Is it ok to put cheap thermal paste on your CPU?

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When we are on a tight budget, we normally fall into the bad habit of cutting expenses in small details. Cheap thermal paste is a compound that nobody recommends for cooling your expensive components. If you keep reading further you will find out exactly why you shouldn’t put cheap thermal paste on your CPU.

The normal maintenance of a laptop or desktop computer is not that expensive or complicated, but there are people who believe they are doing any good saving those extra 5 bucks on a syringe of thermal paste. The truth is those 5 dollars more can make a huge difference when it comes to CPU temperature, a little over 70ºC, to be more precise. Are you willing to risk getting your CPU fried over those 5 extra bucks in your pocket? Let’s evaluate this a little deeper.

Cheap thermal paste: what is exactly cheap?

What price do we consider to be lower than normal when it comes to thermal paste? To answer this, you have to analyze the thermal paste market to establish an average price and, based on this, understand if it worths the investment when we are dealing with a cheap thermal paste. On this chart, we have taken as a reference 2-4 grams thermal paste:

Arctic MX4 (4g)$12.99 USD – ($3.25 per gram)
Mars MT1 (3g)$10.12 USD – ($3.37 per gram)
Corsair TM30 (3g)$14.99 USD – ($5.00 per gram)
Cooler Master E1 (3.5g)$10.00 USD – ($2.86 per gram)
Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut Extreme (2 g)$21.97 USD – ($10.99 per gram)
Arctic MX5 (4g)$14.99 USD – ($3.75 per gram)
Noctua NT-H2 (3.5g)$16.99 USD – ($4.85 per gram)
NOX Hummer Thermal T1 (4g)$15.00 USD – ($3.75 per gram)
Thermaltake TG-30 (4g)$13.99 USD – ($3.50 per gram)
AVERAGE:$14.56 USD – ($4.59 per gram)
Comparative Chart on Thermal Paste prices

The reason behind we took 2-4 grams thermal paste as a reference is because they are the most common size/ratio, but still plenty for one application. However, there are many others factors about thermal paste that should be considered beyond its price. Here are a few of them:

  • Thermal conductivity.
  • Quality of the compound.
  • Performance and benchmarks of the brand.
  • Type of the compound: Metallic or ceramic.

There are thermal paste brands that obviously stand out from its competitors in quality, and therefore the price will be higher than normal. This is specifically the case with the Thermal Grizzly and the Noctua, which raise the price bar a little for a conclusive average.

We have an average price per gram of $4.59 USD. Less than $2.00 USD per gram would be abnormally cheap and will present for sure performance issues.

Performance of the cheapest thermal pastes

Cheap thermal paste on your CPU
Cheap thermal paste

How good are the Mars MT1 and Cooler Master E1? Both come with 3 and 3.5 grams of compound and are priced significantly lower than the other brands. Starting with the Cooler master IC-Essential E1, it is a well known compound in the community and the Tom’s Hardware team compared it to others (chart below). It is not the best performer, but for its price it is not that bad, considering its only 2 or 3 degrees of difference.

Moving on to the Mars MT1, just like the Cooler Master E1, users are satisfied with its performance and it does not disappoint despite the price point. We are not going to obtain the best thermal performance, but it is not the worst either (believe me, there are worse). In terms of quality, it can be positioned above the generic Cooler Master.

The key takeaway here is, we won’t get a high thermal conductivity and long life with a cheap thermal paste. Composite manufacturers have to cut expenses somewhere, with thermal conductivity being the most “attacked” feature.

However, we have considered the cheapest thermal pastes on the list, but they are still among the recommended ones. Are there thermal pastes even cheaper than that? Remember we stablished a $2 USD mark for the dividing line between acceptable and ridiculously low.

What happens if I put cheap thermal paste on m CPU?

The cheap thermal paste that we can buy, for instance, on AliExpress from little-known brands can cost us an eye in the long run. The ones that are really paying the price are the CPU and the GPU of your computer.

You can get a pack with around 5 grams of thermal compound for $4USD, which can last roughly for 6 applications. The result of this can be a CPU with temperature readings above 50ºC at idle without a hot ambient temperature.

It gets even worst when the thermal paste is not rated specifically for CPU use. If it is a general-purpose product. If you use this type of compounds in your processor you will end up frying your component almost 100% sure.

Can we buy thermal paste on AliExpress?

Cheap thermal paste on AliExpress

AliExpress is a marketplace where you can find more generic thermal paste brands at a low price, compared to all ones being sold on Amazon or eBay, for example. Although you can also find renowned brands such as Arctic at a low price, but still you could be risking the integrity of your components because that extreme low price could be an indicator you are buying an aftermarket product.

Do yourselves a favor and run away from little-known brands to save a few bucks. Instead, with proven brands like Noctua, Cooler Master, Thermalright, Thermaltake, Arctic, Thermal Grizzly, etc.

The price of components leaves the investment on thermal paste way behind, being the latter only a minuscule fraction of what represents the real value of your computer setup. It doesn’t make any sense to save $10 USD when you are protecting a component that’s worth a few hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

To wrap this topic up, you should avoid cheap thermal compounds at all cost. When it comes to dissipating heat from your CPU, you go with products that ensure a reliable guarantee. The reasons why you should not buy cheap thermal paste are:

  • Savings are very low: we are not saving thousands or hundreds, but rather $10 or $20 bucks.
  • The risk is very high, do you value your GPU and CPU?
  • The thermal conductivity of a generic paste it’s not enough for an optimal performance.
  • Unless you buy an American recommended brand, it is not worth the risk (not discrimination intended, it is the truth).
  • Cheap thermal pastes bought abroad from Asia normally take around a month to get to your destination. What you are saving in money you are losing in time.
  • There are no cheap metallic thermal pastes, period.
  • Do not even try to overclock your CPU with a generic thermal paste.

We hope this information has been helpful to you.

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