Thermal Grease, Paste, and Pads – Know the Difference

1. Metal Based

The fact that thermal paste come in a wide variety of names is likely the reason why many people see thermal grease and thermal paste as two different types of thermal interface materials.

The names, however, are not solely limited to grease and paste.They are also referred to as heat paste, thermal goop, thermal gel, heat sink compound, thermal compound, thermal interface material, CPU grease, and the list just goes on.

So you may be wondering:

What’s with all the debate about thermal grease vs paste, then?

They both are the same, it’s just that thermal grease/paste come in different brands and types, which varies in both composition and effectiveness altogether. Our best thermal paste review  offers a better explanation of how 5 brands differ in performance

Types of Thermal Paste

There is no difference between thermal grease and thermal paste. However, there are 3 types of thermal interface material or TIM you could find in the market - these are the metal based TIMs, the ceramic based TIMs, and the silicon based TIMs.

Below is a list of their pros and cons.

Types of Thermal Paste
Thermal Interface Material (TIM)ProsCons
Metal Based
1. Metal Based
They are the most popular in the market. They also have the highest thermal conductivity level. The fact that they mostly are metal is what makes them the most efficient in conducting heat.
On the flip side, these metal particles are electrically conductive, which poses a huge threat to electrical components.
Ceramic Based
2. Ceramic Based
They are composed of ceramic particles, which means, they are not as electrically conductive as metal based TIMs.
They are not as conductive as their metal based counterparts. The temperature difference varies around 1-3 degree celsius.
Silicon Based
3. Silicon Based
They just come on stock heatsinks and they perform well with regular computer usage.
They are not very efficient in conducting heat. They show poor conductivity performance compared to the ceramic and metal based counterparts. Not advisable for builders planning to overclock their rig.

Now that you know what really makes each TIM different from each other, we’re going to look at our personal picks.

Best Metal-Based TIM

Our Pick
Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut

Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut

The Thermal Grizzly Conductonaut is one of the most popular metal-based thermal pastes in the market. Not because it’s very expensive but it’s very effective - given that the right precaution and right application is applied. It has a whopping conductivity rating of 73W/mK. If you wish to get the best for overclocking purposes, this is it.

Best Ceramic-Based TIM

Our Pick
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut

Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut

This is by far, the best non-capacitive thermal grease we have tested. But being the best also comes at a price. In fact, it’s the most expensive ceramic-based TIM in the market. The Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut is clearly not designed for regular use but for builders and enthusiasts who are serious in overclocking.

Silicon-Based TIMs, as defined in the table, are TIMs that usually come on stock. Not the best performing TIMs but should do the job pretty well as long as regular usage is concerned. Having to resort to either of our top picks will be recommended for overclocking purposes.

Below is a graph showing temperature readings in idle state and in a load state. You could see that temperature output varies not only on the type of TIM but also varies from brand to brand.

4. temperature readings in idle state

Other Types of Thermal Interface Materials vs Thermal Paste

Thermal Pads vs Thermal Paste

You could also find thermal pads in the market. Although they are easy to install, the fact that they don’t perform well in conducting heat is what makes thermal paste superior. In most cases, you could find them in stock or prebuilt computers.

Thermal Tapes vs Thermal Paste

You may have stumbled upon the name. Thermal tapes are not the same as thermal pastes and greases. Using these types of thermal adhesives leave your chipset and your heatsink to stick together.

Use this only and only when you know what you are doing. Perhaps the circuit does not have mounting pins or a lock mechanism. For this matter, it is a great time to consider using thermal tapes to keep the heatsink and the circuit together.

Conclusion

Thermal grease, thermal paste, thermal grunk, heat sink compound, thermal compound - they all are the same. It all boils down to choosing the best one that makes a huge difference in keeping temperatures low.

Depending on the need, a thermal paste may come in handy over thermal paste. Make sure you look at what perfectly suits your needs before making any purchase.

Don’t forget to check how to correctly apply thermal paste to your CPU to get it done right and get ideal temperatures.

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