Don't do it. In any application where thermal pads are called for it is usually because the contact between the component and the cooler is not sufficient for paste to be used. Paste is only intended to fill in microscopic gaps. Anything larger and it generally serves as more of an insulator than a heat conductor.
If you are in a bind, you can use some thermal paste on a copper shim or even a penny if you have the means to cut it to size and polish it smooth as an impromptu thermal pad. Obviously, if you don't have the tools to already pull a macguyver move like that, it's gonna end up being way more expensive than just buying the thermal pads, but in an emergency you can do something like that. Another alternative would be cutting little squares out of a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil and using thermal paste inbetween the layers to build it up to the thickness. That's an even less ideal situation than the copper shim/penny though.
My tbd asus g14 laptop has thermal paste on all the vrm and caps...not sure why they did this as I believe there's quite a gap between the surfaces... I may replace with 0.5 or 1mm thermal pads depending on the contact...
I'm trying to invision the best way to determine what thickness of pad I need... I think I may resort to some butyl putty and some flour to make it non-stick and measure the thickness once I put the cooler on....I think that'll give me a good indication of what thickness I'll need.... I'm hoping the cheapo pads will actually be better than the thick paste....
If the gap is thin enough (on the order of a tenth of a mm thin, or less, for anything not advertised as a gap filler) and you're sure the paste isn't conductive or capacitive, yes.
Copper ships of the exact right thickness are arguably the best gap fillers. Thermal performance will be better than any pad (two 1 mil layers of cheap paste is lower thermal resistance than half a mm of thermal pad with twenty times the thermal conductivity). It's just that care needs to be taken sizing them and ensuring they don't short anything.
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