What is thermal tape?

Thermal tape is a type of adhesive that can be used between a computer chip and the heat sink, typically chosen when the heat sink does not have a retention system to hold it in place. Thermal tape acts as a coupler to hold the heatsink while filling small gaps between the two surfaces to transfer heat from the chip more efficiently. The problem with thermal tape is that it is not a very efficient conductor of heat. Fortunately, there are other options available that do a better job.

Thermal tape can be used to restore the connection between the heatsink and the CPU.

There was a time when computer processing units (CPUs) didn’t require heat sinks, but as chips became more powerful, they generated more heat. When heatsinks became available, they were added as an aftermarket option and had no retention systems. Thermal tape provided a satisfying solution to two problems: keeping the sink in place and filling in the microscopic gaps that slowed heat transfer to the surface of the chip and heat sink.

As advanced technology and heatsinks became mandatory, manufacturers began to package them with CPUs, while motherboards adopted designs to accept retention systems. Several compounds have also been developed and marketed to improve heat transfer with results superior to thermal tape.

Some of the materials used in place of thermal tape include grease pads, silicone and ceramic pastes, and metal-based pastes. Compounds containing metals are generally considered to be the best conductors of heat, but if the material enters the motherboard, it can cause a short. In some cases, gamers may want to connect a third-party heatsink to a graphics card chipset, for example, where a retention system is not an option. Instead of thermal tape, an epoxy-based thermal paste can be chosen. It will transfer heat better than thermal tape, although the bond is permanent.

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CPUs that come packaged with a heat sink also come with thermal paste for use with the product. In many cases, it’s a pad of thermal grease positioned on the bottom of the heat sink. All you need to do is remove the protective paper seal before installation. Often, a CPU’s warranty depends on the use of the thermal material that comes with the chip and heatsink.

If a heatsink is removed from a CPU, all thermal material must be removed from both surfaces and new material applied prior to reinstallation. Isopropyl alcohol is generally recommended for cleaning surfaces. Check the CPU warranty or the manufacturer’s website for recommendations on the type of thermal paste to use. It is not recommended to use a CPU heatsink without applying some kind of thermal paste. The chip core can quickly overheat and melt or become inoperable. Gamers and overclockers are encouraged to use premium thermal materials for the best results. Unfortunately, you can be pretty sure that highly affordable thermal tape won’t be one of the recommendations.

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