Thermal compound is used to fill the microscopic gaps between a CPU and heat sink and improve the CPU’s ability to disperse heat, which in turn lowers the processor temperature. It’s an essential component of any computer and is a must for most modern CPUs, as even brand new, high-end chips are susceptible to overheating if they don’t have thermal paste on them.
While many people confuse thermal compound with thermal grease, the two are not the same. Thermal grease is a liquid-based product that is designed to bond the two surfaces together, while thermal paste is made up of fine silver (sometimes gold) particles suspended in a non-conductive medium such as silicone. Some thermal compounds also contain other metals such as copper, aluminum and zinc.
Both types have their own merits, but it’s important to note that liquid metal thermal compounds are electrically conductive and can fry the circuitry of a motherboard should they leak. They also require a lot more focus and attention during application, as putting too much in the wrong place can lead to a broken processor.
A good quality, low-cost thermal compound such as Gelid GC-Extreme is a great choice for any build, as it’s moderately viscous and stable during application to ensure consistent spreading. It’s a little cheaper than some of the high-end metallic TIMs on the market but still offers impressive performance, outperforming the CoolLaboratory Liquid Pro and Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut in our benchmarks.