Thermal Paste vs. Reusable Graphite Thermal Pad Benchmarks (IC Diamond Pad)

by birtanpublished on August 18, 2020

A while back graphite they're all pads and carbon thermal pads as a replacement for thermal paste gained a lot of popularity the allure or the gimmick depending on if you work in marketing was that the thin thrall pads are reusable and close enough to pace that

They can be a cleaner quicker way to install an interface that gets reused in multiple builds some people thought that pads would be better than paste but that's almost never going to be true except in cases of exceptionally bad

Paste we wanted to test all this and throw all pads like the icy diamond graphite thermal pad solution against paste but until now we didn't have the confidence in testing equipment using a standard motherboard and CPU to get the

Granularity required to really see an accurate difference between an icy diamond graphite thermal pad which is the popular one and a popular thermal paste so now we have our custom engineered GN solution for testing

Thermals using a dummy heater which is basically perfectly replicable and that's what we're using today before that this video is brought to you by us and the GNX 570 chipset metro poster the chipset metro poster is an educational

Look at the i/o capabilities of x 570 and it's company and cpus laid out with artistic creativity as a subway or a metro map this map accurately depicts the X 570 chipsets PCIe USB SATA and other i/o features each with its own

Stop along the subway line with the chipset and the CPU represented as major hubs we aren't making many of these and have already sold through 70% of the posters we ordered so if you'd like to get one visit stored at gamers nexus net

Or click the link in the description below so we're gonna head over in the testing room in a moment and I'll walk you through the testing process for this at least the basics of using the equipment right now you see an a 500

Mounted to it that's because I needed something bad to see if the graphite thermal pads versus the pace would have any difference when tested with a non flat or relatively non flat plate as opposed to our standard solution for

This benchmarking which was the EVGA CLC 360 capable of brute force in its way to the top of charts by nature of having exceptionally loud fans and a pretty flat cold plate so that's our testing equipment now the testing platform is

Important it's a huge part of being able to get the granularity the accuracy that's needed for this hour run – run deviation in the in T case for this has been point zero two to about

Point one ish max degrees difference run to run when averaged across the hundreds to thousands of cells depending on the test that were averaging against so it's extremely consistent extremely accurate and this is about the best way possible

To do the testing because of a standard system you don't have the granularity to really see run to run so we'll be talking about that a bit now as for the pads the solution these are interesting because when they first got big

Popularity lioness did some coverage of it and that that really skyrocketed it but the reason people were super interested in it is because it's a drop-in replacement for paste it's clean there's no cleanup required and

Theoretically you can just lift it off and throw it on a different cpu IHS and use it again so that's the allure of a graphite thermal pad and the big questions are performance how close is it to paste it is not better than paste

A lot of people thought it was but maybe if you use some bottom-of-the-barrel stuff but for the most part it's not going to be better than paste at least not when it's freshly applied there's a bit of a caveat there when you start

Talking about things like pump out effect and dry out overtime stuff like that we'll get into that bit more later another point of this is that in theory these pads shouldn't really age we've applied and reapplied it somewhere

Around 20 times over the course of this testing and it hasn't changed from the first run until the last run now how does that aged over say a thousand runs if you're swapping CPUs every day like we do and you decided to use this we're

Not sure yet but for most people 20 system builds is gonna be plenty that's you're gonna break the pad from something else and tear it at that point anyway the pad is electrically conductive so that means that obviously

You're going to have to be careful in exposed dye applications where you might have SMDs or ICS on the substrate that are close to the silicon a great example this would be a GPU if you look at a standard nvidia die it's surrounded by

All kinds of small parts so if the pad happens to slide around a little bit and connect two of those in the process of mounting the heatsink and screwing it down there's a chance that you short some stuff

So you have to be careful there but for a standard IHS installation from CPU to cooler you do not really much risk from electrical conductivity these pads range in price and they're pre-cut to different sizes so we can open up some

Amazon shots or something but they're typically about $10 they go up to around 20 depends on the size thermal grizzly carbona is a really noteworthy competitor to this we haven't tested it yet but that will land on the bench

Pretty soon as well and as for the extra notes here ultimately what you're doing with an interface is bridging microscopic imperfections on the surface like we showed in our house CPU coolers work video from ages ago and you're just

Trying to bridge two parts so you don't end up if you didn't have pace there then what ends up in that spot well it's gonna be air and air is really a poor thermal conductor so paste is much better you want paste in there or

Something to fill the gaps a thermal pad can be fine but it's minimum thickness it's going to be greater than the minimum thickness of the average thermal paste there's a caveat here as well where if you're using stuff like diamond

Compound be using something like that your minimum thickness is still going to be larger than other pace that are not Diamond compound so there's some give and take on both sides of this so now if that stuff let's get into the test data

First since that's what everyone wants to see and then we're gonna show you how the testing is done with this in the testing room walking through some of the parts that'll be after the charts it's really important to understand the data

That comes out of this so make sure you watch that too but will time stamp at all in the description below our first test will evaluate the performance of the two interfaces with full torque spec for securing the Intel cooler to the

Socket and we'll report our probe temperature as delta T over ambient after a 20 minute burn we reach steady state in under 200 seconds in nearly all of the heat loads sometimes under 100 seconds so 20 minutes is more than

Enough data it allows us to average hundreds to thousands of cells of steady state information here's the chart at 95 watts the Hydra not paste plots at about six point three five degrees Celsius over ambient where the icy Diamond

Solution plots at 7.62 degrees Celsius over ambient air run to run variance is approximately zero point zero two two zero point zero nine zero point one degrees Celsius with this methodology so this is a real difference and is not

Within our error tolerance the pace runs about 1.2 7 degrees Celsius lower than the icy Diamond interface at this lower wattage at 150 watts that gap grows to 2.2 1 degrees Celsius lower with paste where our measurements are eleven point

Nine seven degrees versus nine point seven six degrees the two hundred watt result increases that further now at fifteen point eight six to twelve point five six degrees Celsius over ambient and the two 70 watt heat load has us at

Twenty-one point one versus seventeen point one seven degrees Celsius here's a line plot to help visualize the differences better plotting degrees Celsius increase in T case when using the graphite pad versus

Paste allows us to better visualize the actual difference between the two interfaces the graphite pad is less significantly different at lower heat loads but we'll need to look at some other data for a full picture that data

Will include a worst cooler with an uneven plate we took a few photos of the Corsair a five hundreds levelness issues that we'll show in a moment but before we show those here's a reminder box plot from our cooler reviews that shows the

Surface flatness of the a500 we can pull one from our most recent cooler review for an example this is a demonstration of the relative lack of flatness as compared to other heat sinks on the market that's why we chose this one for

The next test because the height disparity point to point on coarser is a 500 allows us to exaggerate a worst case scenario for the icy diamond graphite Pat in theory a cooler with more grooves will perform better with paste

Especially if those grooves are deeper like one with an uneven surface consisting of heat pipes or consisting of course there's manufacturing abilities we took some photos of the post install a 500 that we can show

Where we've got the cold plate and the dummy heater IHS after the paste installation and cooler removal for the paste as with all other tests we manually applied a thin layer across the IHS the result was a stark line where

One of the heat pipes was clearly not level with the rest of them and so we see imperfect contact the graphite pad produced a similar result but was permanently creased instead fortunately the a500 was the last thing

That we tested so we weren't worried about any influence or data elsewhere in the testing also we noticed that da 500 exhibited enough stress on the pad especially after the other 20 or so cycles that had been

Through at this point that a small tear began to form and expand so your usability of the pad may be limited by how much damage it takes from coolers over time this feeds into the durability side of the graphite pad where it can

Withstand only as many connection cycles as it takes to form a crease or a tear at which point you may lose some of the potential depending on how large that crease or tear is the far right side of the pad from this orientation also

Lifted up as a result of the crease as for thermal data the coarser a500 looks like this overall it's objectively aware cooler than the EVGA CLC 360 but that's one not surprising anyway and to something we already determined in our

Previous content it's kind of crazy how much worse it gets at the higher heat loads though the CLC isn't shown here but from our previous chart at 270 watts it's icy diamond result was 21.2 degrees over ambient whereas Corsairs a 500

Results here is sitting at 33 degrees over ambient with the only change being the cooler regardless the Tim – Tim Delta doesn't change very much despite all this at 95 watts the paste is 1.19 degrees cooler or 2.88

At 150 watts three point five nine degrees cooler at 200 watts and four point eight one degrees at 270 watts so we thought the gaps would be wider here but the pad conformed reasonably well to this particular uneven surface we're

Seeing about a 0.9 degree difference in pace to pad Delta versus the CLC 360 in other words all we've really proven is that the a500 remains bad value and engineering versus other coolers including competing air coolers but we

Were unable to prove our hypothesis that it's less even surface would exacerbate the paste to pad gap meaningfully it just it didn't really seem to change the gap very much here's a quick chart of the pace to pad delta is on the CLC 360

Versus the a 500 it's all the same data we just looked at except to represented as a line plot to help show the increase it's not quite linear but fairly close to predictable increases out of given wattage note that this is strictly the

Pace to pad Delta not the cooler to cooler Delta it's much much wider but this isn't the cooler review so it's also irrelevant you can watch our cooler reviews for that the biggest argument against a

Graphite pad might be one of low mounting pressure although most computer use cases will have a lot of mounting pressure applied via the retention kits of the coolers other applications with less tight of a fit might not be

Appropriate for the graphite Pat Intel's LGA Lo and 5x spec calls for about 50 pounds on top of the CPU cooler for mounting pressure against the IHS ace attack for instance has in the past tested its coolers with a 50 pound brick

Of metal on top of the cooler pump plate to ensure that it meet Intel spec during initial testing so that would apply a known amount of force per the Intel spec and without the complication of mounting mechanism that's plenty to secure the

Graphite pad but if you didn't tighten the screws all the way or use it where there's less leverage it might not work out as well a laptop or a phone could maybe be an example but we haven't validated that suspicion less even

Surface where it's maybe curved or conforming to some odd shaped cooler might be another example for this test we used a torque driver and applied the following settings to the driver 0.68 Newton meters 0.45 Newton meters 0.2 4

Newton meters 0.15 Newton meters and 0.01 one Newton meters the last test was so loose that it was basically one to two threads of engagement on the cap screw so it's unrealistically bad but the point is to exaggerate it to see if

There's a difference you could basically flick this screw with your pinky and get it to tighten more at this point it's just not realistic at all but should help us see what's different the first setting is about what a Sutekh screw is

Required to fully tighten on this dummy heater that we're using which we also have to one millimeter spacers in it for a custom fit so it's not exactly the same as a stock socket fit but in terms of screw tightness it's around the same

Spot just we have some spacers in there here's the result and the chart for it as tested at the most exaggerated heat load of 270 watts we can draw the differences a bit more at 95 watts or so you wouldn't see as much of a change the

Pad toupees delta is fairly fixed and unchanging through the first two steps the 0.45 Newton meter test at 3.6 degrees higher on the pad then 3.7 degrees higher at one-step looser so no change this is within error at this

Point by the third step we see a stark jump 25.91 degrees higher on the pad breaking rank in a big way both interfaces jump with our ultra loose test with the paste t-case results increasing by 2.6 3 degrees Celsius or

The pad jump in by 7 point 8 9 degrees against its previous result the Delta is now eleven point one seven degrees favoring paste in our testing they're all pasted significantly better with poor mounting pressure and poor mounting

Contact then the icy diamond pad did but you do have to question how likely it is you'll run into this scenario ok so I'm going to try and walk you through quickly the process some of the process that we used for this we have another

Video on the side channel talking about this stuff in a little bit more detail but we also have a full methodology piece on CPU cooler testing a lot of the same stuff applies but there's some different stuff here we're not going to

Cover a hundred percent of it for time reasons but I'll show you the basics so first of all we have a power supply like a mainframe basically this can connect to the network and we can do all kinds of stuff with it I'm going to turn it

Off in a second cuz the fans do run kind of loud for filming but I turn that on we can configure this for voltage amps and just set it up all on the screen on the system I'm gonna turn that off so it's not too loud but in this we have

Three power supply modules which are what these things are so these are power supply modules they can do a certain voltage and amperage for each one certain current for each one and one of these is plugged into this bench this is

Our 9900 k synthesis so we only have one heater in it as opposed to our AM these synthesis where we have three heaters for each chip lit so this is a monolithic intel silicon analog and so we've analog meeting like analogy

Analogous to not analog literally and then we connect one heater to it there's a 115 volt 3 amp line max but we can configure it to whatever we want so we want to do 10 volts 2 amps whatever and then the the unit just determines how

Much current gets pulled anyway on top of it right now is the coarser 8500 but we've also been using this EVGA CLC as mentioned previously in the video so this was more of our control the courser was just for a worse or

Worst case scenario and for testing then what we're doing is plugging the fans into this fan board where I have 12 volt 7 volt I think there's even a 9 and a 6 volt line we just plug them into 12 so fans run at max they're completely

Controlled we can validate the fan speeds with a tachometer if I want to validate this the fan speeds what I do is I take a sticker put it on the fan I use a laser tack and then I can tell how fast it's spinning so that's what we do

To validate the speed make sure it's the same each time so that's control then known this is just a Silverstone SFX power supply that we got hooked up to the wall it's jumped with a jumper between the green and black on the 24

Pin and that connects molex to the the fan power board and that one spits into the four pins for the fans or in the case of EVGA we've got three fans that plug into it so at this point we'd have a programmed heat load that we can run I

Set a timer on my cell phone alarm clock and come back in here and stop the testing we have a thermocouple meter that plugs in and logs every single second of the testing so that we can analyze the data in a spreadsheet later

So it's not spot checked and finally I've got a torque driver that I've been setting to the various settings described in some of the charts so for example for a standard mounting for our ace attack unit we've been doing the I

Guess would be 0.6 8 Newton meters which is right about here so I've been setting it like that for the ACE attack 1 now if that sounds like not a lot to you this is basically if you take a large screwdriver you torque the a tech cap

Screw down like this one here to the point that you can't really spin it anymore with your hand that's about where this torque setting is when considering things like the spacers we have in there we have we put two one

Millimetre spacers on each peg for a custom mount for the ACE attack so that'd be the EVGA CLC 360 so that's what we're using for that one and then we set different torque settings for the other stuff as determined

The chart now obviously this is reset to zero between every test so that we don't throw off the calibration so that's the really basics of it that's about as fast as I can walk through this process there are a lot more controls too like I said

The paste is manually spread so we just use a spreader for it we've got silk screens if we want them so that we can replicate spreads of certain coolers like these attacks ELC is like he BGA clz 360 so he can use a silk screen for

That to control it even further and then the everything is taken into account every single thing so the torque of each screw is known the cooler is oriented exactly the same way each time the cables are oriented towards the person

Testing the technician so that's the same orientation every time the radiator and its fans are out of the way of the dummy heater so the fans don't ever cast air across the surface of the dummy heater they're out of the way ambient

Temperature is taken in front of the fans and then the TK's temperatures obviously taken at the milled hole in the IHS where then we get a tks reading for the dummy CPU so if you've thought of something that would be a variable in

Testing so if we and it's controlled for is the point of this but I'm gonna stop there so that we don't go too far with time there's another video though on the GM Steve side channel where we talked about this previously you want to see a

Little bit more of it in action so I guess we can kick back over to the main set into the conclusion now so wrapping all this up thermally the icy diamond pad so far is the only one we've tested obviously there are others on the market

But this one versus a good they're all paste like hydronaut which is what we used as our baseline is pretty close at the lower wattage is that deviation grows greatly when you look at high wattage loads like 270 Watts was the

Peak we tested on this we can bring this up to about 600 but we need a different power supply module for our bench and then you also see a greater favour shown towards thermal paste when it's tested under loose conditions or under less

Than perfect mounting conditions in general so for a computer use case you're probably not going to encounter those too often most of the time a cooler is going to mount with a lot of force and I mean you're talking 50

Pounds for the average Intel back for an LG 11 5x and these got fairly high mounting pressure as well you're just not gonna realistically encounter a scenario where a screw is tightened to one threat to the point

That just picking up and moving the system has a risk of that screw coming undone so it's not really realistic to see those scenarios but we wanted to show them because it's important to know when does the pad get worse that helps

Us understand how it works and it helps us understand that there are some applications that we haven't tested where you have maybe last leverage the heatsink isn't really secured that well maybe it's mostly just stuck in there

With pins that are kind of loose stuff like that it might not do as well but the short version of all this is that that higher wattage the pad grows in its distance from thermal paste gets worse the pad is never better than the thermal

Paste in testing there might be some really bad paste that's not true with over time with certain pace that are lower quality you do have dry out that could be an issue most people in our audience have probably removed the heat

Sink at some point and just seen it kind of crumble apart so it'd be better and those instances won't age as poorly but you're really talking about low quality paste for that and then it's also not susceptible to pump out effect which we

Discussed with Roman aka their power in a previous video we shot at LT X so those are the advantages disadvantages of pad we would still pick paste for the most part we don't have any major gripes with the pad so don't don't get us wrong

There but there's a few reasons for this one of them is that the paste is just objectively better the other one at least good paste let's kind of draw the line there the other one is that if you're really buying this for it's

Reusable nature there's a few things to consider it's not less wasteful because you get a tube of paste with aftermarket coolers anyway almost in every single case and with stock cooler so it's not it's not using less material you're just

Not going to use the pace that came with it and then it's not going to be better than the pace that came with it in most instances so now you're kind of narrowing down why and if you're building one computer every couple of

Years it just it seems like more of a novelty that is gonna be the last thing on your mind when in three years from building you're like oh yeah I can save $4 because that's the cost of a pace maybe or not even if it comes with

You're buying a new cool you're not saving any money so it's kind of a novelty item that doesn't mean it's met it's bad but it means that usefulness in a DIY enthusiast build your computer environment is lower than perhaps the

Internet would have you believe there are instances where this is extremely useful one of those would be if you run a PC shop or repair shop you're a technician you go site to site whatever and part of your job might be swapping

CPUs in and out of a system every day let's say your job is specifically to do troubleshooting where you're gonna have to pull a customer's CPU out and put a known good CPU in to see if their board works if that's the instance then using

A pad like this could save you a couple minutes by the end of the day that might be one extra computer or a longer lunch break whatever so there's some benefit there it's less messy to clean up after so again in a business environment where

You don't care as much about perfect thermals you're just trying to swap in and out and do some debug then this is a really good use case for us it could make sense and something like a test bench application where you're swapping

CPUs all day but the concern we have is that say you swap CPUs a thousand times over a year or two it's just we don't really have enough data to know if it degrades and we do know that it starts to tear and what we also know is that

Paste at least the stuff we use is extremely reliable and finally what we know is that we need the best performance for CPU reviews so that we can eliminate that variable of cooling in most instances so these are all

Reasons that we wouldn't use it in a test environment for what we do but that doesn't mean you couldn't use it in your test environment so overall then don't let any of that discourage you from buying it the product objectively is

Fine it's within about a degree or two at lower heat loads which are more common the gap does yes grow at say 270 watts but one that's extremely uncommon you're probably an enthusiast overclock or anyway you're using a better pace at

That point and – it's just even then with a good cooler you're kind of brute-forcing a lot of the performance anyway so if you want to buy the pad go for it if your heart is set on buying on icy diamond thermal pad we really you

Know other than what's been listed we don't have any gripes or major problems it's just considerations for you so overall the product does find it is pretty close to they're all pasted it's not our first

Choice but it's not like it's bad either so if you have a use case absolutely go for it that's it for this one thanks for watching subscribe for more content like this and if you want to support this type of testing the entire dummy heater

Plus power supplies plus all the other stuff we bought for our thermal testing cost us around 10 grand that's been made possible by people buying stuff on our store like the mod mats if you want something functional the mouse mats if

You want something functional toolkits we'll be back in in a couple of months and then of course t-shirts if you want to just show some of our designs off it's also possible a patreon backers – thank you to them on patreon.com slash

Gamers Nexus or store that gamers XS net if you want to buy some of our stuff so thanks for supporting us on making this type of testing possible subscribe for more we'll see you all next time

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