The thermal grease (also known as TIM) is used to fill the microscopic gaps between the CPU’s heat sink and the chip. This helps improve the heat transfer between the two, which in turn increases the CPU’s performance and lifespan.
There are several types of CPU thermal paste available, including ceramic-based and metal-based greases. The most popular is Arctic Silver 5, a top-performing blend that has been around for a decade and continues to dominate the hobbyist market. However, new CPU thermal compounds continue to pop up at an impressive rate. In recent years, NZXT’s High-Performance Thermal Paste has come onto the scene, Cooler Master’s purple CryoFuze blend made its debut, and Alphacool recently unveiled a new Apex paste for enthusiasts to try out.
In addition to reducing friction, the lubricants in these pastes reduce the amount of heat generated and spread by the processor. Ultimately, the purpose of this technology is to ensure that all of the heat generated by the CPU is effectively transferred to the mechanical heat sink, which is designed to dissipate the excess heat via a series of fins.
To make this process work as efficiently as possible, the TIM must be applied to the CPU with precision. Ideally, only a paper-thin layer of the paste should be applied between the processor and the heat sink, and less is definitely better as too much can negatively impact the transfer of heat. The most effective method for applying the paste is to use a flat tool such as a postcard, piece of plastic, or a credit card.