Many readers have been asking about which method of thermal paste application truly is the best and most efficient in terms of actually holding down your processor and also avoiding using excessive amounts of paste. There is the “X” method, the “pea-sized”, the “line”, the “spiral”, and the “spread it evenly” method. You may not look too much into it, but the way you paste in thermal fluids, as well as how much, on your desktop hardware is important for both short-term and long-term maintenance.

We will quickly go into each of the mentioned methods, as well as simply putting “too much” thermal paste or “too little”, by testing the processor’s temperature using the system stability test found in AIDA 64. Between each test, we completely clean the base and processor in order to be able to evaluate the next method.

Also note that we are using a fairly cheap thermal paste (costs around $5 per syringe as opposed to the higher end stuff that ranges around $10-$20 for the same amount). Our cooling fan was average-priced as well, as we understand that most people’s setups may not necessarily have the most expensive hardware. The liquid cooling in our lab computer was turned off for the purposes of these evaluations.

Applying different shapes of thermal paste:

The “pea-sized” method:

This method involves simply placing a small sphere of thermal paste, the size of a pea, right in the middle of the processor base. You then flatten the dot by pressing the CPU on it. After this method is done, you can see by removing the processor that the dot has flattened into a nice, pizza-like shape that covers a large part of the base without using too much. Of all the methods, the pea-sized dot uses the least amount of thermal paste but also has the thinnest crust between the base and processing unit.

Our AIDA64 test said that the CPU’s temperature was at around 119° F.Applying thermal paste correctly

The “X”:

This one is one of the more common ones I see whenever I check out other people’s PC build and hardware tutorial videos. Basically, the point is to make a thin “X” shape where the X is centered right in the middle. This is supposed to cover all the corners.

AIDA64 showed me 115° F for this one.

The “line”:

The line simply refers to a line of paste right through the middle of the base. It is similar to the pea in that it should be flattened and cover most of the processor after flattening it. Our tests showed an internal CPU temperature of 116° F, slightly cooler than the dot method.

After removing the unit, the line spread out into an oval shape and was a little bit thicker than what the pea left behind.

The “spiral”:

Of all of the thermal paste application methods, the spiral probably uses the most fluids. This one involves making a relatively thin but expansive spiral that reaches most of the processor without flattening.

AIDA64 reported back with a temperature of 112° F, which doesn’t seem like a lot but remember it is a sizable reduction in temperature compared to the pea method above (119° F)

Applying different amounts of thermal paste:

For these, we will not be drawing shapes for the application of thermal fluids. Instead, we simply applied either too much paste or too little. This is to observe how drastic the temperature changes between carelessly applying not enough or excessive amounts of fluids.

Adding excessive amounts of thermal paste:

We applied too much thermal paste, a lot more than the thin spiral above, and spread it evenly. Although we aimed to put a sizable amount just to cover all the bases and ensure it was too much, we were careful not to go overboard, as the paste could leak out and touch other parts of the computer. Be sure not to do this if you are trying it at home.

AIDA64 gave us a temperature of 112° F, which is almost right in line with the other shapes.

Thermal paste affects your heatsink's temperature too

Thermal paste affects your heatsink’s temperature too

Adding not enough thermal paste:

For this, the goal was to apply like a typical conservative and cheap person (read: myself; hey, computer tinkering is an expensive hobby and I like to save money here and there) without any knowledge of how much paste to apply. I put less than the pea-sized dot from above and sort of tries to spread it around. Obviously, the paste was very thin but I went ahead and tested it and finally got some more interesting results: 132° F.

This is significantly higher than any of the shape-based methods. Temperatures this high up could severely shorten the lifespan of hardware.

Verdict:

We already understand that the different shapes above do not necessarily change the interior temperature as long as they are applied correctly. The dot proved the hottest and the spiral was considerably cooler.

The more interesting part of this study is applying too much or too little. Putting in too much, to the point where the paste is noticeably thick after cooling, seemed just about the same as the other shapes. The good thing here is now you know that you don’t have to put that much paste in as you will get the same results with a simple, thin spiral.

Putting not enough fluids is going to hurt your hardware. At a test result of 132° F, that is simply too high when compared to other methods of applying (roughly 112° F-119° F). The processing unit will get unnecessarily hot too often and will damage itself. Being the cheap PC gamers that we are means that replacing hardware sooner than we have to is not ideal.

So to best apply paste, always use a shape. The line and X are the most efficient because they use the least amount and also keep the temperature slightly lower than the others. Regardless of what you do, always apply a decent amount. Not applying enough could ruin your processor quicker than you think.