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This “idiot proof” thermal paste stencil makes CPU installation easy

Whether you're building a gaming PC with an Intel or AMD processor, this new X-Apply film reportedly creates an even paste pattern.

This “idiot proof” thermal paste stencil makes CPU installation easy: X-Apply on Core i9 13900K - Igor's Lab

Arguments about how you should apply thermal paste to your CPU have rolled on for decades, with variations on cross shapes, sausage shapes, grains of rice, small dots, and straight lines being touted as the best methods, but a novel new approach could solve all these rows in one fell swoop. The new X-Apply is a thermal paste stencil that’s claimed to be “idiot proof,” meaning you could apply your thermal paste perfectly without any prior experience.

If you’ve never tried to build a gaming PC before, then the prospect of applying thermal paste for the first time yourself can be a bit daunting. You don’t want to use too much or too little, and you don’t want to end up making a big greasy mess all over your motherboard either. That’s the idea behind this stencil – even those who are new to the wonderful world PC gaming hardware can ensure their CPU doesn’t overheat.

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The idea was spawned by a member of the community at tech website Igor’s Lab, who also got the product ready for production, thanks to some help from an industrial foil maker and some feedback from Igor Wallossek himself. Wallossek has now put the final product through its paces, and described it as “indispensable for anyone who is doing the paste for the first time.”

It’s a really simple idea, with two large pieces of film that cover the whole socket area, containing three rows of hexagonal holes in the middle, along with two rows of circular holes between them. You can then just spread your paste all over the film with a spatula, making as much mess as you like, peel it off, and you end up with the perfect amount of paste on your CPU’s heatspreader.

This “idiot proof” thermal paste stencil makes CPU installation easy: X-Apply film - Igor's Lab

Wallossek tested the stencil on an Intel Core i9 13900K CPU with a warped heatspreader (fixed at 200W) and compared the results against applying the same paste applied manually with a “sausage” pattern.

The average CPU temperature result from using the stencil is 73°C, with a 77°C peak, compared with 75°C and 78°C with the sausage pattern. “These are not galaxy-sized differences,” admits Wallossek, but he praises the X-Apply for providing “idiot-proof processing without fear of missing the paste quantity.”

This “idiot proof” thermal paste stencil makes CPU installation easy: X-Apply on Core i9 13900K - Igor's Lab

After installation, the spread of the paste is remarkably even on the bottom of the cooler’s contact plate, and Wallosek also studied the paste pattern with a digital microscope. This enabled him to measure the exact area of the paste applied, which accounts for 42.2% of the space on the heatspreader.

The X-Apply will be available in two different versions, with patterns to suit the heatspreaders on both Intel and AMD CPUs. The X-Apply isn’t available to buy yet, but this simple idea has the potential to shut down arguments about how to apply thermal paste for good. Why fret about slipping with your syringe, or applying the right pattern, when a simple piece of film will enable you to apply your paste perfectly.

In the meantime, if you need to install one of the best gaming CPUs, make sure you read our full guide on how to apply thermal paste, where we take you through the best paste patterns to use on all of the latest processors.