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80-way Thermal Interface Material Performance Test E-mail
Reviews - Featured Reviews: Cooling
Written by Olin Coles   
Sunday, 14 June 2009
Table of Contents: Page Index
80-way Thermal Interface Material Performance Test
80 Thermal Pastes Compared
Surface Preparation
TIM Application Methods
Square-Base Application
Application on HDT Coolers
Thermally Conductive Element Reference
Thermal Testing Methodology
TIM Testing and Scores
D: Modest Enthusiast Performance
C: Moderate Enthusiast Performance
B: Good Enthusiast Performance
A: Excellent Enthusiast Performance
Final Thoughts and Conclusion

80 Thermal Pastes Tested

Prior to our 33-Way Thermal Compound Comparison article published back in March 2008, there had not been another project of its size available online. So when Benchmark Reviews revealed our test results, it was a surprise to find that many overclockers had been ill-informed by marketing hype and misleading enthusiast opinions. Benchmark Reviews later published several other complimentary articles for performance hardware enthusiasts, offering an instructional guide on Thermal Paste Application Methods and testing for the Best CPU Cooler Performance. As the author to both of those articles, I have discovered that the most critical factors pertaining to thermal cooling performance seems to be overlooked. In this massive follow-up article, which was built from entirely new project data taking over one year of research to publish, our collection of test material has grown to include every product we could acquire from the marketplace. Benchmark Reviews has received advice of industry experts, manufacturers, and elite overclockers to bring you this comprehensive 80-Way Thermal Interface Material cooling performance comparison benchmark test.

Because testing has been conducted over a 16-month period, this project has suffered numerous delays. At one point this project was completely restarted because the test system motherboard failed, which rendered months of progress wasted because temperature readings are specific to onboard thermistor diodes and BIOS calibration. Other delays came from waiting on manufacturers to supply test samples. While most of the thermal material used in our tests was purchased from online retailers in the USA, several samples were supplied directly from the manufacturer (due to lack of North American retail availability or recently announced product launch). Our results are certainly worth waiting for, yet the true focus of this article isn't meant to publish a chart with numbers, but instead it's meant to grade product performance and identify the non-performers. More than any other factor, and vastly more important than any one thermal paste, the surface condition and mounting pressure have the greatest impact on cooling performance. Unfortunately this is a conundrum for our 80-way Thermal Interface Material article, because our grades for thermal paste materials will be read by visitors who already have improved mounting and surface finishes... making a particular product's performance moot.


Thermal Conductance is the transfer of energy from a source to a receptor. In relation to computer hardware, this energy is heat and the thermal transfer happens in key locations such as the processor and motherboard chipset controllers. In the most ideal environment, this heat transfer would happen without resistance or reduced efficiency. For example, under perfect conditions a processor would transfer every watt of thermal energy directly to the cooler. However it is because our performance computer hardware products are often made from dissimilar metals that we must rely on an interface medium to connect the source and receptor with as little resistance as possible. A key factor in selecting a thermal interface material is the relationship between bond line thickness (BLT) and thermal resistance.

The importance of using a quality Thermal Interface Material is critical for improving thermal conductance between components having imperfect contact surfaces and/or inadequate mounting pressure. Even now as processors are built to strict tolerances and consume less power, overclocking still demands the highest order of performance from the system's cooling equipment. As a byproduct of overclocking the processor, certain motherboard components such as the northbridge chipset must also mate together perfectly with the heatsink cooler to keep system bus speeds operating at a stable level. Thermal output from processors has steadily improved, while GPU heat output is steadily rising. Video cards are now the hottest item on the market, literally, and must be cooled with high-performance solutions to ensure the best video game graphics experience possible. Everything that creates heat relies on the cooler, but the cooler itself relies on the interface material to make a connection with very little thermal resistance.

Benchmark Reviews has seen a lot of products made for the purpose of delivering better performance. Some of these products exist for overclockers and enthusiasts, and often times help enthusiasts coax performance out of otherwise tame hardware. Other cooling products sometimes only deliver the empty marketing claim of wishful improvements. Of all the products we have seen and tested, one particular category always stands out as the culprit for over-hyped promises: Thermal Interface Material (TIM). Of all the heatsink compounds and thermal pastes made and promoted, they must all only concentrate themselves to deliver the simple function of mating the CPU to the cooler with the highest thermal conductivity possible. Of course, some work better than others, and this is exactly what Benchmark Reviews intends to discover and reveal. Please join us for the comprehensive testing of 80 different Thermal Interface Material products.

This comparison review article has three major objectives:

  1. Educate enthusiasts on the importance of contact surface preparation and proper mounting pressure
  2. Inform overclockers on the best methods for applying thermal paste
  3. Grade the various thermal pastes in their ability to transfer heat energy

We hope you will appreciate the labors taken to produce this report, and the tireless research testing conducted by Benchmark Reviews for the sole purpose of allowing you to achieve the best overclock performance possible from your computer system. This article may be about thermal paste, but the underlying message is how meaningless TIM is when you're doing everything else correctly.


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