Buying the best CPU cooler may be the least of your concerns when building a computer, but it shouldn’t be. But once you’ve entered all of your parts into PCPartPicker to ensure optimal compatibility, it’s easy to start rethinking where you can afford to make compromises to your next, presumably expensive, DIY project.
Yet, the moment it’s decided that you’re opting for one of the latest high-end Intel Coffee Lake or AMD Ryzen processors, it’s abundantly clear that you’ll need only the best CPU cooler to go along with it. Otherwise, it’s increasingly necessary to replace the stock cooler that comes standard with every non-K-series Intel chip with a third-party cooler that does the job better.
So whether your CPU has six or eight – or fewer or more – cores, you’ll likely be disappointed by its performance with a stock cooler. That’s because an aftermarket CPU cooler, particularly of the liquid variety, can dramatically reduce both fan noise and running temps, lending itself to faster clock speeds when you’re overclocking and, in some cases, even when you’re not.
But we digress, clear of any influence from the companies that make them, below are the 7 best CPU coolers you can buy this year, liquid-, air- or passively cooled.
Best CPU cooler
Type: Fan and heatsink | Compatibility: Intel LGA 775 – LGA 2066; AMD AM2 – AM3+, FM1 – FM2+ | Rotation frequency: Up to 1500 RPM | Noise volume: 19.20dbA – 24.60dbA | Dimensions (W x D x H): 160 x 150 x 135mm | Weight: 2.91 pounds (1.32kg)
Although you may not be familiar with Noctua, this CPU cooler kicks off our list of the best CPU coolers with a compelling premise: that while it’s not a liquid cooling system, it works just as well if not better than some all-in-one loops. Noctua focuses solely on designing coolers, and just coolers, so this is one of the quietest concoctions you’ll find, not to mention it comes with a six-year warranty.
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
Best budget CPU cooler
Type: Fan and heatsink | Compatibility: Intel LGA 775 – 2066; AMD AM2 – AM3+, FM1 – FM3+ | Rotation frequency: Up to 2,000 RPM | Noise volume: 9dBA – 36dBA | Dimensions (W x D x H): 120 x 120 x 25mm | Weight: 1.26 pounds (0.57kg)
For $29 (£30, AU$43), the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo is one of the most affordable CPU coolers you can buy. Given, too, that most online stores offer a rebate on this fan and heatsink combo pack, the Hyper 212 EVO is a prodigious value. Although it only features four heatpipes and aluminum fin structure, this legendary CPU cooler has proven itself to be as efficient as liquid-coolers two-to-three times more expensive than it. These air-coolers are designed to make heat dissipation, quite literally, a breeze, whether you’re playing at max settings or watching YouTube videos in a web browser.
Best low-profile CPU cooler
Type: Fan and heatsink | Compatibility: Intel LGA 1156/1155/1151; AMD AM2/AM2+/AM3/FM1/FM2 | Rotation frequency: Up to 2500 RPM | Noise volume: 14.8dbA – 23.6dbA | Dimensions (W x D x H): 206 x 184 x 37mm | Weight: 1.03 pounds (0.47kg)
This CPU cooler is among one of the smallest we’ve ever used for our own Mini ATX builds. It come from an Austrian company as our best CPU cooler that specializes entirely in PC coolers and fans, which means no compromises are made in the way of quality assurance despite its low-profile form-factor.
NZXT Kraken X62
Best CPU liquid-cooler
Type: Liquid cooling system | Compatibility: Intel 2011 – 2066; AMD AM2 – AM4, FM1 – FM2+ | Rotation frequency: Up to 1,800 | Noise volume: 21dBA – 38dBA | Dimensions (W x D x H): 315 x 143 x 30mm | Weight: 3.2 pounds (1.45kg)
Known best for its cases, such as those produced in collaboration with Asus and Razer, you may be surprised to learn that NZXT’s CPU coolers are every bit as impressive as the hardware which encloses them. The Kraken X62 is no exception, being one of the few 280mm all-in-one liquid coolers to feature RGB lighting. Given that the radiator comes pre-attached and the thermal paste pre-applied, the NZXT Kraken x62 is awfully easy to set up too. The packed-in CAM software, which lets you tweak settings on the fly, is merely icing on the cake.
Arctic Liquid Freezer 120
Best budget liquid-cooler
Type: Liquid cooling system | Compatibility: Intel LGA 2011 – 2066; AMD AM2 – AM3+, FM1 – FM2 | Rotation frequency: Up to 1350 RPM | Noise volume: 22.5dBA | Dimensions (W x D x H): 120 x 120 x 25mm | Weight: 2.65 pounds (1.2kg)
For less than 70 big ones in both US dollars and British sterling, the Arctic Liquid Freezer 120 is a deal you can’t pass up if you’re on the prowl for a liquid cooler that won’t break the bank. While it lacks the bells and whistles of pricier, more extravagant liquid coolers, like the NZXT Kraken, the Arctic Liquid cooler is enough to get you by, not to mention it’s still a massive step up from the classic fan and heatsink pairing. So, while you can’t expect RGB lighting or software – or even hardware-based fan control, the 120mm variant of the Arctic Liquid Freezer will keep your system refrigerated at a (mostly) quiet volume.
Corsair Hydro Series H5 SF
Best low-profile CPU liquid-cooler
Type: Liquid cooling system | Compatibility: Intel LGA 115x; AMD FM2 – FM2+ | Rotation frequency: Up to 1,800 RPM | Noise volume: 36dBA – 42dBA | Dimensions (W x D x H): 167 x 57 x 84mm | Weight: 2 pounds (0.91kg)
Even if you have a budget that allows for some of the more serious liquid cooling solutions, even some of the sweetest PC cases don’t permit the sheer mass of a bulkier, dual-fan or even a single 120mm radiator. That’s where the Hydro Series H5 SF proves building small doesn doesn’t mean you have to give up on liquid cooling. NZXT Kraken X62
Best fanless CPU cooler
Type: Passively cooled heatsink | Compatibility: Intel LGA 775 – 1156; AMD AM2 – AM3+; FM1 | Noise volume: 0dBA | Dimensions (W x H x D): 180 x 148 x 180mm | Weight: 1.6 pounds (0.73kg)
Unless you’re already neck deep in the rabbit hole that is silent PC assembly, you’ve probably never heard of NoFan, a South Korean component company that specializes in helping enthusiasts reach that 0dBA silent sweet spot. In doing so, of course, you can count on severely limiting yourself in terms of power, with its CR-95C fanless solution being limited in compatibility to processors whose TDP fall below 95W. Still, the NoFan CR-95C is worth a shot for those sporting low-power rigs that prioritize tranquility over raw horsepower.