There are a number of different thermal compounds on the market. Some are designed to be inexpensive while others are designed for specialized situations such as LN2 overclocking and high thermal conductivity in aircooled situations. They all do the same basic thing but have been tweaked to do one job better than another. Knowing this there are several major things to keep in mind when looking at different thermal compounds.
- There is an operating range for every thermal compound and this will determine how and when each should be used.
- Some compounds are electrically conductive meaning that if you drop any on your motherboard or on traces in your CPU you will have a bad time.
- Not all compounds spread the same and generally correlates to the viscosity of the paste. Some are thick and sticky while others are smooth and thin.
- There is sometimes a break-in period.
- The purpose of thermal compound is to fill the air gap between a processor and a cooler. These surfaces are rarely flat and the compound is designed to fill whatever air gaps may be present.
- Thermal compound is not a replacement for good metal to metal contact
We can thank the excellent marketing from the Arctic Silver company for creating many of the policies, procedures and myths when it comes to using thermal compounds. There are still passed around various Hardware Forums and Tech YouTube channels to this very day.
An in-depth look into the history of thermal compounds will have to wait because in this review we will be looking at two new cooling related products from Noctua.
In 2007 Noctua introduced the NT-H1 thermal compound and quickly became one of the most popular thermal compounds on the market for its superior performance and ease of use. This rise to fame was accelerated due to Noctua bundling their thermal compound with every Noctua heatsink and selling it as a standalone product. Sadly this practice is still unheard of even from the larger companies such as Cooler Master and Thermaltake.
The second generation thermal compound the NT-H2 uses a new fine-tuned mixture of metal oxide microparticles to offer lower thermal resistance and reduce the bond-line thickness at typical mounting pressures. In laymen terms this means that the thermal compound will spread easier and is more thermally conductive.
Unlike some of the other oil based thermal compounds the NT-H1 and NT-H2 require no break in and offer the same thermal performance from day one until you retire your hardware. It is also electrically non-conductive and non-corroding meaning there is no risk of short-circuit and is safe for all heatinks.
Another new product from Noctua is the NA-SCW1 Thermal Compound Cleaning wipes. In the days of Arctic Silver the recommended way to clean the compound was with rubbing alcohol and a Q-Tip. Personally I still use rubbing alcohol for cleaning up video cards because it helps to break down the stock TIM allowing for easy clean-up. The NA-SCW1 wipes are an rubbing alcohol infused cleaning cloth and work remarkably well. The cloth is tightly woven "felt" and very strong to resist tearing and, in my opinion, have just the right amount of alcohol in them to quickly clean both the CPU and Heatsink and not leave much liquid behind.
You will get three cleaning wipes with every 3.5g tube of NT-H1 and NT-H2 and ten wipes with the larger 10g tube. Of course for those of you who think ahead and prefer to buy in bulk you can buy them in larger boxes of twenty.