Thermal Paste vs Thermal Pad: Which One Should You Use?

Your CPU overheating is the last thing you want to happen to your computer whether you are gaming, or just browsing the internet. To avoid these people have manufactured CPU coolers that transfer heat from your CPU and out of it.

Thermal paste in container

This is what most people think about when cooling down a computer, but where the heat transfer magic really happens is in the thermal interface materials, which is what allows heat to transfer between the CPU and the heatsink.

The two most popular types of thermal interface materials for computers are thermal paste and thermal pads, but which one should you use?

Thermal pads are much easier to use, as it is a flat thermal surfaces. The downside is that it won’t be able to fill in the microscopic air gaps of the metal surface. Whereas thermal paste is more of a liquid and will be able to fill in those gaps to allow a better heat transfer.

Keep reading as I will go through the advantages and disadvantages of using both thermal paste and a thermal pad, as well as some extra information that will come in handy when you are making that decision.

What is Thermal Paste?

Thermal paste is the most common type of Thermal Interface Materials when it comes to PC building.

Thermal paste can also be referred to as thermal compound or thermal grease and there are many different types that you can choose from.

There are a variety of different pastes to choose from. Different thicknesses, materials, and conductivity levels. These are all different things to think about when considering a thermal paste to buy.

Showing what thermal paste is

The more conductive the thermal paste the better it will be at absorbing heat. Conductive thermal pastes tend to have more bits of metals and silvers in them. This makes it easier for the heat to be absorbed.

However, even though less conductive thermal pastes aren’t as effective they are much safer to use with your computer.

If you are interested in the different types of thermal paste I have written an in-depth article on: “Does The Type of thermal Paste Your Use Really Matter?”

Advantages of Using Thermal Paste

  • Thermal paste is a very conductive material that is very efficient at transferring heat.
  • Due to the liquidity of thermal paste, you will be able to use it on all different surfaces even if they are not flat.
  • The microscopic cracks in metal surfaces will be able to be filled by thermal paste allowing for a more efficient process.
  • Thermal paste is not very expensive, which will allow you to get something very high-quality for an affordable price.

Disadvantages of Using Thermal Paste

  • Can be difficult to apply properly. If done wrong it could lead to air bubbles which can cause overheating.
  • Easy to apply too much which can make a mess and damage parts.
  • Less conductive thermal pastes won’t do as good of a job at transferring heat.

What is a Thermal Pad?

Next, you have your thermal pads.

A thermal pad is exactly what the name is. It is a pad of thermally conductive material used to transfer heat from one component to another.

Showing what a thermal pad looks like

The difference with a pad is that it is a pre-applied surface that you can very easily mount to your IC, CPU, or GPU.

Thermal pads are very common with stock coolers. Chances are if you are using a stock cooler to cool your CPU it is using a thermal pad as opposed to the thermal paste.

Check out: “Do New CPUs Come With Thermal Paste.” to learn more

Advantages of Using Thermal Pads

  • They are very easy to use and apply to surfaces
  • They are not messy because it’s a pre-applied amount on an almost solid surface
  • Conductive enough to work for normal computer builds.

Disadvantages of Using Thermal Pads

  • Thermal pads are usually one-time use
  • Not as conducive as thermal paste
  • Not conductive enough for high-performance use (will cause overheating.)
  • not able to fill in microscopic gaps that cause overheating
  • Tends to be more expensive.

Which One Should You Choose?

Now that we have gone through the advantages and disadvantages of both thermal pads and paste as well as what they are and how they differ.

It is time for you to decide which one you want to use.

For the most part, both thermal paste and thermal pads will be suitable for any sort of computer build, but depending on what you are using your computer for might make you change your mind on which one you decide to use.

If you are looking to use your computer for everyday tasks such as scrolling through the internet, light gaming, etc.

Then you will have no problem using either one, at this point, it just comes down to preference.

Most people in this situation will most likely only need a stock cooler as well, and as I said before most stock coolers come with a thermal pad already on them.

Your might like: “Is The CPU Cooler That Comes With The CPU Good?”

However, if you are looking to overclock your computer or just have a computer build that is absolutely overkill then you will need thermal paste if you want to get the highest performance out of your system.

When overclocking you want the best possible heat transfer to keep your components cool, especially your CPU from overheating, and you especially want to prevent it from thermal throttling.

Another thing to consider is that not all thermal pastes are the same and you want to look for one that includes bits of silver in it, that way it is a lot more conductive and can increase the performance of your computer even more.

One thing to note is the way you apply your thermal paste matters as well. Although it is not a big factor it can help.

If you apply your thermal paste wrong it can either cause the component to overheat because the paste doesn’t reach everywhere. Or it can cause damage to the surrounding hardware because you applied to much and it leaked everywhere.

This is where you might want to use a thermal pad instead because it is a lot more user-friendly and you can easily apply it just by placing it down.

You don’t have to worry about damaging anything, or if you put enough on because there is already a pre-applied amount that will do the job for you.

Conclusion

Electronic hardware gets hot the more it runs and we need a way to cool them off somehow.

Heatsinks and cooling fans are what most people think about when it comes to cooling down computer hardware, but without the use of thermal interface materials, heatsinks and cooling fans wouldn’t be able to do their jobs as effectively.

The thermal conductivity between two surfaces is essential to keeping your hardware running cool and efficiently.

Lucas Coulson

I first got into building my own computer when I was around 12 or 13. The first computer I had ever built didn't work. So I kept researching to figure what I did wrong. I really enjoyed researching, learning, and building computers, so I decided to turn it into an online business, and here I am.

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