What is arguably one of the most critical components to finishing a successful custom PC build is the Thermal Interface Material (TIM). Such a statement will certainly raise eyebrows as most builders don’t even care about the TIM and simply and simply use whatever TIM came pre-applied to the CPU cooling solution they have opted for. For stock settings this is certainly ‘good enough’ as the days of Intel, AMD, and all the after-market CPU cooling solution manufactures using garbage TIM are long gone. But what about when you go and turn the heat up via a decent overclock? That is when things can get interesting.
Ask any CPU overclocking enthusiast what the two main hurdles they have to overcome and without fail they will all say voltage and thermal load. These two issues go hand in hand as in order to get all cores stable at a given overclock the voltage has to be increased and this in turn creates more heat. Since all modern CPUs come with a built in thermal limiter, hitting this wall earlier than needed is a big concern. Yes we all throw more cooling at the problem but if the heat cannot be efficiently moved from the CPU’s IHS to the waterblock/air cooler base/etc then temperatures are going to be higher than they need be. Thus the ‘thermal wall’ that we don’t want to hit is closer than it need be. This is where the lowly Thermal Interface Material comes into play as it fills in the imperfections in both the CPU’s Integrated Heat Spreader and the base of the cooling solution. While not as good as if both are paired to one another it does increase the efficiency of heat transfer from one to the other – and thus plays a critical role in overclocking.
Of course, as we all know, not all TIM is made the same and nor is all TIM as effective at this job. For example ‘stock’ TIM that comes pre-applied to Intel and AMD stock cooling solutions can be upwards of 10-degrees or more hotter running than if say Artic Silver MX-4 is applied. That is a massive difference and can mean the difference between an overclock being thermally limited (and being a failure) and one that is still well within the operating temperatures we all strive for.
Today we are going to look at a newcomer to the TIM industry – Vostok – to see if their ‘V1’ can live up to the rather high bar that Artic Silver and their ‘MX’ series have set. That certainly is a high bar to clear but quite honestly if a manufacture expects anyone to upgrade from the pre-applied ‘stock’ TIM and pay actual money for something most don’t even give it a second thought too it has to be at the very least as good as what others can do and offer something unique. Otherwise… why bother?!
Today we are going to use a very simple set of criteria for judging this new kid on the block. Firstly ease of use. If you can’t properly apply it can be the best thing since sliced bread and still no one will want to use. For example IC’s Diamond 7 TIM is a royal pain in the arse to work with and while we have a couple tubes of it here… we rather use MX4 as it is simply too much hassle for the thermal improvements it offers.
Lastly, a TIM has to actually be good at its job of transferring heat from one to the other. For example spray paint would be a snap to apply… but would stink on ice at cooling. This is why we will be using our personal Intel 6950X and a high performance dual 140mm AIO – as nothing will stress a cooler and the TIM like that 10-core/20 thread beast.
These are the two critical areas Vostok needs to excel at if it hopes to break into a market that is already filled with rather decent options. So let’s see what this new TIM can do.
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We are not going to waste too much time going over the actual product… as it Thermal Interface Material… that is still not exactly retail store shelf ready. Instead it is still in the late stages of product development. Ours came in padded postage envelope and while we doubt that will be the final packaging we cannot tell you what the shipping container will look like, the accessories that will accompany it or anything else.
So, let’s take a quick look at what we do know. Right now, and this could change if it ever does hit retail shelves, Vostok V1 comes in a glass bottle that is very similar to a repurposed nail polish bottle. We personally do not mind this as it is a heck of a lot easier to store the darn thing than finding room for a syringe half-full of TIM. Plus there is no way the plunger can be pushed and shoot TIM all over your storage cabinet… as there is not a plunger and small tip application method.
In fact, Vostok uses a radically different applicator. To be precise when you spin off the black top of the glass bottle you will see that it has a… well… nail polish brush attached to it. Yes just like nail polish you dip the brush in, wipe off the excess on the inner side of the bottle and ‘brush’ the TIM on to the top of the CPU. This is bloody brilliant. No more ‘grain of rice’ application that then has to be smooshed out via pressure. No worries over making the blob of TIM too big and having it flow over the side of the CPU when the heatsink is applied. No worries over even making the TIM layer too thick.
This last issue is what actually gets a lot of novice users as they apply too much, not realizing that the TIM is just there to fill in any imperfections between the heatsink and IHS… and a thin layer is much better than a thick layer!
Now with that said this application is not fraught with its own unique issues. Firstly, the TIM is a heck of a lot thinner than what most are used to working with. It really does have the consistency of nail polish vs ‘normal’ TIM’s ‘paste’ like consistency. This means you will have to be careful when getting the TIM laden brush from the bottle to the CPU… as it does have a tendency to ‘drip’ in transit if you are not very careful. This is not that big a deal as V1 is not electrical conductive TIM it just looks messy and can ruin the aesthetics of a custom build if you are not careful… as you can forget about getting it all off a motherboard.
The next issue is just like nail polish it does take a few times to get the brush strokes down so that you end up with a nice even layer of TIM without hills and valleys. The last issue is that it does actually take a bit longer to apply than normal TIM. With regular TIM you squirt out a small dollop in the center of the CPU and call it done. This TIM on the other hand require a bit more effort. Unfortunately as it basically is TIM suspended in rubbing alcohol… and said alcohol evaporates PDQ the amount of time you have to apply the TIM and the heatsink/waterblock is limited. Basically you got about 5 minutes at most from the time to start to apply the TIM until you have to have the block installed for maximum effectiveness. Yes you can wait for the TIM to harden before applying the heatsink/waterblock but it will not result in as effective thermal transfer as the TIM will not flow as easily into every microscopic nook and cranny like it can while it is a liquid. So be quick, be ready, and be prepared before you start.
Please do not get us wrong, we think this delivery method is bloody brilliant. Yes it takes a bit of experience to get it right, yes it can be a bit more messier, yes it even takes long to apply. But in return enthusiasts will get perfect layers of TIM every time. No more eyeballing it. No more scrapping dried TIM off the side of the CPU when you go to replace the cooler later on. No more variances in temperatures due to too much TIM or not enough TIM being used. The Vostok method literally is as close as you will get to ‘stock’ pre-applied TIM as you will find.
For testing the effectiveness of the TIM we have combined our very own Intel 6950X with a NZXT Kraken X62 and then recorded the temperatures at stock and overclocked levels during Prime95 stress testing. Each test is repeated three times. This is what we found out.
As you can see Vostok may not exactly offer the best cooling performance available for a first try this is pretty impressive. After all… Artic Silver didn’t get it right the first time around either! Mix in a pretty darn unique application method and the Vostok V1 is pretty reasonable.
So what have we learned today and what is the main takeaway from this mini-review? Firstly Vostok is on to something with their delivery method. It may not seem all that special but it really is the easiest method we have seen in a long while to ensure perfect coverage first time, every time. For this tweak Vostok does deserve to be congratulated. Their brilliant outside the box thinking does indeed work so much better than the ‘tube’ method.
Unfortunately, while the delivery method is highly innovative the v1 TIM itself is nothing special. It is better than stock Intel or AMD TIM but simply gets beaten by more well established brands – even stock TIM that comes pre-applied to after-market CPU cooling solutions! Is the ease of use mitigate the lackluster performance? Well that depends. If you are looking to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of your overclock this TIM will let you down. You will hit the thermal wall a lot sooner than you will with say MX-4 TIM.
Conversely, if you are not interested in extreme overclocking and simply want get a bit better cooling performance than the lackluster Intel/AMD stock TIM then the Vostok V1 may indeed be a good option. To us it really comes down to how many CPUs or GPU cores you plan on covering. If it is only one then its innovative application method is not that big a deal. Conversely, if you are a system builder and doing a lot of TIM applications – and want something better than the stock TIM and are not overly used to the ‘pea method’ of TIM application – then the v1 might be worth the loss of a few degrees of cooling. It really will depend on your particular needs and your scenarios.
All is not lost though. Vostok recently announced a ‘v4’ that uses micro-copper particulates suspension based TIM that does sound very interesting. Of course, such TIM would be electrical conductive so while it may prove to better performing… it needs to be to overcome the risk of frying a CPU/GPU from a sloppy TIM application! Basically when it comes to Vostok we are personally taking a wait and see approach as they seem to be on the right path to success. Whether or not they ever reach the end of that path and create a truly excellent TIM to go along with their unique application method remains to be seen.
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AGlock_9: Bold, Insightful, never bashful. AGlock_9 has been involved in all aspects of vaping for a period of time he rather not admit to.