal paste was specifically designed for PC builds that used water cooling as a medium for managing the CPU temperature levels.
It is worth mentioning that you don’t need to have a water-cooling system for this thermal paste to work. It works just as fine for standard air-cooled systems. It just has a strong emphasis on effectiveness when it comes to water-cooled systems.
At a slightly higher price point, the Hydronaut thermal paste is also a decent option for water-cooled overclocked systems due to it’s 11.8 W/mK thermal conductivity capacity.
The price at the time of writing was $18.99.
For Overclocked Systems
Whether you are planning to or have already overclocked your CPU, you should seriously take Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut into consideration. As you overclock your CPU, it will naturally be more powerful, which in turn will produce a higher level of heat that can be really damaging not only to your CPU but all surrounding parts that will be left to fry in the heat over time.
To take care of the problem, we believe that the Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut thermal paste is your best partner to supplement any overclocked system. Yes, we recommend this thermal paste even if you are a fan of extreme CPU overclocks.
At a fairly inexpensive price point, you will get 12.5 W/mK, which is enough to successfully operate in temperatures between -250 degrees Celcius and 350 degrees Celcius and cool down your CPU, even under the most intense pressure.
The price at the time of writing was $8.00.
What is Thermal Paste?
Thermal paste is a compound that is applied directly to your CPU in order to drive away heat from your CPU’s heat spreader. The standard thermal paste is made out of zinc oxide, which is fantastic for this type of job.
When put under pressure (playing video games), your CPU will produce an extremely high level of heat that can fatally damage the CPU and other parts surrounding it prematurely. Most commonly, your CPU and GPU will take the most damage (which also happen to be the most expensive parts of your PC).
To combat this, we use heat sinks systems like air coolers and water coolers.
Air Heat Sinks
To transfer the heat and keep your CPU cool, you will need to place a heat sink on the CPU heat spreader. Generally speaking, the standard heat sink is made out of metal. The heat that the CPU produces is then transferred through that block of metal, which then travels into pipes made out of copper. Those pipes are attached to a layer of very thin metal fins that have a fan blowing at them to dissipate the heat.
Water Cooling Systems
Water-cooled systems work in a very similar fashion. The heat sink is placed on top of the CPU with water running over it. This will heat the water, which will then run through a radiator.
This same radiator has channels and metal fins with fans that blow on these metal fins. This essentially cools down the water before it returns back to the CPU heat sink to further reduce the temperature of the CPU.
So, how exactly does thermal place come into all of this? Let’s find out.
The Role Of Thermal Paste
Once applied, the thermal paste will sit as a layer between the processor and the heat sink. Now, you may be asking, why don’t we just connect both parts together, and end it there? Well, let’s take a deeper look at that.
No matter how flat metal can look to the naked eye, there will always be imperfections that can easily trap air, which is a very big problem for your CPU.
Essentially, if there is trapped air, even in the smallest amount, it becomes an excellent insulator of heat. This means that the heat transfer from your processor to the heatsink is no longer optimal and can over time fry your CPU and the parts surrounding it.
Thermal paste resolves this issue. Thermal paste is not only in a liquid form, which makes it a very easy solution to filling up those potential air pockets, but is also made to effectively transfer heat from one area to another.
Why You Can Trust This Review
Having owned gaming PCs ever since I can remember, over the years, I have gone over a very decent chunk of thermal paste. I have personally used 4 of the thermal pastes that have made this selection. Not because I wanted to be biased, but because I know for a fact that they work and are really great, just like the remaining 6 that are definitely on my list for use next.
On top of personal experience, the team at Pure Gaming and I have done extensive research and analysis of studies regarding thermal pastes to really educate ourselves. This helped immensely in giving us true confidence that we are speaking the truth when recommending products that will safeguard your PC from high CPU temperatures.
How We Picked
When making our selection, we focused on three core points; the price, performance, and durability of the thermal paste. Any of the thermal pastes that you will come across in this guide passed our selection process, but to give you a little bit more insight as to how we exactly picked them, explore each one of the points below.
As with anything, price plays a huge factor as to whether or not you decide to go for a particular product. So, our picks are relatively inexpensive and offer some serious value for money, especially if you own a really powerful PC that demands quality thermal paste.
Thermal paste has one job; keep the CPU cool. All thermal paste picks that made our selection are really great at doing that. Of course, if you require a system-specific thermal paste, we have got you covered for that too. You will have come across all system-specific thermal pastes at the start of this guide.
When it comes to thermal pastes, we look at the W/mK or Watt per meter by Kelvin. The higher the number of W/mK, the better the thermal conductivity of the compound will be. To translate this in simple words, the higher the W/mK, the lower your CPU temperature will be.
Thermal paste, like everything else, doesn’t last forever. Over time, it loses efficiency and needs to be replaced. So, what we have done is only gone for thermal pastes that offer a decent level of durability as you will not only save some money from constantly having to buy new thermal paste, but also the time and effort it takes to open up your PC and remove/reapply the new thermal paste.
For good measure, you will need to change your thermal paste on an annual basis, even if there are no signs of overheating yet. This obviously doesn’t have to be the case as to how long your thermal paste lasts strongly depends on how much you use your PC and how much you stress the CPU.
More Great Thermal Pastes
You may have never heard of the PK-3 by Prolimatech before, but that certainly shouldn’t stop you from considering it as your next thermal paste. Made out of non-constructive nano aluminum compound, the PK-3 can successfully conduct heat at 11.2 W/mK, which is way more than any of the standard thermal pastes.
It is also relatively affordable. The only downside really is that you don’t really get a lot of it, just 1.5 grams – perhaps because it’s so good? If you decide to use that very same thermal paste again, you may need to purchase another one (depending on how much thermal paste you apply for your first usage).
Generally speaking, the PK-3 offers excellent long term stability with fairly low dry-out, which is exactly what you need, unless you want to take your PC apart to reapply more thermal paste on a regular basis.
The price at the time of writing was $9.46.
Is your CPU temperature too high (especially when you game for prolonged periods of time? In that case, a thermal paste such as the Arctic Silver Ceramique might be just what you need.
This thermal paste offers improved thermal filler properties for increased particular deagglomeration, which will directly help reduce the temperature of your CPU by 2 to 10 degrees Celcius when on full load.
Many thermal pastes are known to “bleed” with time. However, the Arctic Silver Ceramique will stay exactly where you left it, even after years of usage.
The tube itself possesses 2.7 grams of thermal paste, which is plenty for multiple applications. As it is resalable, you can rest assured that the thermal paste’s quality will not deteriorate with time.
The price at the time of writing was $9.29.
Despite being around for over a decade, the Arctic Silver 5 is a really notable mention that deserves a spot within our selection. This is the thermal paste that I currently use on my high-end build, which I predominantly use for gaming.
This thermal paste in particular uses micronized silver as a base material, which is great for heat transfer. With thermal conductivity at 6.0 W/mK, rest assured that your gaming PC will remain cool for a long time in the future.
I have personally had this thermal paste sit on my CPU since I last upgraded my CPU almost 2 years ago. The results remain quite literally perfect, just like day 1.
Since I have this thermal paste right now, I actually ran some tests to give you a little more insight as to how good it is.
My CPU, even on full load, didn’t go over 53 degrees Celsius (127 Fahrenheit)
The price at the time of writing was $6.60.
The Noctua NT-H1 is another fantastic option for those who have overclocked their CPU or have one of the latest, most powerful CPUs on the market.
At full capacity, when using the Noctua NT-H1, you can expect a significant reduction in the temperature of your CPU, even after 5 years of use (note that the thermal paste itself shouldn’t be used on your CPU after it’s been opened).
The NT-H1 is extremely beginner-friendly. It’s not only easy to apply but it is also very easy to remove without the risk of damaging your CPU.
If the NT-H1 isn’t enough, you should also look at its improved version, the NT-H2, which uses a new fine-tuned combination of metal oxide microparticles for lower thermal resistance.
The price at the time of writing was $7.90.
The premium zinc oxide-based thermal compound used in Corsair’s TM30 makes this thermal paste another very decent contender on this list.
With a thermal conductivity of 3.8 W/mK, the TM30 is perfect for entry-level PCs, and beginners. It is also very easy to apply due to the included stencil and spreader.
If you need a little bit more performance or are upgrading/overclocking your CPU, you can also go for the XTM50, the TM30’s bigger, more performance-enhancing brother, which offers a thermal conductivity of 5.0 W/mK.
The price at the time of writing was $7.99.
And last but not least, let us present you with the SYY-157. This particular thermal paste offers thermal conductivity at 15.7 W/mK, allowing you to play the most performance demanding video games with zero chance of CPU overheating.
This thermal paste specifically offers the highest thermal conductivity within this selection.
If you are not experienced at applying thermal paste but have to go through this process on your powerful PC, with this thermal paste, you will get a spreader to help you out with evening out the application for better result.
The SYY-157 is also suitable for overclocked CPUs that produce an even higher level of heat as compared to their standard counterparts.
The price at the time of writing was $7.99.
Which Thermal Paste Should You Pick?
There is a strong chance that you are still confused. What if you aren’t looking for a system specific thermal paste? What if you are building a standard gaming PC, and just want a reliable thermal paste that will do the job?
- If you are beginner, to keep it simple, you should go for either the Arctic MX-4 or the Corsair TM30. Both are fantastic choices as they are easy to apply and will keep your system nice and cool.
- If you have a more powerful build, the Thermalright TF8 will never let you down.
The higher the W/mK of the thermal paste, the better thermal conductivity it will have, which in turn means that your CPU will be cooler.
A higher price point is definitely worth it if you have a system-specific preference for thermal paste or have a higher-end PC that requires a performance-driven thermal paste.
Pay attention to the grams of thermal paste you get for a particular price point. Even if something seems cheaper, you may only be getting 1-2g as compared to 4g for 1.5x the price, which in turn makes the seemingly cheaper choice more expensive.