How to choose the right thermal paste for your gaming PC

Choosing the right thermal paste for your new gaming PC is not only essential, but also crucial to delivering maximum performance.

As they say, knowing is half the battle. This is even more true for components in your PC that only serve to dissipate heat. Like any modern, compact or power-hungry system, heat dissipation is critical for gaming PCs.

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Nothing kills your components like heat, which is why knowing which thermal paste is right for the build you have in mind is paramount.

It is equally important to know how to choose a good thermal paste. Simply trusting your reseller with your build can result in compromises you are not even aware of.

Thickness, maximum operating temperature and other factors to consider before finishing a thermal paste

1) Conductivity value

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Simply put, the higher the conductivity value, the higher the heat dissipation capacity of the paste (since it will be much better at dissipating the heat). For example, a brand claiming a conductivity of 6w/mk (watts per meter Kelvin) should be an obvious choice over another brand claiming their conductivity is 4w/mk.

However, the obvious choice may (or rather should) change if the two brands of pasta use different base stocks.

2) It is always safer to choose a non-conductive paste than a conductive one

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Modern thermal pastes come in two types: conductive and non-conductive. Usually conductive pastes have significantly better conductivity (usually around 70w/mk), but there is a big trade-off. If (accidentally or incorrectly installed) the conductive paste leaks around the CPU chip and onto the board, it will cause a short circuit and become a recipe for disaster.

A non-conductive paste eliminates this problem by using a non-conductive base material. This ensures that the risk of a short circuit is nil even in the event of a faulty installation.

Gamers are advised to start with a non-conductive thermal paste with a relatively higher conductivity. Conducting thermal paste is more suitable for enthusiasts who want to overclock their CPU and need every possible performance.

3) Thermal pastes must have the correct viscosity, density and a no-curing period

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If a thermal paste is too thin, most of it will leak out of the thermal interface when installing cooler screws. If the paste is too thick, it will not be easy to distribute evenly and performance will be reduced. Ideally, the correct thermal paste should have a density of 2-5 g/cm3.

You can easily check the density of a thermal paste on the manufacturer’s website. Another way to analyze whether the paste is good is to watch application videos on the Internet and check whether it looks oily. The right paste always looks oily and not like an oil or a liquid.

In addition, most modern thermal pastes do not require a curing period. Simply put, a curing period is a minimum time for the paste to reach maximum working efficiency. A paste that can be used from the start without requiring a curing period is ideal.

4) Service life and maximum operating temperature (the higher the better)

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Manufacturers usually design and advertise their thermal paste to last a few years before failing. For good, long-lasting pastes, this figure is usually somewhere between three and eight years. Anything under a two-year minimum is a cause for concern, and it’s wise to avoid that paste.

Moreover, it is always safer to know the maximum operating temperature of your CPU so that you can get a thermal paste for it accordingly.

If the CPU you shortlisted for the build has a thermal shutdown temperature of 95 degrees Celsius, then the maximum operating temperature of the paste must be above 95 degrees Celsius. This ensures that the paste can continue working even after reaching CPU throttling temperatures.

An informed decision ensures that you will not regret your purchases in the future. Building a gaming PC sounds daunting at first, but with a little research and knowledge it becomes easy enough for anyone to accomplish.

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Edited by Rachel Syiemlieh

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