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 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 in order 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, applying 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% by mass, and raises the thermal conductivity of the base matrix from 0.17–0.3 W/(m·K) (watts per meter-kelvin) up to about 2 W/(m·K).
Silver thermal compounds may have a conductivity of 3 to 8 W/(m·K) or more, and consist of micronized silver particles suspended in a silicone/ceramic medium. However, metal-based thermal grease can be electrically conductive and capacitive; if some flows onto the circuits, it can cause malfunctioning and damage.
The most effective (and most expensive) pastes consist almost entirely of liquid metal, usually a variation of the alloy galinstan, and have thermal conductivities in excess of 13 W/(m·K). These are difficult to apply evenly and have the greatest risk of causing malfunction due to spillage. These pastes contain gallium, which is highly corrosive to aluminium and cannot be used on aluminium heat sinks.
In PCs and laptops (though seldom in tablets or smartphones), thermal paste is almost invariably used in between the top of the CPU and a heat sink, but may or may not be used in between the CPU die and its integrated heat spreader.
In many CPUs, the die is attached to the heat spreader by solder. However, in others the die is not directly attached to the heat spreader, but maintains contact via a layer of thermal paste.
In the latter case, performance enthusiasts sometimes pry the heat spreader (the CPU "lid") from the die, and replace the thermal paste, which is typically of low quality, with a thermal paste which has a greater thermal conductivity - a process known as "delidding". Generally, liquid metal thermal pastes are used in such instances.
Filler properties (at 300 K)
|Thermal expansion coefficient
in 10−6 K−1
|Aluminum nitride||140‒180||> 1011||4.15 (par), 5.27 (ortho)|||
|β-Boron nitride||100||> 1010||11.9|||
- 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.
- "What is delidding? - ekwb.com". ekwb.com. 2016-08-25. Retrieved 2018-10-18.
- 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
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Thermal grease.|
- Barros, Daniel (2006-01-12). "Thermal paste buying guide".