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Thermal Paste VS Thermal Pads: Which Is The Ultimate Thermal Interface Material?

Thermal Paste VS Thermal Pads

With CPUs and GPUs getting more power hungry with every generation, PC builders are finding ways to beat the heat. The most efficient heat conductor is metal, commonly used in heatsinks. However, air gaps will form between the contact points of the heatsink and the IC chip, leading to poor heat transfer.

This is why PC builders will use a thermal interface material to transfer heat between the chip and the heatsink. While thermal paste has been the number one choice for a long time, thermal pads are gaining popularity in recent years. So what are the differences between the two, and which is better at cooling your PC?

Thermal Paste

Thermal paste
A tube of thermal paste
Efficient heat transfer at small quantitiesTends to get messy
Works on all types of surfacesNeeds cleaning up to replace
Easy to applyNon-visible air bubbles could form
AffordableNot all thermal paste are made equal

Thermal paste has been the default choice for decades, even being bundled together with almost every heatsink in the market. It excels at thermal conductivity as it only needs a small amount, usually at the size of a pea to work. As it is technically a liquid, it can be applied on non-flat surfaces.

Thermal paste application
Image Credit: National PC Builder

Application is easy as well, as thermal paste often come in syringes or tubes for you to squeeze onto the processor during installation. Some even come pre-applied to heatsinks.

You can also get good quality thermal paste that is affordable too, such as the Cooler Master CryoFuze Violet, capable of thermal conductivity of 12.6 W/m.K (standard thermal pastes often have thermal conductivity of 5-8 W/m.K).

On the flip side, thermal paste can be quite messy especially when you want to replace them. You will need to wipe off with isopropyl alcohol to thoroughly remove them. As it is a liquid, sometimes air bubbles might form due to incorrect application, affecting the thermal conductivity.

You should also beware of low grade thermal paste in the market, often sold in bulk. They lack the necessary thermal conductivity or could even conduct electricity, shorting your motherboard in the process.

Thermal Pads

Thermal pads in different sizes
Thermal pads come in all sorts of thicknesses
Easy to applyMore pricey
No messLow quality ones can stick after prolonged use
Can be cut into any shape
Different sizes to fill different gaps

Thermal pads are getting quite popular nowadays. It’s use can be found in GPUs, SSDs, VRMs and even CPUs. While if often carries the misconception that thermal pads are inferior when it comes to cooling, many are now on-par with thermal paste. Some even have high thermal conductivity, such as the Cooler Master Thermal Pad Pro which has a thermal conductivity of up to 15.3 W/m.K.

Thermal pads cut into sizes
Thermal pads can be cut into different shapes

Thermal pads are also easier to apply, as they act as an adhesive instead of a viscous liquid. Cleaning is easy too as you just need to peel off, leaving no residue. They tend to come in sheets, so you can cut into any shape you need.

Thermal pads on GPU
Image Credits: Framework

For GPUs and VRMs, thermal pads are a great option, as they come in different thicknesses to fill in different sized gaps between the chip and heatsink.

However, this added convenient comes at a cost. They are usually more expensive than thermal paste, and low quality ones tend to stick after prolonged use.

Closing Thoughts

While thermal paste and thermal pads have different pros and cons, but when it comes to cooling, both are quite similar. However, if cost is a major concern, then I would suggest using thermal paste. For those who want to cool other components beyond their CPUs, such as SSDs, VRMs and GPUs, then thermal pads are the go-to choice.

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Thermal Paste VS Thermal Pads: Which Is The Ultimate Thermal Interface Material? 7
Written By

Part-time gamer, writer, & full time weird coffee person.

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