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how cpu cooler and thermal paste work together

How CPU Cooler and Thermal Paste Work Together?

Both CPU cooler and thermal paste work together for your computer. People often confuse both of these components and think that you either need a CPU cooler or thermal paste to avoid your system from overheating.

This statement is not correct to say. Both CPU coolers and thermal paste work together to prevent the system from overheating. Even if one component is missing, your CPU won’t correctly dissipate heat. To solve the confusion, let’s check how these components work together. 

What is a CPU Cooler?

CPU has an ideal operating temperature –50℃ (122℉). For applications that require heavy loads, such as gaming or streaming videos, your PC or laptop will overheat and may damage. 

The CPU cooler is a computer component designed to reduce CPU heat. The CPU must be cool to run smoothly. If the CPU overheats or heats for more extended periods for some reason, it will break or frequently shut down. 

A bad CPU cooler doesn’t have enough power to dissipate heat; hence, it damages the CPU and RAM. 

There are two types of CPU coolers; air cooler and liquid cooler

Air CPU Cooler

These are the most common types of the CPU cooler and a good option for general PCs. Along with being inexpensive, air CPU coolers actively spread heated air to keep the PC’s temperature low. 

These coolers are comparatively larger and may not fit in every PC case. For computers you want to run heavy applications such as gaming, air CPU coolers are not a good option. 

Liquid CPU Cooler

Liquid CPU coolers are quieter than air CPU coolers because the heat passes through the liquid, which does not leave the unit. These CPU coolers are available in many sizes. 

Liquid CPU coolers are comparatively dangerous because they have water in them. If leaked, water can cause a disastrous short circuit in the CPU cooler and processing system. 

How Heat Pipe and Heat Sink Cool The CPU?

Heat pipes and heat sinks work differently with both types of coolers. 

How Heat Pipe and Heat Sink Cool the CPU with CPU Air Coolers?

For air coolers, here is how heat pipe and heat sink cool the CPU:

The CPU air cooler has a conductive surface exposed to the CPU and on the top of the CPU is a cover that guards its internal components and transfers the heat inside faster. 

The thermal paste goes on the CPU surface cover, which means that when we put on the CPU cover, both the CPU cover and CPU air cooler surface are properly touching each other.

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When the system operates, the CPU cover absorbs heat from the CPU and transfers it to air which heats the coolant inside the vacuumed and welded heat pipes. 

Due to the heat, the liquid inside the heat pipe changes into gas, and heat releases in this process. As a result, the gas moves to the other side of the heat pipe and condenses there.

The heat sink is a large surface of aluminum foils placed near each other. When hot air goes to the cooler end of heat pipes, the heat sink absorbs and spreads that hot air which then cools from the fan’s airflow. This makes the coolant turn into a liquid state again. 

Note that the air cooler’s size doesn’t make a difference in all of this process, but the type of coolant and materials used. 

How Heat Pipe and Heat Sink Cool the CPU with Liquid Coolers?

Just like air coolers, liquid coolers have a surface exposed to the CPU. This surface absorbs the heat released by the CPU, and a system of small copper foils transfers it into the compound inside the cooler.

Inside the CPU cooler is a pump that forces water into the radiator. There are two tubes linked between the heat sink, the pump, with the radiator. 

One of these tubes brings hot fluid to the radiator, which further has two parts. The upper part of the radiator pushes hot water into thin tubes inside the rad.

When the water flows to the radiator’s bottom, pump pressure forces it back into the microtube on the other half of the radiator. 

Water’s temperature decreases again. When it reaches the radiator’s top, water goes into the cold-water pipe leading to the CPU. This keeps repeating, regularly cooling the CPU.

Here is How CPU Cooler and Thermal Paste Work Together

It makes no difference whatever type of CPU cooler you use; you always have to use a thermal paste. Both of these components complement each other. 

The CPU conducts heat to the cooling system through a thermally conductive surface. When seen with a naked eye, this surface seems to be perfectly smooth, but it isn’t.

On a microscopic level, this surface has small imperfections which trap air. Air acts as a thermal insulator preventing heat transfer. 

When we apply thermally conductive thermal paste, it goes into the microscopic imperfections, filling them. This way, heat transfer is possible. Attach the CPU cooler, and this way, CPU cooler, and thermal paste work together for good. 

Best Way to Apply Thermal Paste

The best way to apply thermal paste is by spreading it with a spatula or an applicator. Spreading thermal paste with X method, line method, or tiny dot in the middle won’t cover the surface’s sides; hence it is not a good idea. 

When you apply with a spatula or an applicator, it spreads evenly, and it won’t leak out. This makes application with a spatula or applicator the best method to apply thermal paste. 

For a detailed note on the best way to apply thermal paste, read our guide: What Is The Best Way to Apply Thermal Paste?

Does the Type of Thermal Paste Matter?

Yes, not all thermal pastes are the same. There are six different types of thermal pastes; liquid metal, metal-based thermal paste, silicon-based thermal paste, carbon-based thermal paste, diamond carbon-based thermal paste, and ceramic-based thermal pastes. 

Metal-based pastes and liquid metal have the potential to cause short circuits in the CPU. Although they are good when it comes to heat transfer, they can cause severe disasters within the system. 

Carbon-based and ceramic-based thermal pastes are electrically insulative, hence are safer to use, but for systems that heat up quickly, these thermal greases are not good options. 

Diamond carbon-based thermal paste can be an excellent thermal paste option, but it is costly to use. As a result, not everyone can buy it. 

Silicon-based thermal paste is the best type of thermal paste to use. It offers a significant reduction in CPU temperature, is electrically insulative, has a good density, and is affordable for everyone if you want your CPU’s healthy, silicon-based thermal pastes to work well. 

Also read our guide on: What are the different parts of thermal pastes?

FAQs – How CPU Cooler and Thermal Paste Work Together?

Are you still wondering how CPU cooler and thermal paste function together? These frequently asked questions will help you out. 

Can Thermal Paste Ruin a CPU?

If thermal paste leaks to the surroundings, it may cause other CPU components to stop working. More significant damage will occur if you use liquid metal or metal-based thermal paste because if they leak to the surrounding, they will cause a short circuit within the CPU.

Ruining the CPU with thermal paste is a mistake usually the first-timers make. If you apply the thermal paste and it leaks to the surroundings, clean it with an isopropyl alcohol pad as soon as possible and prevent using liquid metal and metal-based thermal pastes. 

Read our interesting guide on 7 Myths About Thermal Paste.

Do CPU Come with Thermal Paste Pre-applied?

The CPU does not come with pre-applied thermal paste, but stock coolers do have a pre-applied thermal paste. If you want to use a stock CPU cooler with a CPU, you should apply thermal grease yourself. 

It is still a better idea to check for thermal interface material on stock coolers or clean the previous one and apply a new layer. 

What if I Touch Thermal Paste on CPU Cooler

It will create bubbles. If you touch or accidentally touch thermal paste on the CPU, air bubbles will form in it but the bubbles are too small to make a difference. 

However, we still recommend you remove previous thermal grease and apply a new layer. 


CPU coolers and thermal paste work together for good. Both of these components are important for cooling down the CPU and helping it run smoothly. It is a noticeable fact that CPU coolers won’t work without thermal paste, and neither will thermal paste work without a CPU cooler.

These components complement each other, so it is better to buy a good quality thermal paste and a nicely built CPU cooler for good system performance. 

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