Normally in computing we talk about hardware and peripherals, mainly. There is seldom mention of a very important element for our system, the thermal paste. This compound that is installed on the processor allows efficient transfer of heat from the processor to the heatsink. The graphics cards already have the thermal paste applied between the DIE of the GPU and the heatsink itself.
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What is thermal paste and what is it for?
We could define it with a thermoconductive compound that does not conduct electricity. This compound normally has a certain density and thickness, it is not a liquid compound. Normally, this compound has a grayish color, although there are also white ones. It can come in the form of an applicator syringe, although it can also be found in sachets, such as sugar packets in bars.
Its purpose is to aid in the transfer of heat between the processor and the heatsink. Its use is important to improve the contact surface between processor and heatsink. And is that the surface of the processor and the bottom of the heatsink are not completely flat. Finish paste covers blemishes and increases heat transfer surface.
Basically the purpose of thermal paste is to help dissipate heat. If there were no heat transfer it would be less uniform and efficient, generating stability problems in the system.
Types of thermal pastes
It is characterized by being white, very easy to apply and highly economical. This is usually based on silicones that are mixed with ceramic powder. It is the most basic and is usually included in low-cost processors. It is not the best when it comes to transferring heat, so it is not recommended for intensive use systems.
This is made by means of a silicone to which a metal is added, usually silver. It has better properties than ceramic-based paste, although it is also more expensive. This has an important drawback and that is that by containing a metal, it conducts electricity, so we must apply the right amount so that it does not spill and thus avoid electrical problems such as short circuits.
It is usually the most common and the most recommended. It also has a ceramic base, which also contains carbon, which gives it greater durability and is usually somewhat better than those with a ceramic base.
They are based on Gallium and Indium, two metals with a low melting point, and they have the glue that they eat aluminum. It cannot be installed on heatsinks whose base is made of aluminum instead of copper.
Cold removal of the processor heatsink can be difficult as this metal could solidify. This occurs if the temperature is lower than the liquefaction temperature.
This is also not a thermal paste, although its function is more or less the same. Thermal pads are often used in voltage regulating transistors in power supplies. It is usually made of graphite or silicone. They are not the most efficient at transferring heat, but they do their job well.
They are usually used in electronics or in tests of different chips, to check if they work correctly. This is done because they are clean, leaving no residue on the processor or heatsink, and they are reusable (to some extent)
¿EIs the thermal pad or thermal paste better??
The simple answer is that thermal paste is better than thermal pads. But as in everything, there are always considerations to make. If we are going to test if a processor works correctly, we can use a thermal pad, easier to put on and take off, and without staining.
For an assembled system that is going to work, thermal paste is better, as long as it is different from ceramic. Thermal pads are more or less similar in heat transfer. If we compare, thermal pads are clearly at a disadvantage, not only in heat transfer capacity, but also in durability.
What happens if we don't put thermal paste on it
As we have explained, thermal paste has the function of improving heat transfer between the processor and the heatsink. If this is not present, the contact surface is greatly reduced. This is because the metal element that covers the processor and the bottom of the heatsink are not perfectly smooth, they have imperfections.
These imperfections reduce the ability to transfer heat and therefore more heat builds up in the processor. Therefore, it causes the processor to work at a higher temperature, even turning off the system. And is that to avoid damage to the processor, if it reaches a certain temperature it is 'deactivated' and the computer shuts down.
When to change the thermal paste
Many factors come in here. The first factor is the use of the system, since the greater the amount of use, the greater its degradation. Using it too little can also be negative for thermal paste, since it could lose properties due to long periods of non-use.
Manufacturers usually indicate on the box the durability of the thermal paste on the packaging itself. If we make normal use of the system, it is recommended to change it once a year. For users who make relatively little use of the system or do not run heavy loads like games or demanding applications, it could be extended to two years.
An indicator that it should be changed is an excess of temperature. If we register higher temperatures than initially registered, it is possible that the thermal paste needs a change. In case we run a heavy task or a game and the system shuts down, it could be an indication of high temperatures and a change of thermal paste is necessary.
How the thermal paste is applied to the processor
This is the question that generates the most discord in the computer world. There are those who will say that you draw a blade on the processor, there are those who will say that a little in the center and there are those who will say that a little in the center and expand it. Either option works. The only thing to keep in mind is not to apply it in excess, since that is counterproductive.
Robert Hallock, AMD Chief Engineer said the best way to put thermal paste on a Ryzen processor is making a cross. Reddit blazed with the response and opinions for all tastes were generated.
What happens if you put too much thermal paste on the processor
What you should never do is apply excess thermal paste. Syringes typically have multiple uses, manufacturers indicate this on the box and even add markings indicating the optimal amount. If you put too much it will generate a 'wall' between the processor and the heatsink. The heat transfer will be very bad and you will have major temperature problems.
Remember, the therm paste has the function of 'sealing' the imperfections of the processor cover and the base of the heatsink.
Is there a difference between cheap thermal paste, branded thermal paste and toothpaste?
Thermal paste is a contact solution that fills the porosities of the processor and the base of the heatsink, as we have already mentioned. We have found a video where a quality thermal paste is compared to the generic thermal paste that is commonly found with processors. Interestingly, thermal paste offers better heat transfer capacity than generic thermal paste, allowing better cooling of the processor.
These tests have been carried out with the Core i9-9900K and the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO heatsink. Higher quality branded thermal paste offers 10-15 ° C of temperature improvement over generic thermal paste typically found in processors. The toothpaste would stay close to the quality thermal paste, as we already demonstrated at the time in the canal.
For the test, leaving aside the toothpaste, they have used the Arctic MX-2, although we can use the MX-4, an updated version that costs € 7 for various applications. Thermal paste is a generic one, we assume that it is the cheapest that you will have found on the market.
How to clean thermal paste
Normally it is recommended to apply a little alcohol on the thermal paste and clean it with a soft paper or cotton swabs. The alcohol reduces the thickness of the thermal paste and makes it go away more easily. Alcohol is used instead of water because it evaporates quickly and leaves no mineral residue.
Some manufacturers, such as Noctua, offer cleansing wipes for thermal paste.
|Noctua NA-SCW1, Cleaning Wipes for Thermal Paste (20 Units)||7,90 EUR||Buy it at Amazon|
What is the best thermal paste
It is very difficult to indicate which is the best thermal paste on the market, since it will depend on the use and the processor. If we go to recognized manufacturers, the variation can be 3-5ºC between them in the best of cases. We leave you a selection of the ones that we like the most and that we have used.