Thermal paste is one of the most important components in any computer. It allows heat from the CPU to flow more easily to the cooler, avoiding overheating and potentially permanent damage. It also improves system efficiency by ensuring that components operate at the correct temperature.
The most common types of thermal paste are based on metal oxides or other ceramic materials with a silicone binding agent. They are designed to flow into microscopic surface imperfections and boost thermal transfer once two surfaces are pressed together. The exact make-up of each product can differ significantly, though. For example, some pastes contain suspended particles of unoxidized copper or silver (e.g. Arctic Silver 5), which are even more thermally conductive than traditional metal oxides. However, these particles are electrically conductive and should never be used on exposed components with nearby exposure to electricity, as they could short-circuit them.
Choosing the best thermal paste comes down to personal preference and experience level. Many people choose to spread the paste with their fingers, but this is not recommended – even if your hands are clean, they still carry oil which can interfere with the ability of the paste to transfer heat. Additionally, using your fingers exposes you to potential contamination from dust and other debris.
A simpler and more reliable approach is to use a lint-free cellulose wipe with 70% isopropyl alcohol. Once the area is clean, squeeze a small amount of thermal paste onto the center of the CPU. Be careful not to use too much – a dot the size of a grain of rice will suffice.