It's Not As Easy As Picking A Favorite...
In the end, it doesn't necessarily matter how much you paid for your paste, or what thermal conductivity its manufacturer claims on the package. More important is the how: your application method makes or breaks this process.
Some of the pastes we tested remain classics, and are even relatively inexpensive. It only follows, then, that we'd caution you against spending big on a brand new paste that'll only make a temperature difference of 1 to 2 Kelvin. If that sort of delta plays a significant role in your overclock, you're courting disaster. Sufficient airflow through the enclosure should ensure that you're never dependent on a particularly high-performance thermal compound.
More hardcore overclockers tuning their systems competitively, or quiet computing enthusiasts who spin their fans down as low as possible for better acoustics might want to give more thought to their paste of choice. Even a majority of power users, however, should focus on a paste’s ease of use, leaning toward the softer compounds. A flawed application typically impacts thermal performance much more than the difference between pricey and value-oriented pastes ever could.
I don’t want to lift any one thermal compound up onto a pedestal, and I'm no fan of award inflation. Sure, I could drop a couple of favorites, but the assessment would be highly subjective because some folks weigh ease-of-use and performance differently. Moreover, a lot of these pastes perform a lot alike. We can still draw several conclusions from our work, though.
- Novices should gravitate to softer pastes and use the "lentil ball" application method
- Experts can warm up thicker pastes, making them easier to apply
- Softer pastes should be used with coolers that attach via low mounting pressure
- Pastes bundled with most CPU heat sinks are good enough
- Different rules apply for GPUs; you need to pick the compound you use on your graphics card very carefully
- While the legends spoken of liquid metals have a basis in fact, they are exaggerated
That’s it from my side. But let me also point out that our Thermal Compound Charts will be maintained with results from any new products that surface. What will I do with all the partially-used syringes and paste packs? Honestly, I don’t know. There's enough of this stuff around to last a lifetime...