Whether it’s improving airflow, upgrading a cooler or choosing the right thermal grease, everyone has a different good reason to optimize his/her system temperature. How low can you go? That’s the question I’m going to look at today, in a TIM (Thermal Interface Material) round-up. Thermal grease – or just ‘grease’ as I’ll call it from now on – is a prominent TIM in the computer industry. I’ll compare seven high-end greases to investigate where you would be best off spending on improved cooling.
Meet the Competitors
For today’s comparison testing I’ve received a list of six competitors and added one myself. Three of the greases came from CaseKing.de, a big thanks for that. Fabacom.nl supplied the Thercool-ICE35 and another was supplied by TIM Consultants, namely their Quantum grease. The sixth I’ve added myself, it’s the ever popular Arctic Silver 5.
First I’ll introduce each of these puppies, then give a short product price and availability overview.
Arctic Cooling MX-4 (MX-4)
“The ARCTIC MX-4 is a new thermal compound that guarantees exceptional heat dissipation from components and maintains the needed stability to push your computer system to its maximum. The ARCTIC MX-4 continues to be overclocker’s ultimate choice when choosing thermal compound.”
The MX-4 comes with a useful little plastic shovel to help you even out the grease on the surface before applying the heatsink.
Minimum price: €4,90
Average price: €8,50
Average price per gram: €2,13
Arctic Silver 5 (AS-5)
“With its unique high-density filling of micronized silver and enhanced thermally conductive ceramic particles, Arctic Silver 5 provides a new level of performance and stability. Available at Arctic Silver resellers worldwide. Arctic Silver 5 is the reference premium thermal compound. Arctic Silver 5 is optimized for a wide range of bond lines between modern high-power CPUs and high performance heatsinks or water-cooling solutions.”
Brought in from my own stash, this AS-5 has helped me out for years. This is an excellent opportunity to see if this old-timer still can compete with the newest materials on the market.
Minimum price: €4,90
Average price: €8,90
Average price per gram: €2,54
Prolimatech PK-1 (PK-1)
“Over the years, Prolimatech PK-1 has become one of the hardware testers’ favorite. It is not hard to see why. PK-1 is a premium grade of thermal compound that is easy to spread and is reliable throughout the year. It will not dry out while continuing to provide good heat transfer from your CPU to your heatsink base. Performance-wise, Pk-1 is a contender for the top spot as it beat other major brands of thermal compound in the market. To maintain top condition, we highly recommend reapplying PK-1 every year.”
Prolimatech supplied me with a review sample in a simple plastic bag. Therefor I can’t say anything special about the retail package, besides the typical information.
Minimum price: €6,65
Average price: €10,10
Average price per gram: €2,02
TherCool ICE-35 (ICE-35)
“Recently developed super conductive thermal grease. TherCool ICE is based on TherCool TSI but with further improved thermal conduction. This is one of the best thermal greases available today. It is such a paste composition which combines the thermal conductive qualities of nano-aluminum nitride and organic siloxane compounds. It gives the grease an excellent thermal conductivity. The thermal conductivity has reached or passed the thermal conductivity of other products available on the market today. (…) It is the best product for the CPU COOLER today”
After some searching I finally found three webshops that sell this product (one Dutch, two British through Heise.de’s price comparison). As it seems from their website, TherCool’s portfolio is limited to this product and three other TIM’s.
Minimum price: €7,94
Average price: €8,68
Average price per gram: €2,48
TIM-Consultants Quantum (Quantum)
I obtained the Quantum from TIM-Consultants because I was roaming the internet and happened to find a reference to this ‘new grease’, so I looked it up. Quantum and it’s predecessor are the only products from TIM-Consultants. Their website is also the only place where one can buy their products, as of the time of writing.
Minimum price: €3.-
Average price: €3.-
Average price per gram: €1,88
XigmaTek PTI-G3606 (PTI)
“PTI-G3606 is Silicon-base thermal grease with excellent heat-conductive filler and effective thermal grease for any heat sink device where efficient cooling is required, such as CPU power transistor, and SCRs to heat sink or chassis. It will not dry out, harden, or melt even after long term exposure to temperatures up to 240”
Minimum price: €4,50
Average price: €7,09
Average price per gram: €2,36
Here’s a quick overview on the average price per gram:
Well available and low priced Prolimatech PK-1 (€2,02), Arctic Cooling MX-4 (€2.13)
Cheapest: TIM-Consultants Quantum (€1,88)
Disregarding performance for now, if you were to be buying parts at a webshop and could get the PK-1 or MX-4 for a reasonable price, there seems no justification yet as why to buy Quantum.
Testing and Results
Case: Fractal Design XL
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-MA785GMT-UD2H
Processor (CPU): AMD Phenom II X2 555 BE @ X4 B55 3.8GHz
Memory (RAM): GeIL Ultra Plus 2000MHz CL9 4GB
Graphics card (GPU): HIS AMD Radeon HD6950 1GB @ 6970
Hard drives (HDDs): 2x WD 250GB 16MB Caviar SE RAID-0, 1x WD 500GB Black, 1x Samsung SpinPoint F4EG 2TB
Power Supply Unit (PSU): Zalman ZM600-HP
To test CPU coolers we boot the PC up to Windows and measure temperatures under idle and load state, using AIDA64.
All different greases have been applied up to three times to ensure a fair comparison, to eliminate random variables like from a bad mount or too much / less thermal paste.
For idle testing, we simply let the rig sit doing absolutely nothing for 30 minutes and take the most representative temperature of the last 10 minutes. The same is used for the load testing, but instead of letting the PC do nothing; we load all cores to 100% using multiple instances of Prime95 and let the program(s) run for at least 10 minutes. The typical CPU frequency used is 3.80GHz on an AMD Phenom II X4.
For cooling purproses the system is equipped with the Larkooler KU3-241 watercooling loop. The whole system was setup for optimal air flow with multiple 140mm intake and exhaust fans, as is recommended for any system.
The part we’ve all been waiting for: What grease is the most greasy?
For the idle state the PK-1 claims the crown with 35 C, whilst having the MX-4, Quantum and PTI right on its heels.
For best load performance, though, we have a tie. Both the MX-4 and Quantum are superb performers and easily leave most of the competition behind by not exceeding the 55 C, only the PK-1 following up close with 56 C.
Performance-wise, it’s best to avoid the good old AS-5 but the ICE-35 clearly isn’t a winner either.
The conclusion is best highlighted in the form of the following table:
On first sight, the Quantum is the clear winner with the best price-performance ratio, with only €1.88 for the best performing grease out of this test.
As we can see, though, the Arctic Cooling MX-4 and Prolimatech PK-1 come behind close, with just €2,13 and €2.02 per gram, respectively, both with a great temperature score too. Two important things come to mind here: The last two greases have a very high availability in comparison to the Quantum. This means that if you are to buy some parts at a shop, you have a good chance of finding the MX-4 or PK-1 there too. If it’s a reasonably priced, it’s pretty much always a better pick than an alternative product with scarce availability and therefor often a higher total price. Not to forget: It even comes with a small plastic surface leveler.
As individual results can always vary, there’s not a clear cut winner for this round-up.
For today, we can conclude three winners:
Arctic Cooling MX-4 and Prolimatech PK-1: For excellent performance, high availability and a good price
TIM-Consultants Quantum: For excellent performance and the best price on the market (excl. shipping)