What is thermal paste?

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I was getting a quote from my new local pc repair shop about getting the cooling fans in my laptop cleaned out and they mentioned something about renewing the thermal paste. I'm not a techy person and to my knowledge my old pc repair guys just used to use a machine to blow it with compressed air, so I can only

I was getting a quote from my new local pc repair shop about getting the cooling fans in my laptop cleaned out and they mentioned something about renewing the thermal paste. I'm not a techy person and to my knowledge my old pc repair guys just used to use a machine to blow it with compressed air, so I can only assume that thermal paste is important is it? And what does it do?

Other answer:

Katie:
Back in the old, old days companies used to use silicon based thermal paste. This paste would break down after a few years, cooling would then suck, and the laptops would often overheat. Also, the silicon based thermal compounds never performed as well as brands like Arctic Silver. So, these repair shops and DIYers did the service and there was a solid result.

These days companies usually use a bulk brand called Shin-Etsu which is pretty good and it lasts the life of the computer, or damned near forever. So I don't know if you'd see a real boost in cooling performance.

You can monitor the temps of your laptop's CPU with programs like HWMonitor or Coretemp. If the temps are getting up in the 80's Celsius then you may want to do some research before sending your laptop off to be repasted.

Also, different cooling compounds give the user different results. I'll bet the shop is using Old Trusty aka: Arctic Silver 5, which is a decent paste but it's outperformed by the likes of Gelid GC-Extreme or Kryonaut.

As others have said, the surfaces of the heatsink base and CPU aren't perfect. The Thermal compound bridges the gap by filling in the microscopic imperfections. But also, too much Thermal Compound is NOT a good thing because it's not as conductive as the base metals used in the heatsinks.

Robert J:
It's a grease-based compound applied between devices than need cooling and the heatsinks that take heat away.

It fills the microscopic imperfections in the metal surfaces to improve the thermal contact.
On a small scale, a ground metal surface is a bit like sandpaper – surfaces only touch on the tips of the imperfections. The compound just fill the rest of the gaps.

Some contain fine metal particles, others ceramic or such as zinc oxide. Pretty much anything oily/greasy works to some extent – one computer magazine did tests of various types [50 or so] and included such as mayonnaise and butter.
Mayonnaise was in the top ten for heat transfer…

(Many brands sold as special computer CPU pastes are far too thick and actually hold the heatsink away from the CPU slightly, messing up the cooling).

ari:
Thermal paste is a expensive paste between the CPU and the heat sink another quick $40 for the PC repairman but if you don't know how to do it you better just let him do it.

The paste a is a high heat grease with fine metal particles that helps transfer heat from the CPU surface to the heatsink were the fan blows the heat away

Memelord Prime:
It's a compound that sits between your CPU and your cooling fan that facilitates heat transfer. Without it, your CPU fan wouldn't be able to efficiently remove heat from your CPU. It is necessary to use some kind of thermal compound when installing any kind of CPU fan generally. Many fans have it pre-applied out of the box.

It doesn't typically dry out or anything, so replacing the thermal compound doesn't happen often, unless you remove the CPU fan for whatever reason. It's possible they had to remove the fan to clean it, in which case you absolutely need to replace the thermal paste because it's not reusable.

Undisclosed:
Thermal paste is a material that is placed between the heat sink on a component and the component itself, most commonly the CPU and its heatsink. That's because even if the die or heat spreader on the CPU and the base of the heatsink are polished to a mirror finish, there are still microscopic gaps where air can be trapped. The paste is a conductive (usually) goo that fills in these gaps and improves heat transfer between the component and its heat sink. This can make significant differences in performance, especially when overclocking.
Chau:
Thermal paste is a very high heat conductive paste that is used between two objects (usually a heatsink and a CPU/GPU) to get better heat conduction. It fills in all those microscopic imperfections on the heatsink and CPU/GPU that can trap air in them and cause a loss in the heatsink's performance
Me2:
Thermal grease has a lifespan of decades.  It is not necessary to remove the fan and heatsink assembly to clean it.  Instruct the shop NOT to disassemble it, and there will be no need to "renew" the thermal grease.

My feeling is that they are simply padding the bill, and that you should spend your money elsewhere.

Barnes:
It is a metallic paste that transfers excess heat from the cpu to a heat sink.

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