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The Best Thermal Paste Compound for All Heatsinks

After discussing the theory of conventional thermal pastes in part one, I want to go into a little more detail about liquid metal compounds, and also shed some light on thermal adhesives, both in paste and pad form. You will notice the qualities of Arctic Silver 5 as soon as you pick up the tube. This is the sixth installment of many of the Skinnee Labs TIM Comparison 2011. The Arctic Silver company was founded by Nevin House in 1999. Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound is a High-Density Polysynthetic Silver Thermal Compound.

Thermal paste history

Thermal pads are used to mount small heat sinks on RAM chips or MOSFETs. I was surprised by how heavy the 3.5gram tube was, and this can only be a result of the high density of Arctic Silver 5. For most of the installments, results will be released in two or three TIM sets roughly every two or three weeks and today we have three TIMs to show. After using the best thermal paste for cooling down the CPU temperature, you can relax that the heat is well dissipated away from your CPU. Headquartered in Visalia, California, USA, House’s original product was a custom modified version of HP’s Turbocooler heatsink design from servers and workstations. With its unique high-density filling of micronized silver and enhanced thermally conductive ceramic particles, Arctic Silver 5 provides a new level of performance and stability.
using thermal paste on high end cpuBut let�s start with those liquid metal pastes. Application of Arctic Silver 5 was extremely easy, and the texture of the Arctic Silver 5 from the tube is an added aid in application. Arctic Silver is the biggest name in thermal paste. That experience led to research in thermal compounds, and their material composition. Available at Arctic Silver resellers worldwide.
While their theoretical thermal conductivity sounds impressive, that one attribute is no guarantee of success. The compound requires some force to move out of the tube, and is somewhat thick upon application. For the longest time, Arctic Silver 5 was known as the pinnacle of thermal paste and its sibling, Ceramique, was also highly regarded for being the best performing paste without any conductivity/capacitance qualities. House experimented with silver based solutions, and success with improved formulas led to a change in business focus, to thermal interface compounds. A succession of silver formulations were its leading products in the mid-2000s, as is the current Arctic Silver 5. Arctic Silver 5 is the reference premium thermal compound.
applying a thermal compound procedure

How a thermal paste is important

During the course of our testing, we’ll be experimenting with a long burn-in phase and comparing the liquid metal compound to Gelid’s Extreme paste. This ensures you don�t apply too much thermal grease, which would mean cleaning the processor and heatsink again, and also causing a good amount of the compound to be wasted. Things changed a few years back, however; Arctic Cooling MX-2 came on the scene and exceeded Arctic Silver 5’s performance while also not being capacitive. Other developments include ceramic (non-conductive) compounds as well as thermal interface epoxy adhesives for use where permanence is desirable, or where no other heatsink attachment method is available. Arctic Silver 5 is optimized for a wide range of bond lines between modern high-power CPUs and high performance heatsinks or water-cooling solutions.
Several years ago, Coollaboratory broke new ground in thermal management by introducing the Liquid Pro liquid metal compound. As the latest thermal compound by Arctic Silver, Arctic Silver 5 is said to outperform every other thermal paste on the market. Even so, a quick glance at the number of user reviews at Newegg shows Arctic Silver makes the most popular pastes on the market with AS5 and Ceramique. Going for a heatsink thermal paste can be a venture if you don’t know the right one for that specific type of heatsink. Last year, Arctic Silver introduced a new paste: Matrix. The current version of the company’s eponymous thermal interface material, Arctic Silver 5, is a compound of silver, aluminum oxide, zinc oxide, and boron nitride in a polysynthetic oil base. Arctic Silver 5 contains over 88% thermally conductive filler by weight.
different materials used in thermal compounds

Thermal paste or thermal compound?

  • But while the look (and subsequent application) of Liquid Pro reminded us of a mercury thermometer that didn�t survive a fall, its successor, Liquid Ultra, is better, avoiding some of the first effort’s weaknesses.
  • It has been painstakingly reformulated by the folks at Arctic Silver to be the new reference for thermal compounds.
  • We already reviewed it and were not impressed.
  • It does not contain any silicone.
  • In addition to micronized silver, Arctic Silver 5 also contains sub-micron zinc oxide, aluminum oxide and boron nitride particles.
  • Because Liquid Pro could be so problematic, I’m only presenting Liquid Ultra in the tutorial section.

As opposed to the now discontinued Arctic Silver 3’s 75% silver content by weight, the new Arctic Silver 5 contains over 80% by weight of thermally conductive material. It was inferior to MX-2 while being more expensive�not a great combo. In a 2009 BenchmarkReviews.com review which compared 80 thermal pastes, AS-5 tied for first overall, with an A+ “enthusiast grade”;[2] it cooled a test system 12% better than the last-place finisher. (This is useful for overclocking, though it is insignificant in most scenarios.)[3]The company claims that AS-5’s thermal conductivity is 8.7 W/(m�K). However, a study led by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that it was only 0.94 W/(m�K).[4] The study lauded Shin-Etsu X-23-7762-S and Dow Corning TC-5022 for their better thermal performance. These thermally-enhanced ceramic particles improve the compound’s performance and long-term stabilityArctic Silver 5 does not contain any silicone.
why thermal paste is a must for heat sinksBoth compounds show up in our performance charts, though. When compared to Arctic Silver’s Ceramique compound, Arctic Silver 5’s advantages are apparent. Matrix didn�t really replace anything, just supplement AS5 and Ceramique. The company also claims that its greases will never dry out or set.[5]Matrix is the company’s most recent thermal compound in collaboration with TIM Consultants.[6] It consists of a silicone oil base containing aluminum, aluminum oxide, and zinc oxide particles. The suspension fluid is a proprietary mixture of advanced polysynthetic oils that work together to provide three distinctive functional phases.

Playing with the CPU pastes

In the Liquid Ultra box you get the paste itself, a cleaning swab, two brushes, a sponge, and an instruction manual. While Arctic Silver Ceramique shares exclusive features like “Controlled Triple-Phase Viscosity”, “Pure Electric Insulation”, and “High Density”; Arctic Silver 5 contains 3 different sized and shaped 99.9% pure silver particles, which amount to superior cooling properties. This year, Arctic Silver introduced Ceramique 2, a direct replacement to Ceramique. The 2009 BenchmarkReviews.com 80-product review gave Matrix (Labeled TIM Consultants T-C Grease 0098) an A, “enthusiast grade”;[2] it cooled a test system 11% better than the last-place finisher. As it comes from the syringe, Arctic Silver 5’s consistency is engineered for easy application.
heat sink typesThat’s an impressive-sounding list, but it’s really just the bare minimum to use the product, sufficient for a single application. Arctic Silver estimates that users of Arctic Silver 5 will experience a loss of 3-12 degrees Celsius, as opposed to Arctic Silver Ceramique’s 2-10 degree loss. With this review we�ll see how AS5, Ceramique, and Ceramique 2 compare to the competition. Ceramique is a composite of boron nitride, aluminum oxide, and zinc oxide. During the CPU’s initial use, the compound thins out to enhance the filling of the microscopic valleys and ensure the best physical contact between the heatsink and the CPU core.
If you want to apply Liquid Ultra a second time, you’ll find yourself without the alcohol swab. To test Arctic Silver 5�s real world performance, I chose to measure temperatures of my CPU with both the stock thermal grease and with the Arctic Silver 5. After today, we�ll have seventeen TIMs completed in the 2011 Comparison, but we still have over 25 more on the docket. All of these are ceramic substances, that is they have crystalline molecular structures. Then the compound thickens slightly over the next 50 to 200 hours of use to its final consistency designed for long-term stability. (This should not be confused with conventional phase change pads that are pre-attached to many heatsinks.

a good cpu paste can help immensely

At least a second brush is included. Both tests occurred on the same computer running a generic aluminum heatsink with a 60mm fan. Lots of testing left to do! C�ramique’s suspension fluid is a polysynthetic oil base. Those pads melt each time they get hot then re-solidify when they cool.
While we appreciate the inclusion of the coarse sponge, it’s barely adequate for removing the compound. All temperatures are CPU die temperatures. Arctic Silver 5 is Arctic Silver�s premier paste. It is an electrical insulator, which makes it a better choice than pastes that contain metal (such as AS-5) when there is a possibility that the thermal compound could come in contact with the pins of an integrated circuit: for example, exposed resistors on the tops of some chip packages or a tightly packed circuit board or expansion card. The viscosity changes that Arctic Silver 5 goes through are much more subtle and ultimately much more effective.)Arctic Silver 5 was formulated to conduct heat, not electricity.(While much safer than electrically conductive silver and copper greases, Arctic Silver 5 should be kept away from electrical traces, pins, and leads.

heatsink is another part of the game

Of course, there’s a separate cleaning kit available for a hefty price. Idle temperatures were measured through the BIOS hardware monitor after letting the system stay in the BIOS for 10 minutes. It�s a thick, dark gray paste that thins well with pressure. The 2009 BenchmarkReviews.com 80-product review rated C�ramique in the Good class, with a B+ rating;[2] it cooled a test system 10% better than the last-place finisher. While it is not electrically conductive, the compound is very slightly capacitive and could potentially cause problems if it bridges two close-proximity electrical paths.)Let’s take a look on this simplified image first.
Enthusiasts may be torn about this product, and yes, there may even be those who are more courageous than I and use it on graphics cards. See how a CPU thermal compound can make the CPU really cool to the extent that it keeps it running at its peak performance for an extensive time. Load temperatures were measured with Motherboard Monitor 5 while CPU Burn In v.1.1 ran a stress test without error checking to maximize the CPU temperatures. It comes in two sizes, 3.5g and 12g, typically priced at $8 and $20ish, respectively. You can see a cut image of a CPU and the cooler on top. However, my personal opinion is that a majority of the people who read this tutorial are new to thermal compounds, and I wouldn�t want to encourage them to mess around with this stuff due to the skill it requires.

Immediately after application of AS5, my temperatures on the CPU dropped about 6 degrees Celsius while idle, and 3 degrees under 100% load. Those aren�t great prices in terms of cost per gram or entry cost (cost of the smallest possible quantity), but this is their flagship. Greatly enlarged you will notice that the surface of CPU IHS and cooler are pretty much rough even though it looks very flat with the naked eye. I also want to point out that you’ll probably void your CPU’s warranty if you do use Liquid Ultra. Considering that my stock thermal grease was only able to achieve 46 degrees idle and 65 degrees load.

Why go for a good thermal paste

  • AS5 is capacitive, meaning it cannot be used in any scenario where it could possibly get on a traces or SMD components.
  • The spaces between CPU and cooler have to be filled with thermal paste to improve the thermal conductivity.
  • After removing the last remnants of it, we discovered that all of the markings etched into the head spreader were gone.
  • Arctic Silver 5 made quite an improvement over my temperatures, even though I applied it merely 5 minutes before.
  • Arctic Silver Ceramique is Arctic Silver�s old general-use paste.

That’s why the thermal pastes are liquid and ideally never dry out. If you still want to try this product after reading our tutorial, you can probably expect very good cooling performance, assuming nothing goes wrong. Arctic Silver 5, like many other thermal types of grease, has a �break-in� period, where the thermal compound changes consistency, fills in the imperfections, and increases in performance. It�s a thick, white paste that thins well with pressure. Most vendors guarantee about 2-5 years of usage between CPU and cooler.
Surface Cleaning and RoughingThe most important prerequisites for using a liquid metal compound are clean heat sink and spreader surfaces. To accelerate the �break-in� process, I ran CPU Burn In v.1.1 for 10 minutes, then let the heatsink cool to room temperature, and then repeated. It comes in two sizes, 2.5g and 22g, typically priced at $5 and $12, respectively. After this time you should change your thermal paste in case you still have your system after this time. The majority of the thermal pastes are made of different silicones, oils and additives like silver, aluminum, ceramic or diamonds to transfer the heat and are usually not electrically conductive. You can buy the aforementioned kit with the three cleaning liquids, or simply snag some isopropyl alcohol at the drug store.

Not all thermal paste are recommended

After a few thermal cycles my temperatures did not improve, signifying the end of the break-in period. Those are really good prices in terms of entry cost and cost per gram with the largest syringe. Only liquid metal pastes are different. However, stay away from acetone and cleaning naphtha. Once the break-in period is complete, the computer does not need to be turned off, and the idle and load temperatures will not change much between thermal cycles if at all. (Above-Left) Stock Thermal Paste vs Arctic Silver 5 / (Above-Right) Arctic Silver 5 Initial vs Final Temperatures Click pictures to enlargeDuring the break-in period, Arctic Silver 5 drastically increased in performance.
Ceramique has been EOL�d. Liquid metal is electrically conductive and made out of a special metal alloy which contains gallium, indium, rhodium, silver, tin and bismuth. Even denatured alcohol may contain additives that are detrimental to achieving a clean, degreased surface. After my initial temperature drops, Arctic Silver 5 lowered my temperatures even more. Arctic Silver Ceramique 2 is Arctic Silver�s update of Ceramique.

heatsink and heat dissipation

Liquid metal is quite hard to remove and must not be used with aluminium coolers such as the Intel-Boxed-Cooler. Finally, make sure you wait until any remnants of the liquid have evaporated! My idle temperatures were in the 30 degree Celsius range, and load temperatures were now between the upper 40s to mid 50s. It�s a general-use paste that is thick and white but thins well with pressure. Otherwise it will damage the aluminium and eventually your CPU.
Coolaboratory Liquid Ultra – Cleaning the CPUIf the surface is too smooth, the older Liquid Pro and newer Liquid Ultra may only form loose droplets on your CPU. Overall, my temperatures dropped about 15%. You may have more or less luck, but expect at least a 2 degree Celsius drop. It comes in two sizes, 2.7g and 25g, typically priced at $5 and $12, respectively. If you plan to use liquid metal it’s very important to apply only a very small drop. Thus, in contrast to what you would do for regular thermal pastes, you may consider roughing the heat sink and spreader a little bit.

Finding the right one

Dropping about 15 degrees Celsius on the CPU is a great achievement, and will greatly help any overclock and increase system stability. Those are really good prices in terms of entry cost and cost per gram with the largest syringe. I recommend to use a cotton swab to spread the liquid metal. Just remember that you only get enough liquid metal for two tries. Above: (Left) Thoroughly cleaned CPU / (Right) Arctic Silver 5 applied to CPU right before heatsink installationIf you are in the market for thermal grease, Arctic Silver 5 is a great choice.

Going so hot? The CPU must handle it

For all three contact �settings� I use a Koolance CPU-360. Be careful though to not touch any other parts of the mainboard and/or CPU socket. Don’t overdo this. At around $8 USD for a 3.5gram tube and around $20 USD for a 12gram tube, they�ll make great inexpensive gifts for any computer enthusiast this holiday season. I�ve chosen the CPU-360 due to its great mounting system (although I�ve modified all three blocks� mounting systems) and because it�s pretty easy to add slight modifications.
If you scrub too hard, the innocent-looking sponge can cause deep grooves. If you need increased stability, higher overclocks, or just lower temperatures for bragging rights, Arctic Silver 5 is a solid choice. At the �Poor� end of the spectrum, I have a stock CPU-360r1.2 with extremely low mounting pressure; the stock CPU360r1.2 has a somewhat irregular base and when paired with low pressure, TIM does not spread into a thin layer particularly well. Move in small, graceful circles. For the �Moderate� contact setting, I�ve taken a CPU-360r1.1 and reduced some of the internal structure so that there�s absolutely no bow.
With pressure in the center of the base the block can actually become slightly concave as the o-ring compresses, but with only moderate mounting pressure the base seems to stay perfectly flat. As for �Great� contact, I might have gone a little overboard; no block on the market has contact this great. I�ve modified a CPU-360r1.2 to have a thicker midplate with a compressible layer and the result is a pretty extreme bow that flattens with mounting pressure. And there�s a lot of mounting pressure. The result is impressive; with low viscosity pastes, it looks like there isn�t even any TIM on the center of the CPU when taking the mount apart.

Thermal compound ingredients

Even with viscous pastes the resulting layer is extremely thin.

Updated: March 26, 2016 — 8:31 pm
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