The hunt for optimal computer performance is a never-ending quest. Whether you’re an avid gamer, a creative professional, or a tech enthusiast, you’ve likely crossed paths with the terms “thermal paste,” “thermal compound,” or “thermal grease.” These might sound like trivial components, but they hold a significant role in a computer’s performance and lifespan. Today, we’ll put two of the most popular thermal pastes under the microscope: Arctic Silver 5 and MX4.
Why Is Thermal Paste So Important?
Thermal paste, also known as thermal grease, is a substance that enhances the thermal conductivity between two surfaces — typically the processor (CPU/GPU) and the heat sink. Its primary role is to fill in the microscopic air gaps between these two surfaces, ensuring optimal heat transfer and preventing overheating.
Without thermal paste, these air gaps act as thermal insulators, significantly reducing the efficiency of the heat sink and potentially leading to detrimental overheating. Using the right thermal paste and applying it correctly can significantly improve your computer’s performance and extend its life expectancy.
Introducing the Contenders
Arctic Silver 5
Arctic Silver 5 is one of the most recognizable thermal pastes on the market. It is renowned for its high-density filling of micron-sized heat-dissipating components and the gaps in between. It is a high-performance thermal compound that has a unique blend of micronized silver and thermally-enhanced ceramic particles, coupled with the latest advances in heat transfer theory.
Arctic MX4, another leading thermal compound, is famous for its longevity and high thermal conductivity. It is an entirely metal-free and non-electrically conductive compound, which eliminates the risks of causing short circuits and offers perfect protection against thermal issues.
With both having their unique selling points, the decision between Arctic Silver 5 and MX4 may seem daunting. But fear not, as we’re about to break down the pros and cons of each, their unique features, and overall performance.
Thermal conductivity is a key performance indicator for thermal paste. It’s measured in watts per meter-kelvin (W/mK), and a higher value means better heat transfer.
Arctic Silver 5 boasts a thermal conductivity of 8.9 W/mK. This is thanks to its 99.9% pure micronized silver composition. Silver, being one of the best thermal conductors, gives Arctic Silver 5 an edge in thermal conductivity.
In contrast, Arctic MX4 offers a slightly higher thermal conductivity of 8.5 W/mK. It achieves this despite being metal-free, primarily due to its advanced carbon micro-particle formula.
Durability and Longevity
When it comes to durability and longevity, Arctic MX4 comes out on top. It’s rated to last for up to eight years after application, ensuring long-term protection against overheating.
Arctic Silver 5, on the other hand, has a shorter lifespan. Depending on usage intensity, it might require reapplication every three to five years.
Electrical conductivity is a critical consideration when choosing a thermal paste. Pastes with high electrical conductivity risk short-circuiting if they come into contact with electrical components.
Arctic Silver 5, despite its high-performance characteristics, is slightly capacitive due to its silver content. This means that if it’s applied improperly and spills onto other components, it could potentially lead to issues.
On the other hand, Arctic MX4 is entirely non-conductive. This offers peace of mind, especially for less experienced users, as even accidental misapplication won’t lead to electrical issues.
Application and Ease of Use
When it comes to application, both Arctic Silver 5 and MX4 are relatively easy to use. However, beginners might prefer MX4 due to its non-electrically conductive nature, which reduces the risk of causing damage.
Arctic Silver 5 requires a slightly more careful application due to its capacitive nature. It also necessitates a curing time — a period for the paste to reach its optimal performance after application. While this isn’t overly complicated, it adds an extra step to the process.
On the contrary, MX4 doesn’t require any curing time. Once you’ve applied it, you’re good to go. This makes it a more convenient option for those wanting to get their systems up and running quickly.
Price is often a determining factor in any purchase decision. Both Arctic Silver 5 and MX4 are reasonably priced, considering their high performance.
Arctic Silver 5 tends to be slightly cheaper per gram, making it a more cost-effective option if you’re on a tight budget. However, given that MX4 has a longer lifespan and doesn’t require reapplication as frequently, the cost difference might balance out over time.
The Verdict: Which Thermal Paste Takes the Cake?
Both Arctic Silver 5 and Arctic MX4 offer commendable performance and have their unique advantages. The choice between them largely depends on your specific needs and circumstances.
If you’re seeking superior thermal conductivity and don’t mind the extra care during the application or the shorter lifespan, Arctic Silver 5 could be the thermal paste for you. Its slightly lower price point also makes it appealing for those working within a budget.
However, if you value longevity, ease of application, and the peace of mind of a non-conductive compound, Arctic MX4 might be your best bet. It offers excellent performance without the risk of causing electrical damage, making it especially suitable for less experienced users or those wanting a ‘set-and-forget’ solution.
While we’ve covered the primary aspects of Arctic Silver 5 and MX4, there are other factors that could influence your decision. Let’s delve into some additional considerations surrounding these thermal compounds.
Environment and Safety
In the age of growing environmental concerns, it’s worth considering the environmental impact and safety of the products we use. Here, Arctic MX4 shines. It is a metal-free and non-toxic product, making it safer for both the user and the environment. Moreover, it is also RoHS compliant, signifying it doesn’t contain any hazardous substances in its production.
Arctic Silver 5, while not inherently dangerous, contains silver, a heavy metal. Therefore, it requires more careful disposal to minimize environmental impact.
Performance in Extreme Conditions
While most users will never push their systems to extreme conditions, for overclockers and high-performance system builders, the performance of thermal paste under intense heat becomes crucial.
Arctic Silver 5 is known for its stability under high thermal loads due to its silver content. It can handle higher peak temperatures, making it a popular choice among overclockers.
On the other hand, Arctic MX4, while also stable under high loads, is known more for its consistent performance under regular operating conditions. It’s ideal for users who want reliable and efficient heat dissipation without pushing their systems to the limit.
The versatility of a thermal compound refers to its compatibility with various processor types and coolers. Arctic MX4’s non-conductive and non-corrosive nature makes it suitable for all CPUs and GPUs, irrespective of their material. It also works well with both air and liquid cooling systems.
Arctic Silver 5, with its high-performance capability, is also versatile and compatible with various processor types and coolers. However, due to its capacitive nature, it demands more caution during application, especially around sensitive components.
Packaging and Quantity
The packaging and quantity of thermal paste provided are also worth considering. Both Arctic Silver 5 and MX4 are available in various sizes, allowing you to choose based on your usage requirements.
Arctic MX4 typically comes in a syringe-like packaging that makes the application process clean and straightforward. It’s available in sizes ranging from 2g to 20g.
Arctic Silver 5, on the other hand, is most commonly available in a 3.5g tube. While smaller than MX4’s options, it’s sufficient for several applications considering the small amount of thermal paste required per application.
Remember, a good thermal paste is crucial for keeping your computer cool and running optimally. Regardless of the choice you make, both Arctic Silver 5 and MX4 are reputable, high-performing thermal pastes that would serve any PC builder well.
So, whether you’re about to embark on a fresh PC build or looking to upgrade your current setup, take the time to consider your thermal paste. After all, it’s not just the paste that goes between your CPU and cooler; it’s the lifeline of your system’s performance and longevity.