With processors working at increasingly higher clock speeds, concern with thermal dissipation is necessary because the higher the clock used, the higher the heat produced. To give you an idea, a 486DX2-66 dissipated somewhere between three and six watts, while a Pentium 4 processor with 3.8 GHz dissipates 115 W! If you don’t utilize a thermal solution compatible with the specific model of processor that you use in your system, several problems can appear: random resets, freezes, reduction of processor lifespan, and even burning the CPU in extreme cases.

Several solutions were proposed to solve those problems, including the elaboration of a new motherboard standard (the BTX standard was created to maximize air circulation inside the PC) and the launching of cases with ventilation ducts and liquid cooling systems.

Those solutions are still expensive, and we are not always willing to pay for them. Individuals who work assembling and selling computers are aware of market problems and know how difficult it is to convince a client that the final cost of the computer increased due to a better cooling system. Usually, the client is not very interested in that; their only concern is the price.

A simple and inexpensive solution is the utilization of thermal paste (also known as thermal grease or thermal compound) that can help reduce the problem of processor overheating. The paste must be used with the right cooler for the specific model of processor installed.

In this tutorial, we’ll discuss the role of thermal paste in the process of thermal dissipation, how to correctly use it, and the most common mistakes made during thermal paste application.

We have a follow-up review to this tutorial, called “What is the Best Way to Apply Thermal Grease” that you should read as well.

Daniel Barros lives in Brazil and used to be our motherboard reviewer. He is a partner at a local PC sales and maintenance store.