What Is Thermal Paste and How Do You Apply It?

Hey guys and gals! It’s @Shay here and todays post I will be focusing on thermal paste (as well as all the other names it is known by)

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Cooler Master Thermal Paste, one of many types of thermal paste out in the market.
Example of Thermal Paste in A Syringe

Thermal paste… Also known as Thermal compound, Thermal grease, Heat sink compound, Thermal gel, Heat paste, the list goes on and on. Honestly, it’s all the same thing.

It’s the toothpaste-like substance on your CPU (Central Processing Unit). It is also used on GPUs and a few other components.

A little fun fact

I have used a hack using toothpaste filled with zinc as a replacement, it works, but the real deal will always be better.

Thermal paste goes in between your Heat sink and CPU. This helps to keep your CPU cool by drawing the heat away from your CPU and transferring the heat between the two more efficiently. It also removes all the air bubbles in between.

The air bubbles surely make it harder for your CPU to stay cool. Air is a bad conductor of heat and if no paste is present, you might incur the wrath of the PC master race (well…that’s exaggerated).

If no thermal paste is present, what actually happens is that your CPU might overheat and I don’t think anyone would like that.

Overheating is your PCs way of throwing a fit, it might cause the blue screen of death, stuttering or shutdowns at any time and could actually damage your hardware if you’re not careful.

So, my suggestion, please apply the paste. It is for the good of your computer and its general health.
Without the brain of the computer, it is pretty much just a couple of parts lumped in a box.

Standard Thermal paste. Should it mainly be used?

There are many types of thermal pastes out there. However, the standard paste works just fine for most needs. It depends mainly on what type of rig you’re running.

For instance, if you are running a gaming machine and want to overclock its CPU then I’d suggest you try the more expensive compounds.

You’re probably thinking: ‘How do I apply the paste?’

Well… you could go to a store with your PC in tow and ask them to apply it for you, but who wants to go all the way to the store just to apply some paste? (…but that paste is really needed though…)

If you’re taking it to the store then there is no need to worry, but if you’re the type that likes to DIY then you’ll definitely benefit from reading further.

How to apply:

Firstly, you’ll have to open up your PC and find the CPU hiding away which is always tucked under the CPU Fan/Heat Sink all snug as a rug.

Removing the fan is the easy part. Just unscrew, unclip or do whatever it needs to become unattached to its baby, but for all things merciful… please be gentle.

Motherboard revealing the cpu and its socket after the CPU Fan has been removed.
CPU And Its Socket

Once you have identified the CPU, all you have to do is check if the paste has passed its expiry date. The reason why I say to check is because at most times your PCs manufacturer has already applied thermal paste.


What if you have a second-hand PC and no paste is present? What if you’d like to apply a more expensive brand of paste? Or… What if you just found your new favorite compound?

It is completely fine due it being relatively easy to apply and the best part is, you only need a drop of the stuff! Amazing!

Applying a drop is all you need. As soon as the heat sink presses down on your CPU it spreads the paste out evenly, I however recommend that you use the spreader, which is the small applicator stick that usually comes with the syringe/tube/tub of thermal paste. Before doing this, you’ll have to remove the current paste from the CPU.

If you are using the applicator stick, apply the thermal paste (remember only a drop) in the center of the CPU and work your way from the middle outwards, usually it’s better to have less on the outer part of your CPU because when your heat sink is reattached it applies pressure that pushes the paste out evenly.

I cannot stress this enough, don’t apply too much paste, too much paste could be a problem. If it drips onto your motherboard, this will cause catastrophic damages depending on the paste.

So, treat it like you’re doing brain surgery (which is actually what you’re doing since the CPU is the brain of the PC.)

CPU after it has been removed from the socket of the motherboard.
CPU After the Removal

If you have removed the CPU from its socket to apply the paste, be extremely careful to not get any of the paste on the pins when reinserting it. I had that happen to me and trust me it wasn’t pretty.

After you’re done applying the paste, all you need to do is place it back into the socket, reset the CPU Fan onto the motherboard, close her up and you should be good to go.

If your PC does not want to start up or makes a continuous beeping sound then you will have to reset the CPU into its socket again until it boots up do not panic because this happens from time to time when you remove components from the motherboard and yes it has happened to me and I have panicked.

Types of paste

Thermal pastes are different in terms of their density, composition and electrical conductivity. This aids the cooling of your CPU in different ways (or could possibly kill your PC depending on the electrical conductivity)

Let’s get to it…

Here are the different types of thermal paste you’ll find:

Carbon Based

This one is not as electrically conductive as other compounds since it contains carbon fibres in its composition. Which means it is safer for your PC as a unit. Carbon based thermal pastes are also easier to apply and a safe bet for most users.

Silicone Based

Easy to apply, but not as effective as other thermal compounds. Upside to this though is that they’re not electrically conductive so no need to worry about giving your PC a little shock because it won’t happen with these types of pastes. Thermal Pads are also silicone based.

Metal Based

These types of compounds contain metal alloys that are good when conducting heat. However, they could cause electrical damage if not applied properly due to metal being electrically conductive. More difficulty in applying them too. Being careful should be a top priority when applying Metal based compounds.

In my opinion it is better to stick to your standard thermal paste as the rest might cause major damage to the CPU and its surrounding components if it leaks onto your motherboard.

You wouldn’t need any other thermal paste unless you’re heating up your PC by overclocking then you’d have to use every tool in your arsenal to bring out more juice.

Just another hint guys, thermal adhesive is no good, it’s not thermal paste and would make life a whole lot harder since it makes things all sticky.

Hope I helped at least one of you with this post.

One more thing, don’t forget to clean and apply new thermal paste when needed. The average life expectancy seems to be 4 years. So, no need to reapply every year. Once it’s crusty you know what to do.

Check out our first post if you want to learn how to clean your PC.

Thank you for Reading
Co-Founder of ComputeeZA


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