Thermal paste is the miracle compound that helps to dissipate heat from your CPU. It is necessary, but it could harm your computer if you apply too much or not enough. But there’s another primary concern that isn’t always clearly answered: is thermal paste electrically conductive?
Most PC-specific thermal pastes are not electrically conductive since they are made to be used in PCs. Some compounds contain metal, though. These are generally better at heat dissipation, but they can often be electrically conductive, so take extra care if you use one of them on your PC.
With so many different brands and types of thermal compounds on the market, it’s often difficult to determine which ones are safe to use and which you should rather avoid. Let’s study the effects of those that are conductive and then compare a few of the famous thermal pastes to see which ones are the best and safest to use.
Can Thermal Paste Cause a Short Circuit?
There are two types of thermal paste. The first is a compound that contains silicon and zinc; these do not conduct electricity, only heat. The other option is known as liquid metal, and it is electrically conductive. You can tell the two apart by their colors. Silicon and zinc compound is generally white in color, while the liquid metal has a metallic grey tint (hence the name).
Getting some silicon and zinc thermal paste into electronics won’t truly make much of a difference, at least not in terms of short circuits. You have no reason to be concerned about components permanently malfunctioning or short-circuiting with silicon and zinc.
Liquid metal thermal paste is more popular than the silicon and zinc compound, mainly because it contains metals that are better at dissipating heat than silicon and zinc. However, this also means that Liquid metal conducts electricity and could cause short circuits if you happen to spill some of it onto other parts of your PC’s electronics.
You should take extra care with any thermal paste, but this is especially true with Liquid metal. A short circuit could lead to permanent component damage to your PC.
Is It Ok If Thermal Paste Gets on the Motherboard?
Getting thermal paste on your motherboard is generally not a good idea. The problems it could cause range from something as slight as ruining the aesthetics to actual hardware damage. It will depend on three factors: the type of thermal paste you’re using, how much of it got onto the motherboard, and which components you got the paste onto.
Firstly, getting conductive thermal paste like Liquid metal on your motherboard could lead to short circuits if it makes contact with any electronics. This could lead to permanent hardware damage, as mentioned.
The second potential problem has to do with the build-up of heat. Thermal paste is supposed to dissipate heat, but that only works if there’s something to further remove the heat, like a heatsink and fan. Getting a thermal paste of any kind on a component that generates a lot of heat could trap the heat inside the component, causing possible overheating issues and damage.
Thirdly, getting thermal paste on a connector (like the CPU socket’s pins or holes) could cause bad hardware connections. That’s particularly problematic for a CPU since it’s nearly impossible to clean the socket. If the CPU’s pins can’t make contact with the motherboard anymore, it could lead to all kinds of unexpected problems or even refuse to work at all.
Lastly, since many of us have really impressive gaming setups that we like to show off, having a shiny blotch of thermal paste on your motherboard will ruin the aesthetic you’re going for and quite simply look bad.
Which Thermal Paste Is Electrically Conductive
As mentioned, the rule of thumb is that a thermal paste that contains metallic compounds (also called “liquid metal”) is better at conducting heat but also at conducting electricity.
But with so many brands out there, it can be challenging to determine if your brand of choice is electrically conductive or not. To make it simple, here’s a list of the most popular brands and their conductivity.
|Thermal Paste Brand
|Antex Formula X
|Arctic Silver 5
|Arctic Silver Ceramique 2
|Cooler Master High-Performance
|Cooler Master New Edition MasterGel Maker
|CoolLaboratory Liquid Pro
|Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme
|NTE Electronics NTE 303A
|Phobya Liquid Metal Thermal Compound
|Thermal Grizzly Aeronaut
|Thermal Grizzly Conductanaut
|Thermal Grizzly Hydronaut
|Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut
As you can clearly see, very few of the top-selling and most famous thermal pastes are electrically conductive, and the ones that are, are most commonly used by extreme users that like to overclock their CPUs extensively.
Most often, you wouldn’t need to be too concerned, but it’s always a good idea to check the brand’s website and do proper research before buying any thermal paste.
Do Motherboards Come with Thermal Paste?
Motherboards don’t generally ship with thermal paste included. When you buy a new CPU that comes boxed with a cooler, chances are good that there will be a pad of thermal paste on the bottom of the heatsink where it’s meant to make contact with your CPU. This is done for safety purposes since a pad of thermal paste won’t get onto your motherboard as easily as the tube kind.
There are a few exceptions. For example, many computer hardware retailers sell upgrade combo kits. You purchase a motherboard, CPU, and RAM in one bundle, often with a special high-performance cooler included in the deal. It’s not uncommon for these retailers to have a tube of thermal paste in the package.
It has happened that a motherboard manufacturer will decide to include some non-standard items in the box. It’s not impossible to find a small tube of thermal paste in a motherboard box. The brand EVGA has been known to do so from time to time, and sometimes a gaming motherboard may include a tube to promote some brand of thermal paste. But these cases are rare and uncommon.
Very few thermal paste brands are electrically conductive. It wasn’t always this way, but over the decades, manufacturers have developed ways to improve thermal conductivity without increasing electric conductivity in their thermal pastes.
It’s still not a good idea to get thermal compound on anything other than your CPU and heatsink, but if you do, you probably won’t cause a short circuit.
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As a distinguished Professor of Computer Science, my expertise lies at the intersection of PC hardware, software development, and system troubleshooting. My foray into the realm of computer technology began during my high school years, where I honed my skills in building and repairing PCs. Subsequently, I provided consultancy services to a renowned PC repair establishment, solidifying my reputation in the field. Today, I am the trusted authority among peers and colleagues for insights and solutions related to PC and laptop challenges.