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Written by Olin Coles   
Monday, 21 April 2008
Table of Contents: Page Index
Best Thermal Paste Application Methods
Mounting Pressure and Finish
Thermally Conductive Element Reference
Application on Round-base Coolers
Application on Square-base Coolers
Application on HDT Coolers

Conductive Elements

Manufacturers have made a small fortune off of confusion tactics and misinformation. Marketing departments often times neglect to refer back to solid science when making their bold claims, which is why we have assembled a complete list of thermally conductive elements in the reference chart below.

It's very well known that Silver, Copper, Gold, and Aluminum together comprise the top four most thermally conductive elements. However, without knowing the thermal conductance of these elements you might be fooled into thinking the performance was close. As it turns out, Silver and Copper both offer nearly twice the performance of Aluminum when transferring thermal energy such as heat. The reason Aluminum is used in so many applications is because it's the least expensive top-tier metal available. Most Thermal Interface Material and CPU coolers use several different elemental ingredients to work together, but after a careful inspection of the performance levels it comes as a surprise to me that some of the most popular products make use of such poor conductive elements.

Thermal Conductance Element Name Symbol
4.29 W/cmK Silver Ag
4.01 W/cmK Copper Cu
3.17 W/cmK Gold Au
2.37 W/cmK Aluminum Al
2.01 W/cmK Calcium Ca
2.01 W/cmK Beryllium Be
1.74 W/cmK Tungsten W
1.56 W/cmK Magnesium Mg
1.5 W/cmK Rhodium Rh
1.48 W/cmK Silicon Si
1.47 W/cmK Iridium Ir
1.41 W/cmK Sodium Na
1.38 W/cmK Molybdenum Mo
1.29 W/cmK Carbon C
1.17 W/cmK Ruthenium Ru
1.16 W/cmK Zinc Zn
1.024 W/cmK Potassium K
1 W/cmK Cobalt Co
0.968 W/cmK Cadmium Cd
0.937 W/cmK Chromium Cr
0.907 W/cmK Nickel Ni
0.876 W/cmK Osmium Os
0.847 W/cmK Lithium Li
0.816 W/cmK Indium In
0.802 W/cmK Iron Fe
0.718 W/cmK Palladium Pd
0.716 W/cmK Platinum Pt
0.666 W/cmK Tin Sn
0.599 W/cmK Germanium Ge
0.582 W/cmK Rubidium Rb
0.58 W/cmK Dubnium Db
0.575 W/cmK Tantalum Ta
0.54 W/cmK Thorium Th
0.537 W/cmK Niobium Nb
0.506 W/cmK Technetium Tc
0.502 W/cmK Arsenic As
0.479 W/cmK Rhenium Re
0.47 W/cmK Protactinium Pa
0.461 W/cmK Thallium Tl
0.406 W/cmK Gallium Ga
0.359 W/cmK Cesium Cs
0.353 W/cmK Lead Pb
0.353 W/cmK Strontium Sr
0.349 W/cmK Ytterbium Yb
0.307 W/cmK Vanadium V
0.276 W/cmK Uranium U
0.274 W/cmK Boron B
0.243 W/cmK Antimony Sb
0.23 W/cmK Hafnium Hf
0.23 W/cmK Rutherfordium Rf
0.227 W/cmK Zirconium Zr
0.219 W/cmK Titanium Ti
Thermal Conductance Element Name Symbol
0.2 W/cmK Polonium Po
0.186 W/cmK Radium Ra
0.184 W/cmK Barium Ba
0.179 W/cmK Promethium Pm
0.172 W/cmK Yttrium Y
0.168 W/cmK Thulium Tm
0.165 W/cmK Neodymium Nd
0.164 W/cmK Lutetium Lu
0.162 W/cmK Holmium Ho
0.158 W/cmK Scandium Sc
0.15 W/cmK Francium Fr
0.143 W/cmK Erbium Er
0.139 W/cmK Europium Eu
0.135 W/cmK Lanthanum La
0.133 W/cmK Samarium Sm
0.125 W/cmK Praseodymium Pr
0.12 W/cmK Actinium Ac
0.114 W/cmK Cerium Ce
0.111 W/cmK Terbium Tb
0.107 W/cmK Dysprosium Dy
0.106 W/cmK Gadolinium Gd
0.1 W/cmK Lawrencium Lr
0.1 W/cmK Einsteinium Es
0.1 W/cmK Berkelium Bk
0.1 W/cmK Californium Cf
0.1 W/cmK Fermium Fm
0.1 W/cmK Curium Cm
0.1 W/cmK Nobelium No
0.1 W/cmK Americium Am
0.1 W/cmK Mendelevium Md
0.0834 W/cmK Mercury Hg
0.0787 W/cmK Bismuth Bi
0.0782 W/cmK Manganese Mn
0.0674 W/cmK Plutonium Pu
0.063 W/cmK Neptunium Np
0.0235 W/cmK Tellurium Te
0.0204 W/cmK Selenium Se
0.017 W/cmK Astatine At
0.00449 W/cmK Iodine I
0.00269 W/cmK Sulfur S
0.00235 W/cmK Phosphorus P
0.001815 W/cmK Hydrogen H
0.00152 W/cmK Helium He
0.00122 W/cmK Bromine Br
0.000493 W/cmK Neon Ne
0.000279 W/cmK Fluorine F
0.0002674 W/cmK Oxygen O
0.0002598 W/cmK Nitrogen N
0.0001772 W/cmK Argon Ar
0.0000949 W/cmK Krypton Kr
0.000089 W/cmK Chlorine Cl
0.0000569 W/cmK Xenon Xe

Recipes usually call for only the finest ingredients, and the very same principle is true for overclocker and hardware enthusiast products. Thermal pastes are often times mixed from at least a dozen different components, while heatsink coolers may use only one or two different metals. Armed with the knowledge above, you might expect any silver-based product to be a clear-cut winner... but building a superior product by design is different than what you receive in execution. Production and material costs usually dictate how the product is designed and fabricated.

Keep these materials in mind as we take a look at the new products Benchmark Reviews has collected for this round-up article, beginning with our first contender...



# ChampMark 2010-08-12 22:20
Thanks for this mate. It's made installing HDT coolers much easier for me.
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# RE: Best Thermal Paste Application MethodsJay 2010-09-30 06:09
Thanks Benchmarkreviews for this is a very informative article.
This kind of quality reviews makes it a lot easier for enthusiasts, like me, which do not have much resources for us to try such tests.
Thanks again... and i hope for more quality reviews from you guys..
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# Thanks for your work!Wilson 2010-10-31 12:09
Thank you for researching and publishing your work on applying thermal paste. I don't have a HDT heat sink, but the design is exactly the same as the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus Direct (blah blah the name is sooooo long).

Thanks Again!
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# Excellent Article!Twisted 2010-11-02 20:15
Thank you for a well written and presented article. I recently purchased a Xigmatek 'Red Scorpion' cooler to replace my stock Intel LGA775 cooler. Now I know how to best apply the paste! Also, my Red Scorpion was supplied with the white thermal paste, thanks again for explaining what these compounds are made from. I will throw out the white paste and get some that has a high silver content.
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# ExcellentMohammad 2010-12-01 20:15
Very well done. Just today I took apart a 212+ and noticed the truly pathetic contact I'd achieved using the Arctic Silver-recommended 'single line' method.

Definitely going this route next time.
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# Heatpipe Directional OrientationJim 2010-12-28 20:13
Olin, under the section "Heatpipe Directional Orientation" are you stating that it is better for the CPU cooling fan to point toward the top of the case, rather than front to back? I would think this would be true for PC cases that have the PSU mounted on the bottom of the case, and have a fan at the top, blowing outward. The new Lian Li PC-A04 case is a perfect example of this. Can you comment? (Thanks!) Perhaps a picture would be helpful here.
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# CorrectionJim 2010-12-28 20:28
In further reading, I realize that I didn't catch what you were explaning. I do understand what you are saying now. But my additional point/question is still relevant. If you take a look at the Lian Li PC-A04 case, wouldn't it make sense to re-orient the CPU cooler towards the top of the case? (They actually do not include a rear fan.) I would think that a vertical orientation of the heat pipes, along with a bottom to top fan direction would be optimal, considering that hot air rises.
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# CorrectionJim 2010-12-30 10:45
Correction: I would think that a horizontal orientation of the heat pipes, along with a bottom to top fan direction would be optimal, considering that hot air rises.
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# RE: CorrectionOlin Coles 2011-01-01 10:05
As you've stated, heat rises. Additionally, despite capillary action gravity still affects the heat-pipe fluid. It's best to orientate the heatsink so that heat-pipes are either level or collecting fluid at the base.
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# EarthwormJimEarthworm Jim 2011-03-29 15:15
Assuming that "BB" size is equal to 4,57 mm and "BBB" to 4,83, and as "LGA775" is 37,5 x 37,5 millimetres, and on the picture with the peas the pea is approximately 1/3rd of the diameter which results in 12,5 mm. which is 1,25 cm I do arrive to the conclusion that in you country agronomy is really advanced. In my country peas are generally around half a centimetre, which make them BBB size and almost BB size. So, in conclusion, the community
is still as keen as it thought, or in other words, it is not mistaken - your peas are mistaken ( they are really f***** up ;) ). I do hope this is cleared out, and I do hope that somebody confirms the size of the peas on the picture, based on my assumptions!
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# RE: EarthwormJimOlin Coles 2011-03-29 15:31
These were frozen peas, and they are slightly larger than a pencil eraser. In the photo, that bit of thermal paste was roughly half the mass of a BB, and it covered the entire contact base on an old LGA775 cooler.
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# Peas and such...StressLess 2011-08-13 16:52
The peas being referred to by the term "the size of a pea" (and in the fable "The Princess and the Pea") are the peas you make pea soup out of, which are dried peas. Dried peas are much smaller than frozen peas, about the size of the TIM you used in the now infamous frozen peas picture. But instead of peas, I had heard the amount to place was the size of a rice grain which also works and is less confusing.

On a different subject, I would liked to have seen the results of mounting the square cooler that you did a thin, even spread of TIM on. How did it look when removed?

Also I would like to see heat readings from all these different application methods. While you may want one or the other spreads visually, how does that translate into actual practice? Could less coverage translate into a thinner layer that increases metal to metal contact, yielding better results than 100% CPU coverage but thicker layer? Inquiring minds want to know!!
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# RE: Best Thermal Paste Application MethodsEarthworm Jim 2011-03-29 15:16
Still, thanks for the knowledge!
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# Hyper 212#3 2011-04-13 17:38
When using the line method with the thermal 212+ would I need two lines or three (since it has 4 copper pipes?
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# RE: Hyper 212Olin Coles 2011-04-13 17:43
Three. The number shall be three.
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# Meaning of the following statementMohan 2011-07-28 00:22
"it is important to fill the channels level with thermal compound so that the the additional material may spread somewhat unrestricted to the edges"

now what is 'channels level' we are talking about here?
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# RE: Best Thermal Paste Application MethodsMoto Psycho 2011-07-28 07:09
^Where you have pipes on the heatsink base, there are tiny dips as the surfaces meet, the base is not 100% flat, therefore it is vital that you ensure these channels are filled with paste to properly conduct the heat away from the processor
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# hands claplacky 2011-08-14 20:39
thanks for that. great job.
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# Deep HDT pipes?Traveller 2011-09-04 11:15
Hi Olin. I found your article to be extremely informative, thanks. I was wondering if you could shed some further light on whether or not failure to sand down an HDT cooler would make any significant difference for a pc that is never going to be overclocked at all. I would particularly appreciate your views on the Coolermaster Hyper TX3 cooler, which looks as if the the pipes are set too deep into the mounting base. See links below. x3/8.jpg

After having read your article, I have concluded that the two drops on the two centre partitions of the mounting base would be the best option for the Hyper TX3 cooler (to be used with an AMD Phenom II x6 1100T CPU), however, if sanding is not carried out, how would one deal with the space between the deeply set pipes and the CPU surface? Also, I have read that even merely touching the metal with a finger can cause grease and all kinds of particles to become stuck to it, so if sanding were to be carried out, how could one possible ensure that the cooler is thoroughly cleaned of all the residue from sanding? Thank you for any advice.
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# RE: Deep HDT pipes?Olin Coles 2011-09-04 12:00
Why would you ever sand/lap the surface of a CPU/heatsink that isn't going to be heavily overclocked? Almost any aftermarket cooler can handle stock voltage loads.
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# RE: Deep HDT pipes?Traveller 2011-09-05 06:54
Ok Olin, thank you for clearing that up. I'm new to all of this and didn't know if the sanding was recommended for 'normal' use or not.
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# RE: RE: Deep HDT pipes?Olin Coles 2011-09-05 10:31
Just use a thin amount of thermal paste over the CPU, and make sure to mount the heatsink as firmly as possible. This alone will give you more cooling performance than required.
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# RE: Deep HDT pipes?Traveller 2011-09-05 11:24
Is that in addition to the two drops on the two centre partitions of the cooler or only on the CPU? In either case, shouldn't I still be filling the channels on the cooler base? Thanks.
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# RE: RE: Deep HDT pipes?Olin Coles 2011-09-05 11:44
You can apply two drops, or you can use a clean finger to spread a very light film over the top of the CPU. I prefer to apply a thin film.
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# RE: Deep HDT pipes?Traveller 2011-09-06 06:47
Ok thanks for the advice, Olin.
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