Thermal paste is a silvery-gray substance that you apply to a processor before installing a CPU cooler. It fills microscopic gaps between the metal base plate of a CPU cooler or water block and the IHS (inter-heat spreader) of a processor, improving heat transfer between the two surfaces.
A quality paste improves performance and allows for greater overclocking, as the waste heat generated by the processor can be more easily transferred to a heat sink. But a poor application can lead to a dead processor. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to avoid such an outcome.
Paste formulations range from traditional blends to liquid metal compounds, with the latter offering a higher level of thermal conductivity. Liquid metal compounds can carry electricity, so a single drop in the wrong place can fry components when the PC is turned on. They also require much more focus and attention during application than traditional pastes, which are non-conductive.
Traditional compounds offer a thick, pliable viscosity that makes them simple to apply and work with while resisting drips and runs during cooler tension. Popular options include Arctic’s Kryonaut, Cooler Master’s MasterGel Pro V2, and Corsair’s XTM70. A new generation of pastes, based on carbon micro-particulates in a base matrix such as epoxies, silicones, or urethanes, offers similar benefits while providing ease of application and clean up. Regardless of the method you choose, use a coffee filter or lint-free cloth with isopropyl alcohol (IPA) to clean away any residue left on the processor’s surface before applying paste.