Thermal Grease is a liquid-like material that is used to improve heat transfer between two surfaces. It is commonly found in computers and other electronic devices to help disperse heat from a central processor unit (CPU) into a heat sink or cooling fan. Thermal grease is electrically non-conductive and helps prevent metal-to-metal contact that could short out the processor or other sensitive electronics.
Some thermal greases are more expensive than others and some include silver or ceramic fillers that facilitate better heat transfer. However, basic thermal paste compounds like Arctic Silver, MX-4, or IC Diamond should be sufficient for most users.
The type of thermal paste or grease you choose will depend on the temperature you will be working with and the size of the components you are using it on. You will also want to consider whether you need a non-conductive thermal compound or one that has high levels of conductivity. Non-conductive thermal greases are typically made up of silicon or zinc oxide fillers suspended in a silicone oil-based carrier. They don’t perform as well as metal based thermal pastes but they are safe to use with electronics because they don’t conduct electricity.
Applying thermal grease to a CPU is relatively simple and only takes a few isopropyl alcohol wipes to clean the heat-sink and CPU socket on your motherboard before applying a small amount of the grease. It is important to spread the grease evenly with an object such as a business card before seating the CPU into its socket. If you have any stray residue on the chip you can always use a volatile cleaner to remove it.