Thermal grease (also called CPU grease, heat paste, heat sink compound, heat sink paste, thermal compound, thermal gel, thermal interface material, or thermal paste) is a kind of thermally conductive (but usually electrically insulating) compound, which is commonly used as an interface between heat sinks and heat sources (e.g., high-power semiconductor devices). The main role of thermal grease is to eliminate air gaps or spaces (which act as thermal insulator) from the interface area so as to maximize heat transfer. Thermal grease is an example of a thermal interface material.
As opposed to thermal adhesive, thermal grease does not add mechanical strength to the bond between heat source and heat sink. It will have to be coupled with a mechanical fixation mechanism such as screws, allowing for pressure between the two, spreading the thermal grease onto the heat source.
Thermal grease consists of a polymerizable liquid matrix and large volume fractions of electrically insulating, but thermally conductive filler. Typical matrix materials are epoxies, silicones, urethanes, and acrylates, solvent-based systems, hot-melt adhesives, and pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes are also available. Aluminum oxide, boron nitride, zinc oxide, and increasingly aluminum nitride are used as fillers for these types of adhesives. The filler loading can be as high as 70–80 wt %, and the fillers raise the thermal conductivity of the base matrix from 0.17–0.3 watts per meter Kelvin or W/(m·K), up to about 2 W/(m·K).
Silver thermal compounds may have a conductivity of 3 to 8 W/(m·K) or more. However, metal-based thermal grease can be electrically conductive and capacitive; if some flows onto the circuits it can cause malfunctioning and damage.
|Compound||Thermal conductivity (ca. 300 K)
(W m−1 K−1)
|Electrical resistivity (ca. 300 K)
|Thermal expansion coefficient
|Diamond||20 ‒ 2000||1016 ‒ 1020||0.8 (15 – 150 °C)|||
|Silver||418||1.465 (0 °C)|||
|Aluminum nitride||100 ‒ 170||> 1011||3.5 (300 – 600 K)|||
|β-Boron nitride||100||> 1010||4.9|||
Utilizing thermal grease
Intel, aftermarket recommendation
Intel, crit.tv and Arctic GmbH recommend to squeeze a pea-sized amount of thermal grease onto the center of the CPU. The heat sink is then installed on top of the thermal grease. Intel uses Dow Corning TC-1996 thermal grease.
AMD recommends to squeeze a pea-sized amount onto the center of the CPU. This should be evenly spread over the entire processor surface area, and you can use a credit card as a tool to help accomplish this task. Keep in mind that the purpose of thermal compound is to compensate for imperfections between the CPU and cooling block, not to add a barrier between them. A proper application should result in a very thin layer without any visible streaks or clumps.
- Computer cooling
- Hot-melt adhesive
- Phase-change material
- Thermally conductive pad
- Thermal adhesive
- List of thermal conductivities
- Werner Haller; et al. (2007), "Adhesives", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, pp. 58–59
- Otto Vohler; et al. (2007), "Carbon", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley
- Hermann Renner; et al. (2007), "Silver", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 7
- Peter Ettmayer; Walter Lengauer (2007), "Nitrides", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 5
- Hans G. Völz; et al. (2007), "Pigments, Inorganic", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley
- "How to apply thermal paste (arctic gmbh)". YouTube. 7 April 2016.
- "How to apply thermal paste (crit.tv)". YouTube. 22 August 2012.
- "How to Apply Thermal Interface Material (TIM)". Intel. 3 August 2017.
- "Desktop 4th Generation Intel® Core™ Processor Family, Desktop Intel® Pentium® Processor Family, Desktop Intel® Celeron® Processor Family, and Intel® Xeon® Processor E3-1200 v3 Product Family. Thermal Mechanical Design Guidelines (TMDG)" (PDF). Intel. December 2013.
- "AMD FX™ 9000 series installation guide" (PDF). AMD. 2015.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Thermal grease.|
- Barros, Daniel (2006-01-12). "Thermal paste buying guide".