If you’re looking for the best information around on customizing your personal computer with a new, after stock CPU Cooler, you’re in luck! We’ve done the research for you and created this comprehensive guide in order to help our fellow computer enthusiasts and gamers find the best CPU cooler for their system and their particular needs.
CPU Cooler replacement is one of the easiest; and most common; modifications that PC users can start with. It has the potential to increase your machine’s performance quite dramatically. And who doesn’t want better performance from their PC?
What is a CPU?
Before we dive into the different models of CPU coolers, we’ll briefly go over what the CPU itself actually is and does. Have you ever heard someone refer to the ‘brains’ or the ‘guts’ of their computer? Whether knowingly or not, they’re referring to the Central Processing Unit; or CPU for short.
The ‘brain’ is a highly apt nickname for the Central Processing Unit. In fact, in terms of computational power, the CPU is the most important part of the whole system. None of the other internal components would work without it.
The CPU consists of 2 chief components; the control unit and the arithmetic logic unit. THE CU extracts, decodes, and executes instructions which are stored in the computer’s memory. This is how the computer gets all of its instruction.
While the CU is performing these functions, it calls upon the ALU (arithmetic logic unit) to perform logic based operational sequences.
Why Do You Need a Cooler for Your CPU?
The short answer – because your PC produces a higher volume of heat the faster that it is processing information and directing sequences. Many of the delicate internal parts of a computer can’t stand up to this constant heat source and will become damaged or broken if not cooled properly.
You put a lot of stress on your CPU when you multitask or use high demand software on your PC. As the heat resulting from the PCs integrated circuits builds up, it must be re-disbursed or otherwise cooled down in order to avoid damage to other internal parts.
More seasoned computer builders and tinkerers that have already installed the best SSD, RAM, CPU, etc. that money can buy will obviously be more comfortable paying for high dollar systems that will truly protect their gear.
Coolers of great variety exist, so that you can find the right one to cool your system. The CPU Cooler can’t accomplish all of this cooling all by itself, however. It requires the assistance of a heatsink.
What is a Heatsink and How Does It Work?
A heatsink is the thermal conductor which is commonly used in electronics of all sorts in order to create a state of equilibrium in which the heatsink gets hotter as the processor is cooled. You have to have some sort of air or liquid to cool this heatsink, however, or the heat will simply continue to radiate back on the motherboard, CPU, and other parts.
The most effective heatsinks are comprised of copper base plates with thermal paste spread across their surface. It’s critically important that you sufficiently cover the plate with the paste, as any uncovered areas will be exposed to extreme heat. Most CPU Coolers come with a tube of reasonable quality thermal paste, but you can shop around for something higher quality as well.
CPU Cooler Types
There are 3 types of CPU coolers that are currently in use; air CPU Coolers, liquid CPU coolers, and the Piezoelectric Pump CPU Cooler. Although the third and final model on this list has yet to prove its merit, it is a fascinating new application of Piezoelectric technology that warrants some discussion.
Once you’ve learned a bit about the different types of CPU Cooler, you’ll be a lot better equipped to choose the best one for your PC. And if you’re just curious about the technological possibilities, check out this cool article “Three Marvelous PC Cooling Technologies That You’ve Never Heard Of”.
The Air CPU Cooler
Air CPU Coolers are the original design for keeping your CPU from overheating. Decades after their invention, we’re still using them in our PCs. Why? Because they work very efficiently and require little power. Air CPU Coolers work by driving cool airflow around the heatsink in order to cool it continuously as it is being heated by the integrated circuits of the CPU.
When the best air CPU Coolers are paired with the best PC cases, you have yourself a highly potent combination that will allow you to overclock in peace and quiet.
The Liquid CPU Cooler
Liquid CPU Coolers weren’t available to the public until the late 90’s, but innovative techies were making their own liquid cooling systems prior to that; mainly out of aquarium and automotive parts. Fortunately for you and I, they’ve since become commercially available.
This type of cooling unit is popular for a few reasons; performance, wow-factor, and noise level. As far as performance goes, it isn’t necessarily better than an effective air cooling system, it’s just an alternative option that deals with the boundary layer of dead air surrounding the CPU and other parts differently.
A liquid cooling system is comprised of one or more water blocks, a radiator, a pump, and a small internal fan. The liquid is pumped from the block through the tubing, transferring heat away from the motherboard, CPU, etc. This is possible because of the high thermal capacity of the liquid used in these systems.
The details of how the liquid is forced into turbulent flow as opposed to laminar flow to increase heat transfer are a bit tricky, but they’re very interesting. If you’d like to learn more about the physics of liquid cooling, the following article by Atila Gobor; “Air Cooling vs. Liquid Cooling” is a great resource.
The Piezoelectric Pump CPU Cooler
Have you been hearing whispers about GE’s innovative use of Piezoelectricity; or Piezoelectric effect? This tech has been around for a while, however, it’s use as a CPU cooling system is practically brand new. GE holds the patent and are the only ones building the Piezoelectric Pump CPU Cooler at this time.
Piezoelectricity is, again, a bit more complex than an air cooling system. Essentially, it relies on one of two materials; ceramic or crystal; that are nonconductive but do store electrical energy as a result of pressure.
To learn all about how this new and innovative CPU cooling system works, check out ElectronicDesign’s article on the Piezoelectric Effect.
Why Upgrade to a Post Stock CPU Cooler?
There are a broad variety of reasons that you may be inclined to switch out your stock model CPU Cooler for a better one. Whether you’re interested in air coolers or liquid coolers, there’s a solution for practically any combination of the following-
1. Overclocking – The number one reason for switching out your PC’s CPU Cooler for a more advanced model is to enable overclocking. If you’re not familiar with the term, that’s okay. That’s what we’re here for after all!
Modern processors typically run between 2-3GHz with no modification or alteration to settings. The level of GHz that is processor is run at dictates the processing units ‘speed’.
You can alter your settings so that your CPU and memory run ‘faster’ than what the original manufacturer recommends, but this increase in processing power produces high volumes of heat which must be dealt with in order to prevent damage. Which is why you need an upgraded CPU cooler if you want to overclock your PC safely.
2. Excessive Noise – This is a big one for the average PC user. Lower end air CPU coolers can be quite noisy, particularly while multitasking and really putting that processor to work. After stock options are more efficient, meaning they don’t have to work so hard (less strain = less noise).
Many of the aftermarket CPU coolers available also provide multiple setting options so that you can turn them down, making them even quieter by reducing CPU voltage.
3. System Upgrades (such as RAM, processor, video card, etc) – When you purchase a new internal PC component, it should indicate how much heat it will produce while in use so that you can analyze whether or not the CPU cooling system you’re using will be efficient, or if you need a bit more cooling power to accommodate the new gear.
4. Running Powerful Software – If you enjoy gaming on your PC or make a living as a graphics designer, you’re already well aware of the effects of running powerful software. As you may already know, you can go with dual sticks of RAM to increase your PCs ability to handle powerful software requirements. The best RAM for gaming can be expensive, however, and you’ll still need an aftermarket CPU cooler to keep it from overheating.
5. Damage to System – If your PC has already suffered the consequences of inadequate system cooling, it’s definitely time to replace your CPU cooling system. Make sure that this is the first part that you take care of replacing, no matter what is damaged. That way, you’ll have your coolant system in place and ready to protect your other new parts as they’re installed.
CPU Cooler Designs
So far, we’ve covered the different types of CPU Coolers, how they work, etc. but we haven’t talked about CPU Cooler orientation within the case; which is a very important part of how they function.
Tower Style CPU Coolers – This type of CPU Cooler can be installed in two different positions, each of which provides its own set of pros and cons. The first position pulls air from the front of the case to the back and integrates a vertical heatsink. The second position pulls air from around the CPU, pushing it directly across the video card area and out through the top.
To learn more about the differences in orientation for Tower CPU Coolers, skim through Rafael Coelho’s article on the subject, entitled “Which is The Best Position for a Tower CPU Cooler?”.
Downdraft CPU Coolers – Downdraft CPU Coolers obviously provide a downward draft of airflow, pushing air down and allowing it to naturally rise on its own. The most common reason for PC users to prefer a downdraft model is that they are seeking a low profile CPU Cooler that will fit inside of their case easily.
How to Choose the Best CPU Cooler for Your PC
Now that you know a bit more about the different CPU Coolers that are available and how they work, you’re almost ready to start shopping! But first, let’s go over some quick, helpful tips for choosing the best air CPU Coolers and the best liquid CPU Coolers out there.
Before you start looking at cooler systems, you should check your other internal PC parts to find out how much heat they’re expected to produce while running at max capacity. You need to know how much heat you’re sinking and transferring away in order to decide how powerful of a cooling system you will need for your PC. CPU Coolers can get a bit expensive at the higher end of the product spectrum, and you wouldn’t want to spend $300 on your cooling system when you only need $50 worth of cooling power; or vice a versa.
Some things to consider might include; clock frequency, circuit voltage and complexity, and the material that the circuits are made out of.
7 Best Air CPU Coolers
Definitely One of the Best Air CPU Coolers Available
If you’re looking for a quiet and highly efficient CPU cooler that will allow you to easily and safely reach overclock speeds, this is a really great choice. It integrates dual NF-A15 PWM 140MM fans into the dual tower, heat-pipe based system to maximise air flow and minimise dead air pockets.
In spite of the Noctua NH-D15’s substantial size, it actually fits most mid-large size cases with no problems; even with relatively tall RAM; which seems to be the most prevalent concern amongst techies. If you’re unsure of whether or not your motherboard, CPU, RAM, or other internal parts will interfere with the fit, you can check on their site before ordering.
- Larger size = higher efficiency
- Comes with a quiet kit
- Comes with a Y-Connector in case your motherboard only has 1 connector
- Dramatically quieter than stock models
- Easy installation
- Makes overclocking a breeze
- Larger size means that it won’t fit smaller or already cramped cases
- Some models have been reportedly resulted in errors in CPU fan speed
Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3
Another of the Best Air Cooler CPU Accessories
The Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3 tagline says it all, “No Compromise Silence and Performance”. It delivers this guarantee with a very sophisticated and lightweight dual tower, heat pipe based model. It also integrates not 1- but 2 – 120MM fans. These fans are top notch.
The fan fin design is unique in that each one has a wave contour which is covered in small dots that increase air convection. Because of its unique cooling features, this system could easily be the best CPU Cooler for gaming if you have a preference for heat pipe/air cooler models.
- Great overclocking enhancement
- Very, very quiet
- 120-250W models available for more precision in your cooling system
- The 7 heat pipes are lined with copper and completed with aluminum caps
- A little on the heavy side at 3 lbs.
- Will require low profile RAM
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
Another Popular Air CPU Cooler
The Evo has recently really been getting people in the tech community abuzz. It’s a very attractive model with a 4 heat pipe setup; which has patented Continuous Direct Contact, or CDC; tech that creates a perfect sink surface. If you’re in the market for the best budget CPU Cooler, this is it.
- Low price for the value
- Quieter than a stock cooler
- Available in your choice of 2-8 heat pipes
- Good overclock value
- Supports INTEL, AMD, and AM4 with additional support
- Compact and low profile design
- Fan is only 92MM
- Noisier than more expensive and complex systems
The Best Low Profile CPU Cooler
The sleek, low profile ENERMAX ETS-T40F-BK is one of our personal favourites because it is such an efficient little system in such a small package. It runs at 200W, requiring fairly minimal power to run its 120MM fan. As an added bonus for those with an eye for aesthetics (and the case to show it off) the fan fins have a vibrant LED display.
- Very pleasing to look at
- Low profile with relatively high efficiency
- Supports INTEL, AMD, and AM4 with additional support
- Smaller size = Less cooling than a larger CPU Cooler
- AM4 bracket must be purchased separately
- Comes with inferior thermal paste
DEEPCOOL ASSASSIN II
Beautiful on Display CPU Cooler
This 8-heat-pipe gaming CPU cooler is a gamer’s dream come true for those with an open display case; as well as those who like to tinker often and will appreciate the design when they pop their case open. If this sounds like you and you’re looking for an efficient overclocking assistant, this could be the one for you.
The dual tower DEEPCOOL ASSASSIN II is a beautiful piece of machinery, but it also performs well which is what really counts after all. Unique fan fin shape, and an asymmetrical design add to this units efficiency while also looking great!
- PWM fan with hub control makes it easy to adjust for quieter performance
- Supports INTEL, AMD, and AM4 with additional support
- Eye-catching design
- Effective overclocking
- It is a bit heavy at 3.3 lbs.
- Won’t fit smaller cases
ARCTIC Freezer i32
Arguably the Best Cheap CPU Cooler
While “cheap” may or may not be on the list of things you want to hear about a tech product, the ARCTIC Freezer i32 is one of the very best “cheap” air CPU Coolers around. You get quite the bang for your buck with this product.
Semi-passive cooling allows your CPU to cool almost completely passively during normal operations, which makes for a much quieter and less overloaded system overall.
- Fluid dynamic bearings
- Great overclocking
- Easy installation
- Incredibly low weight of only 7 ounces
- Very small unit may be ineffective for high computing needs
- Lower footprint than most models
Great Choice for Computer Enthusiasts
One of the most impressive features of this air CPU cooler is its proprietary Hive Fin System, which optimises heat dissipation with its Jet Fin Acceleration System. It also provides an impressive increase in air intake.
The CRYORIG H7 runs just one, quiet fan on its dual tower system; making it much quieter than similar models with two fans. 3 pure copper heat pipes complete the genius of this system, taking advantage of coppers conductivity.
- Bigger system will provide more effective, quiet cooling
- Integrates unique fan tech that increases cooling
- Only runs one fan, which obviously provides less cooling power than two
- Ryzen AMD4 users will have to special order the proper socket
5 Best Liquid CPU Coolers
Corsair Hydro Series H115i Extreme
Indeed Extreme CPU Cooler
If you’re ready to get your gaming or other powerful software driven experience on, this is a really great option if you’re not on a strict, low budget. A built-in monitoring system allows you to monitor and easily adjust CPU and coolant temps, and fan speeds.
The Corsair Hydro Series H115i Extreme is equipped with a 280MM radiator, truly built for performance. This model boasts quieter operation than most liquid CPU Coolers as well.
- Looks really cool installed
- Highly efficient and quiet for a liquid CPU Cooler
- Improved cold plate and pump design
- A bit more difficult to install and setup than an air system
- Doesn’t currently support AM4
Arctic Liquid Freezer 240
Easily One of the Best Liquid CPU Cooler Systems
The Arctic Liquid Freezer240 is a low profile and low noise, dual fan liquid cooling system. It boasts a 240 x 120MM radiator which fits perfectly in almost any case along with its 4 x 120MM fans.
Additionally, the push-pull action; or configuration; provides some of the best heat dissipation possible with one of these systems.
- Highly effective at cooling the entire area surrounding the CPU
- Compatible with even small cases
- Relatively quiet but strong pump
- Louder than a comparably priced air cooler
- AM4 socket must be specially requested, or ordered
- Not the most attractive liquid system available
DEEPCOOL Gamer Storm CAPTAIN 240EX
One of the Best Water CPU Cooler
This impressive AIO water cooling system offers Silent tech TF 120 double fan blades which increase air pressure; and thus radiator efficiency; a great deal. This model’s upgrade from previous versions also includes a high-density water Micro-channel which is 10% more effective at dissipating heat away from the CPU and other parts.
- 10% more efficient than previous models
- Unique anti-explosion rubber tubing that is thermostable and anti-corrosion
- Excellent set up for gamers
- Cool LED display on fan fins
- Quiet for a liquid pump system
- More machine (and expense) than you need if you aren’t running high power software
- Relatively heavy at 3.2 lbs.
NZXT Kraken X61
Worth Checking Out as Well
The attractive and efficient NZXT Kraken X61 liquid cooling system offers the very first integrated variable speed pump; which is very convenient for those who aren’t so familiar with liquid systems and are a little shy to try them for the first time.
This model gets its power from a combination of several features, including; a high pressure, micro-fine copper coldplate, extended length cables, and 36% larger radiator. This increased surface area makes a huge difference!
- CAM Software (which is included) allows you to control the speed of your fans
- Fans are detailed with a vivid LED display which you can also control with CAM Software
- Easy to install and setup
- Not compatible with AM4
- Quite heavy at 4.1 lbs.
- A bit bulky if you have a small or crowded case
Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate
One of the Best CPU Water Coolers
The Thermaltake Water 3.0 is last on our list, but still definitely one of our favourite liquid CPU Coolers available on the market. Complete with a highly efficient radiator, durable cables/tubing and a heavy performing waterblock, the Thermaltake Water 3.0 is pretty impressive.
This model is perfect for computer building enthusiasts on the hunt for a unique and aesthetic liquid cooling system that is simple to use and highly efficient for running powerful software programs. 120MM radiator fans provide super effective cooling measures via their high static pressure design.
- 12 LED RGB 256 color fans which provide an impressive display
- Remote control for fan mode, speed, and play/pause
- High static pressure fans are quieter than other radiator fans
- Copper cold plate is interrupted with screws
- Louder than a similar priced air cooler system