CPU thermal paste may not be discussed as frequently as other computer hardware, but it plays a critical role in keeping your CPU functioning properly. It transfers heat from the processor to the heat sink, which expels it into the air to keep the CPU cool. Many manufacturers use a low-grade product that isn’t very effective at this, so overclockers often replace the stock thermal paste on their CPUs with a high-quality product to improve performance and lower temperatures. In addition to choosing a good brand, it’s important to know how to apply the thermal paste correctly.
First, make sure the surface of the CPU is clean and free of debris. Next, blot a small amount of paste on the center of the CPU’s heat spreader. Maximum PC recommends a pea-sized dab, while PC Magazine suggests using just one dot, known as the “grain of rice” method. Too much paste will reduce the effectiveness of the heat transfer process, while too little might cause the cooler base-plate or waterblock to come in contact with the motherboard components, potentially causing electrical shorting.
Many people mistakenly believe that it’s necessary to spread the thermal paste manually with a credit card or other flat hard surface, but this can actually have a negative impact on performance. When you apply thermal paste by hand, it can create air bubbles, which don’t conduct heat nearly as well as the paste. Choosing a paste that can be spread thinly and evenly will help ensure this isn’t an issue, such as Kooling Monster Kold-01, which has a viscosity that makes it easier to spread.