What happens when a machinist with a penchant for fine details takes on the task of lapping a 16-core CPU? The result is quite possibly the smoothest surface ever achieved on a processor’s integrated heatspreader (IHS). It is so smooth, in fact, that it could probably be installed into a PC without any thermal paste.
Let’s back up a moment and take a high level overview of the cooling mechanics of a CPU. The large chunk of metal on the top is the IHS, and its purpose is twofold: to protect the chip from cracking, and to pull heat up from the CPU die and transfer it to a cooling block—typically an air cooler or a liquid cooling apparatus.
However, the surface of an IHS is imperfect, as is whatever heatsink you end up attaching to it. This is where thermal paste comes into play. Thermal paste is a conductive material that fills in all the microscopic nooks and crannies in the IHS and heatsink, to facilitate a better transfer of heat.
It works well for mass consumption, but as with most things produced at scale, there is room for improvement for those with the requisite knowledge, money, and time.