Without a doubt, Indigo Xtreme is the performance winner here. Considering how cool running my CPU is, even a ~1C improvement over second place is notable, but a ~2.5C improvement over the most popular TIMs is the highlight. With hotter CPUs (such as with a lot of Core i7 D0s), the gain is even larger. This is one of the last noticeable gains we may ever see in regards to TIM…we’re rapidly approaching the limits of TIM peformance with the Indigo Xtreme. That is, the thermal resistance is so low (as measured by industry standard tests) that any improved TIMs, even a theoretical TIM with a thermal resistance of 0.00, will net only a tiny gain. That’s not to say that we won’t welcome an improved TIM further down the road (any gain is a gain), but this brings us to the threshold of passive TIM performance. I’ve included a chart plotting the temperatures I obtained in testing against the documented thermal resistance of the TIMs. I’m not sure what the bondline thicknesses (BLT) were in my tests or the specifics of the ASTM D5470 test (especially regarding cure time), but the data it produced seems to correspond pretty linearly with both my 60 minute data and my concluding temperatures data. On my testbed, a theoretical TIM with zero thermal resistance performs only a fraction of a degree better than Indigo Xtreme does. The impressive thing is that Indigo Xtreme is a real product and it’s available now.
In terms of non-performance factors, the only downsides are the atypical installation and cost. At $20 for a kit (2 installations), it’s more expensive than its competitors. But for most setups, the improvement it brings will be the most cost-effective upgrade possible for them. Blocks, radiators, pumps, and fans (when bought in multiples) are almost always more expensive and don’t necessarily bring such a noticeable improvement in performance. I’ve already covered the installation–I think it’s a non-issue; I’ve used Coollaboratory’s Liquid Pro and Indigo Xtreme is a heck of a lot easier than that. It is harder than squeezing out some paste on a CPU, but that’s not saying much. In terms of removal, it’s the easiest TIM I’ve ever used. The entire unit (or ‘card’ as I called it previously) comes off in one piece. If any sticks to the CPU or the cooler, you can easily scrape it off with your fingernail or a credit card.
As for special notes regarding the other TIMs, there’s not too much to say. For applications where an Indigo Xtreme is not viable (everything but LGA775 and LGA1366 at the time of writing), Shin-Etsu X23-7783D looks like a great paste-based TIM to use. It has the shortest cure time of the paste-based TIMs (even shorter than MX-2, which is noted for being non-curing) and the best performance. It’s a pretty dry and thick TIM, so you have to use a medium amount of it (meaning you can only get 6-7 installations out of a 1g tube) and it’s a little difficult to work with, but it’s still a great performer and an easy second place in this test.
MX-2 still has a special place in my heart–and still a great tester TIM considering its ease of use and value in a 30g tube. For my own waterblock tests, where I use the same installation over the course of 8+ hours of testing, I’ll have to let it break-in first. But for most testers, as long as they use it consistently (i.e., mount-and-go or allowing a consistent amount of cure time), there should be no issue. Hopefully it does not get phased out with the launch of MX-3 as it truly is a great paste.
The verdict on IC Diamond is still out as far as I am concerned. It’s clearly not done curing over the course of my 12 hour test, and it’s performance is pretty good even without a full curing session. It’s also a really thick TIM, requiring a large amount to be used, meaning you don’t get many installations from a 1.5g tube. It’s also really good at polishing–as you can see from my pictures, the IHS of my CPU no longer has Intel’s markings. I’m not a fan of that particular property of the TIM, but all things considered, IC Diamond isn’t too bad. Between Indigo Xtreme, Shin-Etsu X23-7783D, and MX-2, I can’t think of a situation where I’d have a use for IC Diamond, but it’s definitely good paste overall.
Arctic Silver 5 is showing its age. It’s competitive, but considering its numerous downsides (being capacitive is the biggest), I just don’t feel it’s a superior TIM to any of the others in this test. In terms of raw performance, it came in last. Arctic Silver recommends a 200hour break-in period with multiple power cycles, none of which I did, but I just don’t see it jumping ahead and making up for its other deficiencies.
I really like doing a review where the data can largely speak for itself, and this review is no exception. The performance of Indigo Xtreme is exemplary and easily makes up for any perceived negatives you’ve picked up mulling through this review. The second place TIM, Shin-Etsu X23-7783D, is the best performing paste-based TIM in this test and is a great option when you cannot use Indigo Xtreme. As for the others, they may not be the best performing TIMs in this test, but there’s a reason they’re some of the most popular TIMs in the enthusiast community–the performance they offer is good enough for a lot of people. But there are big gains to be had for those who want it…the performance of Indigo Xtreme is awesome and brings enthusiasts to the threshold of TIM performance–all in a form-factor that’s surprisingly easy to use and cleans up easily.