June 2009 Thermal Compound Roundup (Arctic Cooling, Arctic Silver, Gelid, Noctua, Tuniq, and Zalman)

Print

Product(s): Arctic Cooling MX-2 Thermal Compound
Provided By:
Arctic Cooling

Product(s): Gelid GC-1 Thermal Compound
Provided By:
Gelid

Product(s): Zalman ZM-STG1 Thermal Grease
Provided By:
Zalman

Product(s): Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound
Provided By:
BCCHardware

Product(s): Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Compound
Provided By:
Noctua

Product(s): Tuniq TX-2 Thermal Compound
Provided By:
Tuniq

 

Introduction: 

It's been a while since we took a closer look at thermal compounds, but today we are going to take 6 of the most commonly available thermal compounds and put them head-to-head against each other and see how they compare.

For our testing we're going to use the hottest CPU we could find, the AMD Phenom X4 9950, which is capable of producing a whopping 140 Watts of heat and can really show the need for a high quality thermal compound. In all our testing we will be using the stock AMD cooler that came with our AMD Phenom X4 9950 processor.

A good thermal compound in addition to a aftermarket cooler can drop your CPU temperatures significantly, so hopefully this article will make your buying decision easier when your shopping for some thermal compound.

 

Closer Look :

 

gelid .jpg
Gelid GC1 Thermal Compound
tuniq .jpg
Tuniq TX-2 Thermal Compound


 
noctua.jpg
Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Compound
ac.jpg
Arctic Cooling MX-2 Thermal Compound

As you can see in the pictures above, 5 of the 6 compounds we are going to test come in a tube, however the Zalman ZM-STG1 comes in a bottle (much like nail polish) and has a brush to make applying the thermal paste easier.

as5.jpg
Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound
zalman2.jpg
Zalman ZM-STG1 Thermal Compound


 

 


 

Testing:

Test Setup:

We've recently re-designed our Cooler testing setup to show how new coolers are able to handle the new quad-core CPU's from both AMD and Intel, which produce more heat than traditional Dual and Single Core CPU's. We will be providing test results from both a Intel Quad Core processor (LGA775), as well as a AMD Phenom X4 CPU (AM2+) in all our reviews to give readers a better estimate of how this cooler will work on their CPU, as well as a better estimate of what the cooler being reviewed is capable of.

For AMD (AM2+) testing we will be using the AMD Phenom X4 Quad-Core 9950 CPU, which produces 140 Watts of heat and is currently one of the hottest running processors available. This processor should give us a very good estimate of how a cooler will perform with one of the hottest CPU's available. Click here to go to AMD's Processor Spec Finder to find out how many of watts your AMD processor is producing.

For both AMD and Intel testing, we have taken all temperatures using CoreTemp v.0.99.4. CoreTemp takes a temperature from the CPU core, and allows for much more uniform results across different motherboard and CPU platforms. These temperatures may seem higher than other temperature recordings; because chances are they are taking temperature recordings using the diode underneath the CPU, which isn't able to be as accurate, and can really fluctuate between different brands of motherboards.

For all tests we are using the Highspeed PC Top Deck Tech Station, and we are using no additional cooling in our testing. All temperatures are recorded in a controlled environment that is set to 23 degrees Celsius (73.4 Fahrenheit) to provide fair results between coolers.

AMD Test System:

 

 

Here comes the big test:

thermalchart.jpg

 

The results are in, and they are pretty interesting. The biggest thing to note is that all 6 compounds we tested lowered the temperatures compared to stock cooling at least 2.5 degrees, however the gap between all of the compounds is only 2 degrees, which makes it pretty much impossible to say that one is better than the other.

If this review was a movie the ending would really suck due to the fact that we can't really declare a winner or a loser. Due to the close results, performance becomes a little bit less of a factor when you go out to buy a new tube of thermal compound, and factors like availability and pricing become even more important, and chances are if you walk into your favorite store and have to decide between these brands chances are good that price will become the biggest factor in your buying decision.

Now that we've see the results, let's move to the last section where I will share my thoughts on each of these thermal compounds.

 


 

BCCHardware 2009 Thermal Compound Roundup Final Thoughts:

It's been a while since we took a look at thermal compounds, so we decided to put 6 of the most common compounds available on a hot quad-core CPU, and see if we could crown a winner. Unfortunately when all the dust settled, the results were very close (and very interesting), and crowning a definitive "Winner" is going to be tough. All 6 of the compounds we tested were within 3 degrees Celsius in performance to each other (which is less than a 5% difference between the top and bottom performers), but all 6 are definitely a upgrade to the thermal compound that comes pre-applied with your stock cooler. Due to the close performance numbers chances are good that factors like availability and price are going to play an even bigger factor in your next thermal compound buying decision.

I'm going to provide a individual rundown of each of the 6 thermal compounds that we tested, and let you decide the winner for yourself.

 

Zalman ZM-STG1 Thermal Compound Final Thoughts

The Zalman ZM-STG1 was the only compound that we tested that did not come in a tube, instead it comes in a container much like nail polish does, and features a brush (much like nail polish) to make applying the compound easy. Of all the compounds we tested the Zalman ZM-STG1 was the easiest to apply (and was easy to gauge if you're using enough, or not enough, compound on the CPU).

Pros:

  • Easy to Apply
  • Easy to tell if you've used enough (or not enough) compound
  • Good Performance

 

Tuniq TX-2 Thermal Compound Final Thoughts

This is the 2nd time we've taken a look at the TX-2 compound from Tuniq (read our original review here). In our original testing the TX-2 was right in the mix with all of our other compounds that we tested it against, and in this 2nd round of testing the results were much the same. The Tuniq TX-2 thermal compound is still a good choice.

Pros:

  • Good Performance
  • Easy to Apply

 

Arctic Cooling MX-2 Thermal Compound Final Thoughts

Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal compound has been our thermal compound of choice here at BCCHardware for a while now, and we use it on all of the coolers we review to provide accurate results in our testing of aftermarket coolers. One big plus to the MX-2 is the no curing period, which is very nice because you'll start to get the best results from day one (instead of having to wait 200 hours for "optimal performance"). Arctic Cooling MX-2 has been on the market for a while now, yet in our testing we still found it to be at the top of our results, and thanks to the wide availability in stores, Arctic Cooling MX-2 is still a great choice.

Pros:

  • Good Performance
  • Easy to Apply
  • No Curing Period Necessary

 

Gelid GC-1 Thermal Compound Final Thoughts

This is also the 2nd time we've taken a look at the GC-1 thermal compound from Gelid (read our original review over here).  The Gelid GC-1 (like most of the other thermal compounds we tested) also comes in a tube, but unique to the GC-1 is a handy applicator stick that makes applying the thermal compound onto your CPU nice and easy. In our original testing we found the GC-1 to be very competitive with its temperatures, and in this 2nd round of testing the results were very similar, however with the additional heat that the AMD Phenom X4 9950 kicks out we found the Gelid GC-1 to be a couple degrees warmer, however, still proves to be a very decent upgrade to stock thermal paste.

Pros:

  • Good Performance
  • Easy to Apply (Thanks to Handy Applicator Stick)
  • No Curing Period Necessary

 

Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Compound Final Thoughts

This is the 2nd time we've had the Noctua NT-H1 on the bench (read our original review here). In our original testing we found the NT-H1 to perform very well, and once again (with a hotter CPU) the results were very similar and the Noctua NT-H1 finished towards the top of our list for performance. The Noctua NT-H1 comes in a tube (like most of the other thermal compounds we tested), and it also doesn't need a curing period (no burn-in time), so you'll be getting peak performance right away instead of having to wait.

Pros:

  • Good Performance
  • Easy to Apply
  • No Curing Period Necessary

 

Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound Final Thoughts

Last but not least we've got the Arctic Silver 5 thermal compound. Arctic Silver is a pretty well known name in the thermal compound market, and chances are good most computer shops are going to have Arctic Silver 5 available for purchase. In our testing we found the Arctic Silver 5 to be very competitive, and it finished right in the middle in our testing. The biggest drawback with Arctic Silver 5 is that it has a 50-200 hour curing period (burn-in period) before you're going to get optimal results. For most applications the burn-in period isn't a big deal at all, and in our experience we saw only about half a degree improvement from the time we applied the Arctic Silver 5 to the end of the burn-in period (50 hours later).

Pros:

  • Good Performance
  • Easy to Apply

 

If you have any questions, comments, or general feedback, please leave it at the "Comments" link below.