If you’re looking to buy one of the best gaming CPUs, you probably already know that it will need a CPU cooler to keep it running at a good temperature.
You probably also know that you should put thermal paste between the CPU and its cooler to aid heat transfer.
But most CPUs don’t come with thermal paste—in fact, most don’t come with a cooler at all these days—so it’s useful to have your own paste handy. And while the difference isn’t great, aftermarket thermal paste can give you slightly better temperatures than stock paste.
So, unfortunately, the answer to whether CPUs come with thermal paste isn’t a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It depends on the CPU, and even if paste does come with the CPU you might prefer to use your own.
What is Thermal Paste?
A CPU cooler works by allowing heat to easily transfer from the CPU into its cooling system, which often includes a heatsink with lots of fins to help the heat dissipate over a wide surface area, and a fan to blow air across these fins.
To cool the CPU effectively, there needs to be easy heat transfer between the CPU and the cooling system. The lid of the CPU is an Integrated Heat Spreader (IHS), and the CPU transfers heat through this IHS to the baseplate of the CPU cooler.
But, given that no CPU lid or cooler baseplate is perfectly smooth, to ensure there are no tiny gaps of air between the two, thermal paste is added to eliminate these gaps and increase heat conductivity between the two surfaces.
Is Thermal Paste Necessary?
Although it might not seem all that important at first glance, thermal paste is necessary for keeping your CPU cool.
The CPU is essentially a mini computer—it performs all the main operations and calculations that programs tell it to. Naturally, all this work generates a lot of heat, and a CPU cooler is almost always needed to keep it running at a safe temperature. (In fact, your PC likely won’t boot without a CPU cooler fan plugged into your motherboard’s CPU_FAN header.)
Thermal paste is crucial for keeping your CPU at a low temperature. As we’ve said, no CPU lid or cooler baseplate is completely smooth, which means there will always be some tiny gaps between these two surfaces.
This might not sound like a big deal, but it is. These gaps can prevent heat conductivity and cause your CPU temperature to skyrocket—if you’ve ever forgotten to apply thermal paste before booting, you’ll know this already.
Thermal paste all but eliminates these gaps and provides very good conductivity, making it necessary for a CPU and cooler setup—unless you’re doing something extreme, that is, like cooling your CPU with liquid nitrogen. And the good news is, the difference between most thermal paste solutions isn’t too great, meaning you don’t need to buy the absolute best thermal paste compound to keep your CPU at a safe temperature.
Do CPUs come with Thermal Paste?
No CPU comes with thermal paste on it, but its bundled stock cooler might, so if a CPU comes bundled with a stock cooler you shouldn’t need to apply your own thermal paste.
Most stock coolers come with a pre-applied layer of thermal paste on their baseplates, and this is usually sufficient for good heat conductivity between the CPU and cooler.
Do Intel CPUs come with Thermal Paste?
Whether an Intel CPU comes with thermal paste depends on whether it comes with a stock cooler.
Of Intel’s current ‘Alder Lake’ CPU generation, the CPUs that gamers are most likely to buy don’t come with a stock cooler, which means they don’t come with thermal paste, either. These CPUs are the ‘unlocked’ ones that have a ‘K’ in their SKU identifier, such as the Core i5-12600K, Core i7-12700K, and Core i9-12900K.
However, Intel’s more recent 65W CPUs, which lack a ‘K’ designator, do come with a stock ‘Laminar’ cooler, and these coolers come with thermal paste pre-applied to their baseplates. These CPUs are ‘locked’, though, which means they can’t be overclocked or tinkered with in the BIOS.
And although Intel’s latest stock CPU coolers aren’t terrible, they’re not amazing, either. Any decent aftermarket cooler should give you much better CPU temperatures when under load.
Do AMD CPUs come with Thermal Paste?
Just like with Intel, whether an AMD CPU comes with thermal paste depends on whether it comes with a stock cooler.
While Intel has a whole 65W lineup of CPUs that come bundled with a stock cooler, only two of AMD’s latest ‘Zen 3’ CPUs comes bundled with one, these being the Ryzen 5 5600X and 5600G (the latter is a slower CPU but it has integrated graphics).
These come with AMD’s Wraith Stealth cooler, which has thermal paste pre-applied to its baseplate.
Just like with Intel, though, any decent aftermarket cooler should be better at keeping your CPU cool than the stock cooler.
Stock Thermal Paste vs Aftermarket
Whether you’re using a stock cooler or an aftermarket cooler that comes with thermal paste pre-applied, you might wonder whether it’s worth scraping that paste off and applying your own. The answer is probably not. Most pre-applied thermal paste solutions should work almost as well as aftermarket thermal paste, providing it’s been applied correctly.
If you’re looking to maximise your cooler’s heat reduction, then a top-tier aftermarket paste like Thermal Grizzy Kryonaut might knock a couple of degrees off your load temps. But for general use, any recognised thermal paste compound should do a stellar job if applied correctly.
You should still have your own paste to hand, though, because there’s nothing worse than accidentally scraping your cooler’s pre-applied thermal paste and realising you don’t have any to replace it with. Stock paste should do just fine, but it’s good to have a backup handy.