Thermal Paste Round-up: 85 Products Tested

Test Setup & Measurement Methods

Why Do We Test Each Paste In Four Scenarios?

In choosing four test platforms, we incorporated feedback from our valued readers. For instance, you wanted to see us take the cooler mounting pressure into account. We're skipping the LN2-based testing and focusing on scenarios you'll encounter in the real world. For example, we're using popular pre-assembled water coolers that should ensure heat sink temperatures below 60 °C (140 °F), premium aftermarket air coolers with back plates that should demonstrate high mounting pressure, and a run-of-the-mill budget cooler with push-pin mounting (that'll give us limited pressure). Stock coolers like that let the CPU get above 60 °C/140 °F (AMD) and 80 °C/176 °F (Intel).

Depending on viscosity and composition, not all pastes are a good fit for every application, nor are they all well-suited for novices.

The systems we use for CPU measurements haven’t changed since the last time we covered thermal pastes. A quick check showed us that old pastes tested on the latest hardware yield similar results. Moreover, the sensors used in previous-gen CPUs yield more accurate user-facing data than those found in newer processors.

Exact temperatures are measured using a thermal diode under the heat spreader. This is extremely important and essential for an objective evaluation. Using Tcase instead of Tcore is the correct approach to take.

It is even a little exciting that these test components have lasted so long, even though our CPUs, graphics card, and motherboard were all sitting in storage. The only piece of hardware we swapped out for today's update was the power supply.

Test System One: Closed-Loop Liquid Cooling
Cooler
Corsair H80i
Fan
Original H80i fan, powered from an unregulated 7 V supply
CPU
AMD FX-8350
Motherboard
Asus 990FX Sabertooth
Test System Two: Air Cooler with Back Plate (Screwed On)
Cooler
be quiet! Shadow Rock
Fan
Original Shadow Rock fan, speed set to 70%
CPU
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (Q0 Stepping) At 2.66 GHz
Motherboard
Gigabyte UP45-UD3LR
Test System Three: Intel Boxed Cooler (Mounted with Push Pins)
Cooler
Intel Boxed Cooler
Fan
Original Intel Fan, Speed set to 80%
CPU
Intel Core 2 Duo E6850
Motherboard
Gigabyte UP45-UD3LR

Testing Thermal Paste On A Graphics Card

This is a somewhat sensitive topic, and for safety reasons we excluded electrically conductive or liquid metal pastes from our testing. Since GPUs don’t have a heat spreader, but allow the cooler’s sink to directly sit on the die, I didn't want anyone to risk a short circuit.

We also used an older graphics card, which was convenient to test with. Its cooler was mounted using four screws and its fan speed could be dialed in to a constant value. Furthermore, we figured that an older card would be more tolerant of higher temperatures. After all, we didn't want a cheap paste to destroy an expensive, current-gen board. Fortunately, the GPU die size and surface temperature are still comparable to modern mid-range cards.

Test System Four: Graphics Card Test
Cooler
Zalman GPU cooler
Fan
Original Zalman fan, speed set to 80%
CPU
AMD Radeon HD 4850
Test Environment
Test System 1 (see above)

Test Cycles, Test Duration & Settings

Because the digital temperature sensors built into modern CPUs only give us uncalibrated Tcore values, as mentioned, we use the old way of measuring die temperature with a thermal diode under the heat spreader. The processors in this story still use soldered-on spreaders, so this value should be fairly accurate. We'll report the difference between Tcase and the room temperature because there are always slight fluctuations in the (air-conditioned) room that could slightly distort the results for Tcase.

For the graphics card, we use the temperature as the GPU reported it. That number isn't influenced by minor changes in room temperature, so long as they stay within 2°C of our 22°C baseline.

Test Environment
Room Temperature
Approx. 22°C (relatively constant from 21.4 to 22.7°C)
CPU Test Results
Reported in °C as an average of temperature differences
(Difference between the ambient temperature and the reading of the sensor under the heat spreader)
GPU Test Results
Output in °C for the GPU diode
Test Cycles CPU1x four-hour burn-in, followed by break of at least two hours
4x one-hour measurement, with one-hour breaks
Total time at least 16 hours per thermal product and cooler
Test Cycles GPU1x four-hour burn-in, followed by break of at least two hours
2x one-hour measurement, with 30 minute breaks
Total time at least 8.5 hours per thermal product

Comparison Thermal Pastes

Akasa Thermal Compound AK-455-55G ($7.99 On Newegg)
Alphacool XPX-1 Thermal Compound ($6.94 On Newegg)
Antec Nano Diamond Forumla 7 ($11.45 On Amazon)
Antec Thermal Grease Compound ($3.36 On Amazon)
Arctic MX2 ($5.29 On Amazon)
Arctic MX-4 ($8.29 On Newegg)
Arctic Silver 5 ($5.89 On Amazon)
Arctic Silver Arctic Alumina Premium Ceramic ($4.49 On Newegg)
Arctic Silver Arctic Alumina Thermal Adhesive ($6.45 On Newegg)
Be Quiet! DC1 ($6.00 On 6.00)
Cooler Master IC Essential E1 ($7.35 On Amazon)
Cooler Master IC Value V1 ($9.99 On Amazon)
Cooler Master MasterGel Maker Nano ($9.99 On Amazon)
Coollaboratory Liquid Pro ($25.84 On Amazon)
Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra ($13.04 On Amazon)
Deepcool Z9 ($6.99 On Newegg)
Evercool Sidewinder STC-01 ($6.99 On Newegg)
Gelid Solutions GC-2 ($9.49 On Amazon)
Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme ($12.99 On Amazon)
Innovation IC Diamond 7 Carat ($8.45 On Amazon)
Innovative IC Diamond 24 Carat ($16.95 On Amazon)
Junpus JP-D9000 Nano Diamond ($12.00 On Newegg)
Junpus JP-DX1 Nano Diamond ($15.00 On Newegg)
Kingpin Cooling KPx ($11.99 On Kingpin Cooling)
Konig CMP-Coolpast20 ($8.23 On Amazon)
Masscool Stars 700 ($3.99 On Newegg)
Noctua NT-H1 ($5.90 On Amazon)
OCZ OCZTFRZTC Freeze Extreme ($5.99 On Newegg)
Phobya HeGrease Extreme ($7.94 On Newegg)
Phobya Liquid Metal ($5.94 On Newegg)
Phobya NanoGrease Extreme ($11.94 On Newegg)
Prolimatech PK-1 Nano Aluminum ($10.97 On Amazon)
Prolimatech Pro PK2 Nano Aluminum ($4.99 On Newegg)
Prolimatech PK-3 Nano Aluminium ($6.50 On Amazon)
StarTech Metal Oxide Silver Grease ($4.33 On Amazon)
StarTech Heat Grease ($4.99 On Amazon)
Thermal Grizzly Hydronaut ($12.99 On Newegg)
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut ($11.99 On Amazon)
Thermalright Chill Factor 3 ($7.99 On Amazon)
Xigmatek PTI-G3606 ($7.73 On Amazon)
Xigmatek PTI-G4512 ($8.99 On Newegg)
Zalman ZM-STG1 ($9.01 On Amazon)
Zalman ZM-STG2 ($7.68 On Amazon)

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