Thermal Paste vs Grease vs Pads – What Is The Difference?

If you’re a gamer then you’re likely somewhat familiar with these terms, but most people don’t know what these terms are.

First, we’re going to explain what these things are and what are they used for, and then we’re going to compare thermal paste vs grease vs pads to find out how they are different.

What all of these things are are heat conductors. This means that they will absorb the heat of the CPU or the GPU (meaning the chip specifically) and conduct it safely and properly to the heatsink from which it will be further dispersed.

We believe that it’s important to know why there even is a need for such things so let’s talk a bit about that.

The processing unit (be it a graphical or the central one) has to perform an incomprehensible amount of calculations each second and they do so by transferring electricity which in turn generates heat. This means that due to the sheer amount of processes that the chip performs it can get really hot.

Here’s where the heatsink and the fans come in as the most common ways of cooling. There are also alternative methods like water cooling, but the heatsink/fan combo is the most common one because of its straightforward (and cheap) way of setting up.

But, before these two enter the fray, there has to be something that will conduct the enormous amounts of heat from the chip to the heatsink and that is where a thermal paste or thermal pad comes in.

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Thermal Paste

Applying Thermal Paste To A CPU

Okay, let’s get this one quickly out of the way. Thermal paste is the same thing as thermal grease. Most of the time the term thermal paste is used so we’ll use that one to explain what it does. Other names for thermal paste include thermal compound, thermal goop, thermal gunk, heat paste, and others.

Thermal paste is different from a thermal adhesive which you really shouldn’t use unless you know exactly what you’re doing. Only in some extremely rare cases, you will use adhesive as there is no need for it as the chip is already pressed and secured down with other methods.

As the name suggests, thermal paste is a liquid that will conduct the heat and will be placed directly between the chip and the heatsink. Because of this, it’s important to know how to properly apply the paste and if you’re able to do that, then it will fill in the gaps and make sure that the heat is properly transferred.

The most commonly used ‘cross’ and ‘dot’ method will be perfectly fine to ensure the equal distribution of thermal paste and thus the equal distribution of heat.

Thermal Paste (Thermal Grease) vs Thermal Pads

Circuit Board

Thermal pads are definitely not the same thing as thermal paste. They are solid and provide a different sort of coverage in the way that it might leave out some air pockets which something that you do not want.

It would be unfair to say that thermal pads don’t provide the proper heat conduction when they in fact do. Most of the time, the difference between a thermal paste and thermal pad will be impossible to notice in terms of performance.

Thermal pads are a lot easier to install and you can’t really mess anything up like with a thermal paste. With the paste, someone new to the process or unsure of it might accidentally apply too much paste which can lead to a different set of complications. However, a properly applied thermal paste can be a much better heat conductor than a thermal pad.

In the end, our advice is to go with a thermal pad if you’re unsure how much thermal paste should you apply or consider the process finicky. However, if you’re willing to power through that process, then the thermal paste is a better choice.

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Aleksandar Cosic
Aleksandar Cosic

Alex is a Computer Science student and a former game designer. That has enabled him to develop skills in critical thinking and fair analysis. As a CS student, Aleksandar has very in-depth technical knowledge about computers, and he also likes to stay current with new technologies.