Do All CPU Coolers Need Thermal Paste?

CG Director Author Christopher Harperby Christopher Harper   /  Published 

Wondering “Do all CPU coolers need thermal paste”?

Today, I’ll be discussing whether or not they all come with thermal paste pre-applied, which will influence whether you need to concern yourself with applying your own thermal paste or not, before wrapping up with a few FAQs and passing it off to you.

Now, let’s get down to it!

Do All CPU Coolers Need Thermal Paste? TIM (Thermal Interface Material) Explained

As it turns out, every CPU or GPU cooler needs some kind of Thermal Interface Material (TIM) in order to transfer heat from the component being cooled to the cooler, where it can be dissipated.

How does thermal paste work

This TIM doesn’t necessarily have to be thermal paste (it can sometimes be a thermal pad or something similar instead), but thermal paste is definitely the most common solution for CPU coolers.

So, technically, not all CPU coolers need thermal paste. They do need some kind of Thermal Interface Material, though, lest you risk starting a fire or doing irreparable damage to your processor.

Do All CPU Coolers Come With Pre-Applied Thermal Paste?

Do all CPU Coolers Come With Thermal Paste

Unfortunately, no!

Not all CPU coolers will come with pre-applied thermal paste or an included tube of thermal paste.

Many of them do, though, and the stock CPU cooler included with your AMD or Intel processor should have thermal paste included. Higher-end CPU Coolers such as the beQuiet Dark Rock or Noctua Coolers do come with a tube of thermal paste while cheaper coolers either have thermal paste already pre-applied to the underside of their heatsink / cold-plate, or don’t have any sort of thermal paste at all for cost-saving measures. Check the product description to make sure you don’t have to get an extra tube of paste.

Overclockable Intel processors and certain high-end AMD processors will sometimes forego the stock cooler, though, since you’re expected to pair them with a high-performance aftermarket CPU cooler for the best experience.

When buying an aftermarket CPU cooler for whatever reason, you should be able to find on the relevant product page whether or not thermal paste is included.

If you already have the CPU Cooler in question, you’ll also see thermal paste pre-applied on the bottom of the cooler, protected by a thin layer of plastic intended to be removed before installation.

Fortunately, thermal paste— even high-performance thermal pasteisn’t particularly expensive, so don’t sweat too much if your cooler doesn’t have it and go out and spend a couple of bucks on a tube.

If you don’t have time to order some nice thermal paste online, you can also just get whatever your local Best Buy/hardware store/etc has, though you might pay a little extra for the privilege.

Is Included Thermal Paste Good Enough?

How does Thermal Paste improve performance

If you’re receiving or using a CPU cooler that comes with included thermal paste, you may be wondering whether or not it’s good enough.

The answer is…yeah, probably. If your CPU cooler includes thermal paste, chances are high that thermal paste performs within the range of expectations for that CPU cooler, particularly stock coolers.

This doesn’t mean that other thermal paste can’t perform better, but replacing existing thermal paste shouldn’t top your list of concerns.

Now, how much better can replacement thermal paste be? I can actually quantify this with one of my personal experiences, incurred in the Summer of 2023 while writing articles for this very website!

Basically, my existing PC build is a nice little NZXT H210i with a modded mesh front panel for improved airflow and a low-profile air cooler because I’m (still) too cheap for an AIO.

The low-profile air cooler in question is the Noctua NH-L9i, which I paired with a Core i7-10700K against my better judgment only to find it’s…actually just fine!

However, after serving me dutifully for about four years, my NH-L9i’s fan tragically gave out while I was in the middle of writing a batch of articles. I ended up stabbing it to manually re-lube it, but even that lasted only so long before I needed to replace the fan entirely.

I chose to both replace my existing fan and the thermal paste, since it had already been about a year since I’d last repasted my CPU, and I moved up to Cooler Master CryoFuze thermal compound from the basic $3 thermal paste I’d used last repaste.

The result? I saw an almost 10-degree reduction in my average CPU temperatures. On a low-profile air cooler paired with an eight-core, sixteen thread CPU!

While you certainly don’t need high-performance thermal paste, this experience has definitely made me a believer, particularly for air coolers already in thermally-constrained environments. Every little improvement matters!

It’s hardly necessary, though.

Who should use liquid metal Thermal Paste

There are also other high-performance thermal interface materials that can be considered, though some of them (like liquid metal) can be very risky to use inside your computer, and won’t necessarily be compatible with all CPU and heatsink surfaces on top of that.

Liquid metal is by far the best TIM out there, but improperly installing it could literally brick your entire computer or set something on fire, so…be very careful if you pursue a project like that.


Every CPU Cooler, be it an air cooler, a passive cooler, an AIO, a custom water loop, or a boxed cooler (that comes in the package of your CPU) needs thermal paste in between its heatsink / cold plate and the CPU.

Whether you have to apply your own thermal paste to the CPU before placing the cooler on top depends on whether your CPU cooler already has thermal paste pre-applied to the underside of its heatsink. This is easily checked through a visual inspection. During this visual inspection, also make sure you’re peeling off the plastic cover that is usually attached to your heatsink’s underside, whether thermal paste is applied or not.

If you’d like to find out before buying a CPU cooler whether you’ll need an additional tube of paste (as in: the cooler doesn’t come with pre-applied paste or a tube of paste), read the CPU Cooler’s product description and reviews, as this should be noted or commented on by reviewers.

Here are some more resources that will help cover this topic more thoroughly:


Can I use Vaseline instead of thermal paste?

Technically…yes, but you really, really shouldn’t. Besides the fact that you would need to mix it with another material to bind and improve thermal conductivity, vaseline is still technically flammable.

Its ignition temperature should be well beyond anything your CPU would reach, but really…there’s no reason for you to be so desperate that you’re using Vaseline as thermal paste.

This being one of the most commonly asked questions about thermal paste will probably haunt me for the rest of my life.

Can toothpaste be used as thermal paste?

Also technically yes, but…see above! You really shouldn’t be so desperate for Thermal Interface Material that you’re resorting to toothpaste, vaseline, or anything that isn’t being directly marketed to you as thermal paste.

Not only are these solutions ultimately suboptimal in performance and likely to degrade more quickly, they’re not even going to save you money because thermal paste is already dirt cheap!

How long can a PC last without thermal paste?

About as long as it takes for your CPU to realize it can’t cool down and does an emergency shutdown, or for something to ignite.

Unless you’re using some other kind of thermal interface material, but still. Too many people are out here asking questions that push toward playing with literal fire. I need to lay down.

Over to You

But before I do that, I hope this article helped answer your questions!

In conclusion, no, not all CPU coolers need thermal paste. However, they all need some kind of thermal interface material, and not having that poses a disastrous risk to the safety of both you and your PC hardware.

If you have any other questions about CPU coolers, feel free to ask them in the comments below! I’ll surely have woken from my nap (and several more) by the time you read this article, so I’ll be around to help.

If I’m not, another member of the CGD Team will be, for sure. You can also consider our Forum or Discord server, if you like.

Until then or until next time, though, have a good one! And please use some actual thermal compound for your CPU, not your dried-up old toothpaste.

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Christopher Harper

I have been a passionate devotee to technology since the age of 3, and to writing since before I even finished high school.

These passions have since combined into a living in my adulthood and have made writing about PC Hardware very satisfying.

If you need any assistance, leave a comment below: it’s what I’m here for.

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Tech Intern

2 messages 1 likes

I just picked up a 240 mid AIO last weekend and it did not come with thermal paste pre-applied. The kit did have a tube of thermal paste that had to be applied manually.

Cooler Model:
(MSI) MAG Coreliquid 240R V2

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