Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Everything you need to know about thermal pastes thanks to der8auer!

Hi guys,

I want to share with you a fantastic piece of writing from one of the best known German overclockers today, der8auer (Roman). Roman is what I would describe as your typical extreme overclocker (thankfully one that likes to share his findings and can write well!). His attention to detail, the amount of testing involved and dedication to find out for HIMSELF what the real story is with thermal pastes or anything to do with this hobby you know as extreme overclocking is what motivates and challenges hard core guys to stay in the game and challenge themselves in every possible aspect. This in turn provides possible months of testing information at your fingertips and helps you move on to the next challenge rather than keep the thermal paste debate going.

Good overclocker must get his tools spot on and it was nice to see Roman using the Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH as platform of choice for this thermal paste test.

Here is the article recently posted on HWBOT forum. Thanks to Roman for giving us permission to share it with our readers!

Extreme-Overclockers are always trying to achieve the highest scores possible. No matter if CPU, GPU, mainboard or memory - everything has to run perfect in order to set up new records. The latest generation of Core i7 - Ivy Bridge - scales brilliantly on deep cold. Without cold bug the CPUs are limited by the pot and thermal compound. I will test 26 different thermal compounds in the following test to see how they perform with air cooling and liquid nitrogen.


  1. TIM Roundup 2013
    • Setup and description
    • Thermal compounds in detail
      • Alpenföhn Schneekanone
      • Coolink Chillaramic
      • Noctua NT-H1
      • Alphacool Silver Grease
      • Gelid GC-Extreme
      • Zalman ZM-STG1
      • Revoltec Thermal Grease Nano
      • JunPus D9000
      • JunPus DX1
      • Xigmatek PTI-G3606
      • Xigmatek PTI-G4512
      • Coolermaster Value V1
      • Coolermaster Essentials E1
      • Dimastech HTX EE
      • Dimastech Thermal Compound
      • Prolimatech PK-1
      • Prolimatech PK-2
      • Prolimatech PK-3
      • Akasa 455
      • Akasa 460
      • Akasa 5022
      • Arctic Silver 5
      • Arctic Céramique 2
      • Arctic MX-2
      • Arctic MX-4
      • ]Amasan T12
    • Test 1: Air cooling
    • Test 2: LN2 at -50°C
    • Test 3: LN2 at -150°C
  2. Evaluation
    1. Evaluation of the results
    2. Awards
TIM Roundup 2013:
First I'd like to thank all the vendors who supported me for this test and provided samples to me. Caseking was the most important as the provided the most products to me. Thanks a lot for that!
I also received some samples directly from vendors. Thanks to Akasa, Alpenföhn, Coolink, Noctua, Alphacool respectively Aquatuning, der8auer ECC, JunPus, Dimastech and Prolimatech.
Setup and description:
I'm sure you guys already know why we have to use thermal paste. But just in case if there are some new members out there, I will explain why you need thermal paste. So what is thermal paste and why do we need to use it?

Let's take a look on this simplified image first. You can see a cut image of a CPU and the cooler on top. 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. The spaces between CPU and cooler have to be filled with thermal paste to improve the thermal conductivity. That's why the thermal pastes are liquid and ideally never dry out. Most vendors guarantee about 2-5 years of usage between CPU and cooler. 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. Unless other specified the thermal pastes have no electrical conductivity. This applies to all thermal pastes in this test.

For the first test I'm using a i7-3770K @ 4,0 GHz and 1,20 vCore cooled by a Scythe Katana 2 at 100 % fan-speed. To stress the CPU I'm using the tool CoreDamage. I'm running CoreDamage for about 15 minutes until the temperature is not changing anymore. Two thermal probes fixed on the CPU IHS and the base of the cooler are used to measure the temperature.

As measurement value I'm using the delta-temperature between CPU-IHS and the cooler base. Most thermal pastes differ only by few 0,1 °C so measuring the absolute temperature with changing ambient temperatures would crash the complete test. Using the delta-temperature I'm eliminating this source of error.
I'm doing each test with each thermal paste three times to exclude mounting issues of the cooler. After each test the CPU and cooler are cleaned using alcohol to remove all residues.
For the second test I'm using the new der8auer Fusion rev 3.1 CPU container and liquid nitrogen. The container is cooling down the same i7-3770K which is now clocked at 5000 MHz @ 1,45 Volt to -50°C. Again I'm running CoreDamage to stress the CPU. During the test I keep the CPU as close to -50,0°C as possible. After few minutes if the temperature is not changing anymore I note down the temperature.
The last test is to cool down the CPU to -150°C which is still running at 5000 MHz but on 1,50 Volt to give a little more load on the CPU and produce more heat.
I'm again mounting the pot twice to eliminate measurement errors. If both measurements differ too much e.g. by 3,0 K I'm doing a third test and use the two measurements which are closest to each other.

How to apply thermal paste and mounting pressure
Whereas there are a lot of different ways to apply the thermal paste one thing is clear: the mounting pressure has to stay the same during the test to have consistent results. That's why I'm using the Scythe Katana 2 with Intel Push-Pins for the first test. It's a little more difficult to mount the pot exactly the same but Stummerwinter had a good idea here which I've seen few months ago as he mounted his pot. I'm using 4 springs which all have a normal length of 16,0 mm. Tightening the thumb screws I'm using a sliding caliper to measure the length of the springs until all have the tightened length of 12,2 mm.
Applying the thermal paste you have to pay attention not to apply too much. This could have a negative influence on the cooling performance. Still you have to use enough to fill all gaps between CPU and cooler. That's why I'm using a thermal paste applicator to have a very thin layer covering the whole CPU.

Thermal compounds in detail:
At the end of this test you will find a huge table including all the technical information and test results. That's why I will not explain the technical details of each thermal paste here.
Alpenföhn Schneekanone
Alpenföhn is a well-known manufacturer of cooling components and provides the first thermal paste of the test. Even though the tube is quite big the content is only 1,5 g. I prefer bigger tubes as they are easier to handle so this is a positive aspect. The packaging is very well designed and provides all technical information including the manual on the back. Included in the delivery you can also find an applicator.
Coolink Chillaramic
Coolink's Chillaramic straight attracts attention due to the nice packaging. The manufacturer promotes this product to be very good for lower temperatures and the use with Single Stages. An applicator or manual are not included unfortunately
Noctua NT-H1
The Austrian cooler manufacturer Noctua provided the NT-H1 for this test. Compared to most of the other thermal pastes this product is very well packed and you can easily open the packaging. I'm not a friend of blister packaging
You can find all important technical information on the back and a nice manual. Noctua says it's enough to place a little drop in the middle of the CPU and therefore does not include an applicator.
Alphacool Silver Grease
Alphacool provides a quite huge tube with 30 g which is the second biggest in this test. Therefore it's pretty good to use if you're changing the cooler a lot and don't need the best performance all the time. 32 Cent per Gramm is one of the cheapest products here.
Additional stuff like manual, packaging or applicator is not included.
Gelid GC-Extreme
Gelid is very well known for the GC-Extreme using extreme cooling methods. The tube which contents 3,5 gram is one of the more expensive products and comes along in a blister packaging which is quite hard to open.
Included in the delivery you find an applicator and all important technical details on the back.
Zalman ZM-STG1
I'm sure you all know Zalman for their air- and water cooling solutions. The ZM-STG1 is a pretty interesting product which differs from the normal thermal pastes. It looks like a nail varnish and can be applied using a small brush which is fixed inside the top. Due to the low viscosity of this product you have to apply the thermal paste on both CPU and cooler.
Revoltec Thermal Grease Nano
Similar to Zalman's ZM-STG1, Revoltec's Thermal Grease Nano comes along in a small glass bottle and stands out of the test field. It's very easy to apply but is packed in a blister packaging. You can find technical details and a short manual on the back.
JunPus D9000
JunPus is a quite unknown manufacturer from Taiwan. D9000 is the first product out of two in this test. It is very well packed and you can find all important technical details on the back including some nice charts. Included in the delivery you find an applicator.
JunPus DX1
DX1 is the second product from JunPus. Packaging and content of delivery are same to the D9000.
Xigmatek PTI-G3606
Xigmatek is a well-known cooler producer and provided two products for this test. The PTI-G3606 comes along with an applicator and a nicely designed packaging which is also quite hard to open.
Xigmatek PTI-G4512
The PTI-G4512 is the high end product of Xigmatek and has a slightly higher performance than the PTI-G3606. Packaging and content of delivery are pretty equal to the PTI-G3606. All important information is printed on the back of the packaging.
Cooler Master Value V1
The famous case producer Cooler Master also provides two products for this test. Value V1 is the midrange product which is packed in a blister packaging. On the back you can find technical details.
Included in the delivery you find an applicator.
Cooler Master Essentials E1
Essentials E1 is Cooler Masters high end product which is shipped in the same packaging like the V1. The E1 has one interesting feature, though: a cleaning cloth to remove old thermal paste.
Like the V1 the E1 also has an applicator included.
Dimastech HTX EE
We all know Dimastech for his cool and helpful Bench Tables made in Italy. HTX EE is Dimas first thermal paste and comes along with an applicator and a well-designed packaging. I would have opted for something different than blister packaging.
Dimastech Thermal Compound
For testers with a high consumption of thermal pastes Dimastech offers a big box with 60 g content - the biggest in this test. Included you find two applicators
Prolimatech PK-1
PK-1 is the entrance product of Prolimatech which is well known for its cooling solutions like the MK-13. Prolimatech offers the best packaging of all products. Very easy to open, well designed and very detailed technical information including the ingredients. An applicator is also included.
Prolimatech PK-2
PK-2 is the midrange product has a higher performance than the PK-1.
Prolimatech PK-3
PK-3 is Prolimatechs high end product and available in different sizes like the other thermal pastes of Prolimatech.
Akasa 455
Akasa 455 is the smallest product in this test. Technical information is printed on the tube itself - a manual is missing though.
Akasa 460
Akasa 460 is a midrange product of the Taiwanese cooler manufacturer. You can find all necessary information on the packaging even though it's quite hard to open. Included in the delivery you can find a multi-language manual and an applicator.
Akasa 5022
5022 is the high-end product of Akasa and the packaging is pretty much equal to the Akasa 460, although the performance is higher.
Arctic Silver 5
Artic Silver 5 is one of the oldest products in this test and has been on the market for quite a long time. The 3,5 g tube gets delivered without any packaging, manual or applicator.
Arctic Céramique 2
Same as the Arctic Silver 5 the Céramique 2 comes along without any additional stuff. It has been used by a lot of different extreme overclockers in the past years and is a kind of classic product to me.
Arctic MX-2
Arctic - don't mess up with Arctic Silver - provided two products for this test. The MX-2 is the cheaper version and comes along in a blister packaging. You can find all important information on the back of the product. The hazard symbol on the back should actually not disturb you as this applies for all pastes in this test.
Arctic MX-4
MX-4 is the high-end product of Arctic and like the MX-2 available in different sizes. Except for ingredients and performance both products are pretty much equal.
Amasan T12
Amasan T12 is a very cheap industrial product which I used over the past years for quick tests and therefore I'm including it into this test.
Test 1: Air cooling

Test 2: LN2 at -50°C

Test 2: LN2 at -150°C


Click to enlarge

Evaluation of the test results
After changing the cooler and applying the thermal pastes about 150 times and 80 hours of work - let's go over to the conclusion. Basically there are no bad thermal pastes - it just depends on what you are using it for and your expectations. There is no problem to use all of these products for 24/7 systems. Although you might be ending up with relatively cheap 70 EUR air- or water cooler, don’t save on other parts of your cooling configuration. So which thermal paste for which application?
Normal 24/7 Gaming- or Office systems:
You can use all products here without any problems. Cheap products like the Cooler Master IC Value V1 or the Akasa 455 are enough here.
Demanding gaming setups incl. overclocking
Overclocker and gamer with high-end setups should spend few euros on the best thermal paste. You can easily gain 2-3°C upgrading from cheap products. I recommend: Gelid Extreme, JunPus D9000, Noctua NT-H1, Prolimatech PK-3, Akasa 5022, Artic MX-4, Cooler Master IC Essentials E1, Xigmatek PTI-G4512 and Alpenföhn Schneekanone.
Extreme-Overclocker at -50°C (e.g. DICE or Single Stage)
As you will be pretty limited by the temperature you should use one of the top thermal pastes to get the maximum out of your system. Good products are: JunPus D9000, Prolimatech PK-3, Alpenföhn Schneekanone, Noctua NT-H1, JunPus DX1 and Dimastech HTX EE.
Extreme-Overclocker at -150°C and lower (Liquid Nitrogen!) - the supreme discipline
Especially using cold bug free hardware like the Ivy Bridge CPU you should only use the best products available. I'm recommending Gelid Extreme and D9000 from JunPus.

Let's start with the best products of this test. Both JunPus D9000 and Gelid GC-Extreme are great products and reach the lowest temperatures possible. Both products come along with applicators but I prefer the packaging of the D9000 however it's a little harder to apply than the GC-Extreme. For the great performance both products receive the GOLDEN SYRINGE award.

Alpenföhn Schneekanone, Prolimatech PK-3 and Noctua NT-H1 also have a pretty solid performance and therefore receive the SILVER SYRINGE award. Alpenföhn's Schneekanone means snow cannon in English which pretty much applies to its performance. It's quite expensive but the performance is good even on very low temperatures. The content of the tube is quite low but this can be good if you are using it just for one system. Prolimatech PK-3 is a solid product for air cooling and deep temperatures up to -50°C with a great packaging. Noctua’s NT-H1 convinced me in all three categories and the packaging is also very well designed. Both 24/7 overclockers and extreme-overclockers can use this product without compunction.

Cooler Master IC Essentials E1 offers a great price/performance. The cleaning cloth which is included in the delivery is a very useful tool and I hope other manufacturers will add this to their products. Akasa 5022 also offers a very good performance in all three tests and I can recommend this products for air- and water cooling as well as for 24/7 overclocking. JunPus DX-1 is also very interesting for 24/7 overclocking and extreme overclocking at temperatures of about -50°C. Taking a closer look on the test table you will notice that this product has the highest thermal conductivity with 16 W/(m*k) even though it did not achieve the best temperatures in this test. According to JunPus the DX-1 has a very long burn in time and will evolve the high performance after a few days of usage. Due to lack of time I could not test this unfortunately.

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