Thermal paste application is an important step in the assembly of any PC, but many people overlook it. A poorly applied layer of thermal paste can lead to a lack of heat transfer between the processor and the heat sink, or even worse, cause damage to the CPU. The best way to avoid this is to make sure the application process is done correctly.
The first thing you’ll need to do is clean the IHS and cooler with a cloth or coffee filter (never use cotton buds) soaked in IPA or ArctiClean. This will remove any residue and prepare the surfaces for a fresh layer of paste.
Next, you’ll need to choose a thermal paste compound. There are several types available, ranging from basic silicon and zinc oxide compounds to more advanced silver or ceramic-based formulas with higher conductivity values. If you’re building a high-performance system, it may be worth spending a little more to get the best performance.
Most modern thermal pastes are made with ceramic or metallic particles suspended in a proprietary binder. This allows them to provide good thermal conductivity and easy cleanup. Some compounds require time after application to achieve their full performance, though, so be aware of this when choosing your paste.
There are also liquid metal formulations, which offer the highest levels of performance. These are electrically conductive, however, so you must take extra care when applying them. A single drop out of place can fry your motherboard and CPU.