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Thermal Grease is used to remove the air gaps between CPU and heatsink. However, computing aside, what would determine the max temp that the grease can handle before it burns or breaks down?

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    $\begingroup$ There are different kinds of thermal grease, and the temparature they can handle will vary. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist May 1 '13 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ Your best bet is to contact the manufacturer or consult the labeling information for your brand. $\endgroup$ – Ben Norris May 1 '13 at 19:35
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Since most thermal greases are ceramic and/or metal suspended in a silicone or organic oil, the temperature the grease remains stable at will likely primarily be determined by the properties of that oil -- either its ease of evaporation, or decomposition temperature (or, I suppose, its flashpoint, but that seems unlikely).

As Ben Norris says in the comment above, your best bet is to contact the manufacturer or check their data sheets: for common CPU uses, most manufacturers will give you stable and extreme temperature ranges which are likely to be fairly conservative (for example, here), and they may be able to help with more esoteric data if you're using it for other purposes.

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  • $\begingroup$ I tried burning thermal grease; it catches fire pretty easily. $\endgroup$ – user310 May 2 '13 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @kurtnelle - That's to be expected; both silicone and other organic oils are organic compounds; get them hot enough, like exposing them to a naked flame, and they'll combust just like any hydrocarbon. Most fuel gas flames burn at between 1000-1500 degrees, with some of the crazier ones like acetylene going up to 2500. That's well above the flash point of just about any organic substance, as well as a few metals. $\endgroup$ – KeithS May 6 '13 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ However, without true combustion as an ignition source, very few things on the surface of the Earth can sustain those kinds of temperatures through other means. You could likely put a dollop of silicone thermal grease on a cookie sheet and stick it in the oven at 450*F for an hour and it wouldn't burn (it would likely melt). The circuitry that grease protects by conducting heat away from it would melt down at a third that temperature. $\endgroup$ – KeithS May 6 '13 at 18:43

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