|80-way Thermal Interface Material Performance Test|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Cooling|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Sunday, 14 June 2009|
Page 14 of 14
This article closely mirrors the classic tortoise and hare analogy: two completely different methods of reaching the same destination, and the fastest (best performing) product isn't always the winner. As I've reiterated over an over again in the article, no thermal paste will offer better results than a properly prepared processor and cooler surface with mounting hardware that creates very high contact pressure. To the average hardware enthusiasts, this doesn't mean very much, since they don't usually want to spend the hours/days/weeks of time lapping, polishing, buffing, and testing the various aspects of their tweak to achieve the best performance. In a classic Hare fashion, they simply want to buy the product and enjoy the same results as earned by the Tortoise. Overclockers know: this isn't a foot race, and slow, steady, deliberate preparations and testing are the only way to obtain dramatic performance improvements.
What began as a huge mind-boggling collection of TIM products has been refined into a test-proven selection of premium Thermal Interface Material. In retrospect though, the testing methods were not perfect, and certain aspects were unnecessary. The reasons are simple: if you want to truly 'test' thermal paste, you need a controlled mechanism for deriving results and eliminate influencing factors such as pressure and finish. There are plenty of these methods available, such as Hot-Wire, Axial Flow, and Hot-Plate methods of determining thermal conductivity, but delivering results expressed as W/ m·deg K would be lost on most readers (who might also criticize a test foreign to them).
I have often thought that the many months of work have amounted to only a shadow of what really should have been; but unfortunately most readers would also reject my own testing theory, which includes a ceramic ring filled with a thick but consistent amount of material. It occurs to me that if we want to test how much thermal energy can be transferred through any particular material, we should be using a thick amount with basic compression trapped by a non-conductive barrier, and not base our results on nearly immeasurable thermal paste film resulting from good compression. Scientifically sound thermal testing and real-world performance are two very different things, but it's difficult to convince readers otherwise.
Many years ago, back when Intel Pentium 4 processors were heating homes across America, the average computer system processor would require extreme measures to keep it stable at its base speed. Even now as we experience AMD Phenom II and Intel Core i7 processors that can run warm even without activities such as overclocking or adding additional voltage, they usually operate considerably cool with the stock manufacturer-supplied cooler. This is proof-evidence that CPU cooling has reached a peak, and the need for aftermarket cooling on a stock computer system is, well, cooling. Overclockers are a different breed, however, and the end result of more-efficient processors translates into more stable overclocks.
So what comes next? With this article Benchmark Reviews will likely discontinue large-scale TIM comparisons, since there's really no purpose in comparing unavailable or discontinued items. At the same time, we will search out a better method of comparing one material against another, since replicating user experience doesn't generate enough disparity between materials. Armed with the information we've provided in this 80-way thermal material comparison, you can apply the tips we delivered in our Best Thermal Paste Application Methods article, and then begin your own project with our Introduction to Overclocking Guide.
80 Thermal Pastes Compared
Benchmark Reviews does not endorse any particular manufacturer or product, regardless of our test results. Our official position on thermal interface material is very clear: every product tested will transfer thermal energy beyond the needs of average computer users. If you do not overclock your computer system and push hardware to the breaking point, any thermal paste featured in this article will suffice without penalty.
However, if you're not just looking for something to fill space between the processor and cooler, and every degree of performance counts, then perhaps you'll be interested in our suggestions to help you attain the overclock you're burning to reach. Listed in order of enthusiast performance results, Benchmark Reviews offers the following products for consideration:
If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, Benchmark Reviews really wants your feedback. We invite you to leave your remarks in our Discussion Forum. It's the only way we can meet your expectations.
Benchmark Reviews recognizes that this project would not have been possible without third-party support, and we sincerely thank the following companies for their assistance: