CPU thermal paste isn’t as well-known as GPUs and other high-performance hardware, but it’s just as important. This article will help you understand how it works and how to choose the best thermal paste for your new computer build.

Thermal paste is a liquid compound that fills the microscopic gaps between your processor’s surface and the heat sink/cooler it’s sitting on top of. Without it, the metal surfaces would make contact directly, resulting in high temperatures that can damage your expensive processor. Thermal paste prevents this by conducting the heat away from the CPU to the cooler, which disperses it into the surrounding air.

Unlike thermal pads and thermal gel, which are not true pastes, real commercial thermal paste is a liquid that needs to be applied correctly. The wrong technique can lead to a lot of hassle and even harm your expensive CPU.

Many people recommend spreading the thermal paste manually with a flat tool like a credit card, but this method has one major flaw: it creates tiny air bubbles between the two surfaces, which reduces efficiency. Air is a terrible conductor of heat and prevents the CPU from cooling properly.

To avoid these problems, you should first clean the contact area of the heatsink with alcohol before applying the thermal paste. Then, apply a small pea-sized dot of the paste in the center of your CPU, then place smaller dots around the edge and a fifth in the middle: this is called the penta-dot method.