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These two cooling solutions have different characteristics and applications. Thermal paste is more effective than thermal pads at dissipating heat, but it can also damage components when incorrectly applied. In this article, I explain the best ways to use them.

What to choose between a pad and a thermal paste?

Thermal paste is a viscous silicone-based substance designed to fill the micro-gaps between two metal surfaces. Thermal paste requires careful, manual application to the thermal surface. Although it may seem more complex, the application of thermal paste enables better cooling.

Thermal pad vs. thermal paste

Thermal pads are malleable silicone or graphite materials designed to facilitate heat transfer between two surfaces. They are often pre-applied to heat sinks. Thermal pads are easy to use , as they are ready-to-use and require no special preparation or skill.

However, they tend to be less effective than thermal paste at dissipating heat.

If you’re looking for the best possible thermal performance, thermal paste is preferable.

Which components require thermal paste?

Thermal paste may be more powerful than thermal pad, but it’s also more complicated to apply and often requires you to go to a computer professional to replace it. I recommend applying it to components that generate a lot of heat:

  • The processor (CPU): The processor is one of the hottest components in a computer, as it performs most of the calculations and operations. Thermal paste maximizes heat dissipation and ensures the best possible performance.
  • Graphics card (GPU): Thermal paste should also be applied to the GPU (graphics card). The GPU generates a lot of heat when it’s called upon to perform graphics-intensive tasks such as gaming or video rendering.

On which components should a thermal pad be applied?

Thermal pads, while offering slightly lower thermal conductivity than thermal paste, have significant advantages in terms of ease of installation and durability. Their application is particularly recommended for beginners, as they present no risk of spillage onto the motherboard, thus avoiding any potential damage to electronic components.

Applying a thermal pad to an M.2 NVMe SSD.

NVMe hard drives, due to their design similar to RAM, tend to generate a significant amount of heat. To improve thermal dissipation and prevent overheating, we recommend applying a thermal pad to these drives. In addition, the use of a heatsink for NVMe M.2 drives is highly recommended. These measures extend hard disk life and ensure stable performance.

Apply a thermal pad to memory modules

RAM, although moderately heat-generating in standard use, can produce high levels of heat in high-performance configurations. To maintain a stable temperature and maximize your system’s efficiency, we recommend applying thermal pads to RAM modules. This helps prevent the risk of overheating and ensures the durability of your hardware.