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Best CPU cooler 2021: top CPU coolers for your PC

A CPU cooler on a light blue background
Check out the best CPU coolers for 2021. (Image credit: Future)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

You need one of the best CPU coolers to keep your processor chill. It doesn’t matter how powerful your gaming PC is. From kitted-out machines to budget builds, motherboards, graphics cards, and processors all generate a lot of heat, and they all can easily falter when being pushed to the limits and their temperatures get too hot. That means you can’t skimp on your cooling solution if you want to get the most out of your computer’s performance.

It’s no fun witnessing your processor slow down as it goes through thermal throttling because it’s gotten too hot inside the chassis. It’s even worse if it catches fire, which can happen if you’re not careful. Having a quality CPU cooler will ensure that CPU you’ve just spent your hard-earned money on, especially when you plan on overclocking it. If you’re an RGB fan, you’ll also appreciate that some come with stunning RGB lighting built-in.

Whether you’re building a PC or upgrading your existing one, make sure that the processor inside stays nice and frosty. Invest in and install a quality CPU cooler. We’ve gathered our top picks here for you, as well as our price comparison tool to help you score the best price available.

Noctua NH-D15 at an angle on a white background

Image Credit: Noctua

1. Noctua NH-D15

Best CPU cooler

Specifications
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)
Reasons to buy
+Whisper quiet+Six-year manufacturer’s warranty
Reasons to avoid
-Too big for some PC builds

The Noctua NH-D15 is one of the best CPU coolers you can buy in 2019 simply because it performs just as well as – if not better – than some liquid coolers, while costing a fraction of the price. You might not be too familiar with Noctua’s name, as they’re relatively small in the CPU cooler world, but its business is revolves around designing coolers, so you know that when you buy one of their products, you’re getting a product by people who really know their craft. On top of delivering a fantastic cooling performance, the NH-D15 is nearly silent as well. 

Cooler Master Hyper 212 RGB Black Edition with its RGB lighting on at an angle on a white background

(Image credit: Cooler Master)

2. Cooler Master Hyper 212 RGB Black Edition

Better than ever before

Specifications
Type: Fan and heatsink
Compatibility: Intel LGA 1150 – LGA 2066; AMD AM2 – AM4, FM1 – FM2+
Rotation frequency: 650 - 2,000 RPM
Noise volume: 8 - 30 dBA
Dimensions (W x D x H): 120 x 79.6 x 158.8 mm
Weight: 1.54 pounds (700g)
Reasons to buy
+Improved performance+Easy installation+Quiet fan
Reasons to avoid
-RGB lighting just ok

Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 CPU RGB cooler is back with a vengeance, and sporting a sleek gun-metal black brushed aluminum finish to boot. It’s not only jet black look that’s upping this CPU cooler’s cool factor – though it does help what with that aluminum top cover and nickel plated jet black fins to complete the look. It’s also easily one of the best CPU coolers on the market with its stacked fin array that ensures least airflow resistance, four heat pipes that boast Direct Contact Technology to better battle the heat, and a wide speed range for fine-tuning cooling performance and silent operation.

Noctua NH-L9 at an angle on a white background

Image Credit: Noctua

3. Noctua NH-L9

Best low-profile CPU cooler

Specifications
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)
Reasons to buy
+Ultra compact+Six-year manufacturer’s warranty
Reasons to avoid
-Only 92mm fan

Noctua is an Austrian manufacturer that does one thing, and one thing only: make the best CPU coolers and fans. What this means is that even though the Noctua NH-L9 is tiny, it is still more than capable of insane cooling with no compromises. This is a fantastic cooler for anyone with a smaller build, or even if you’re using a ton of large components, and you’re not comfortable with liquid cooling.

NZXT Kraken Z-3 at an angle on a white background

(Image credit: NZXT)

4. NZXT Kraken Z-3

Personalize your all-in-one liquid cooler

Specifications
Type: Fan and heatsink
Compatibility: Intel Socket LGA 1151 – 2066, Intel Core i9 / Core i3 – i7, AMD Socket AM4, TR4, AMD Ryzen 3 – Ryzen Threadripper
Rotation frequency: 500-1,800 + 300 RPM
Noise volume: 21-38dBA
Dimensions (W x D x H): 143 x 315 x 30mm
Reasons to buy
+Total customization+Superior performance
Reasons to avoid
-Premium price

Whether you’re going for 360MM or 280MM, the NZXT Kraken Z-3 is an excellent choice if you’re looking for liquid cooling. First of all, thanks to its vibrant 2.36-inch LCD screen that’s capable of displaying 24-bit color, this liquid cooler allows total customization so you can fine-tune settings as well as display your favorite images and animated gifs. More importantly, it delivers impressive liquid cooling performance and is easy to install. 

Corsair iCUE H115i Elite Capellix with its RGB lighting on at an angle on a white background

(Image credit: Corsair)

5. Corsair iCUE H115i Elite Capellix

Brighter is better

Specifications
Type: Liquid cooling system
Compatibility: Intel 1200, 1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, 1366, 2011, 2066, AMD AM4, AM3, AM2, sTRX4, sTR4
Rotation frequency: Up to 2,000
Noise volume: 36dBA
Dimensions (W x D x H): 322 x 137 x 27mm
Reasons to buy
+Insane performance +Brighter RGB lighting
Reasons to avoid
-Only minor improvement over predecessor

The Corsair iCUE H115i Elite Capellix continues Corsair’s tradition of outstanding liquid coolers. It couples excellent cooling, thanks to its split-flow copper cold plate and its low-noise centrifugal pump, with bright RGB lighting, due to the use of Capellix LEDs. And, the RGB lighting is, in true Corsair style, customizable through the company’s proprietary iCue software. If you want a powerful liquid cooling system that looks good too, the Corsair iCUE H115i Elite is a perfect choice.

Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240P Mirage with its RGB lighting on at an angle on a white background

(Image credit: Cooler Master)

6. Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240P Mirage

Cool and hypnotic

Specifications
Type: Liquid cooling
Compatibility: Intel LGA 775 – LGA 2066; AMD AM2 – AM4, FM1 – FM2+
Rotation frequency: up to 2000 ±10% RPM
Noise volume: 27dbA
Dimensions (W x D x H): 277 x 120 x 27 mm
Weight: 2.11 pounds (1,237g)
Reasons to buy
+Threadripper support+Gorgeous RGB lighting
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey

With the Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML240P Mirage in your gaming rig, you won’t only end up playing for hours on end without worrying about thermal throttling or overheating. You might just an hour or so admiring your CPU, especially if you have one of those glass-window cases, as this CPU cooler is indeed hypnotically pretty. It’s mostly thanks to its transparent pump design that lets you see the impeller spinning while bathed in different RGB lighting, like a colorful spinning wheel at a funhouse. Performance-wise, it definitely deserves a spot in our best CPU coolers list, with its PPS+ glass fiber housing and nozzle that provides temperature and liquid resistance, EPDM rubber O-Ring that helps eliminate liquid emission, and a low-resistance radiator that increases flow rate, heat exchange efficiency and cooling performance.

Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML120R RGB with its RGB lighting on at an angle on a white background

Image Credit: Cooler Master

7. Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML120R RGB

The best compact liquid cooler

Specifications
Type: Liquid cooling system
Compatibility: Intel LGA 775 – LGA 2066; AMD AM2 – AM4, FM1 – FM2+
Rotation frequency: Up to 2000 RPM
Noise volume: 6dbA – 30dbA
Dimensions (W x D x H): 83.6 x 71.8 x 52.7mm
Reasons to buy
+ Luminous RGB lighting + Premium build 
Reasons to avoid
- A little expensive 

There isn’t a single component that can’t be improved through RGB, and Cooler Master is well aware – jumping on the RGB bandwagon with the MasterLIquid ML 120R RGB. What’s more, it integrates some of the first addressable LEDs seen on a liquid cooler. This all-in-one liquid cooling solution isn’t just about aesthetics – it features an oxidation free pump and an efficient radiator. This means that not only will it last longer – but it’ll keep your CPU cooler, and all without giving up too much case real estate, which is why it’s made our best CPU coolers list.

Arctic Liquid Freezer II 120 at an angle on a white background

(Image credit: Arctic)

8. Arctic Liquid Freezer II 120

A multi-compatible all-in-one

Specifications
Type: Fan and liquid cooling
Compatibility: Intel 1200, 115X, 2011-3*, 2066* *Square ILM; AMD AM4
Rotation frequency: 200 – 1 800 RPM
Noise volume: 0.3 Sone
Dimensions (W x D x H): 157 x 120 x 38 mm (radiator), 98 x 78 x 53 mm (pump)
Weight: 932 g
Reasons to buy
+Strong performance+Easy mounting on Intel
Reasons to avoid
-Single radiator fan

You’re getting your cool plate, radiator, and pump in one with the Arctic Liquid Freezer II 120, but that’s not all. Its pump clocks down to consume 80% less power and produce much less noise when cooling isn’t vital, and its water loop is practically maintenance-free, sealed with fibre-reinforced EPDM tubing. Plus, it’s easy to mount and very affordable, making it among the best value CPU coolers in the market today.

Corsair Hydro Series H5 SF at an angle on a white background

Image Credit: Corsair

9. Corsair Hydro Series H5 SF

Best low-profile CPU liquid-cooler

Specifications
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)
Reasons to buy
+Guaranteed leak-free tubing+Compact, all-in-one form factor
Reasons to avoid
-Blower style cooler

Even if your budget will allow you to really go all-out on a serious liquid cooling solutions, if you have a smaller PC case, you’ll likely not have enough space. That’s where something like the Corsair Hydro H5 SF comes into play. Even on the smallest PC cases, you’re able to use this CPU cooler to keep your CPU chilled, even if you have some beastly overclocks happening. Plus, because it’s a closed loop, you don’t even need to worry about maintenance. Set it up, and let it do its thing – you won’t be disappointed. 

NoFan CR-95C at an angle on a white background

Image Credit: NoFan

10. NoFan CR-95C

Best fanless CPU cooler

Specifications
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)
Reasons to buy
+You won’t hear a peep+Works well with low-power CPUs
Reasons to avoid
-Exorbitantly massive-95W TDP limitation

Rounding out our best CPU coolers list is the NoFan CR-95C. You’ve probably never heard of NoFan – unless you’re already neck deep into the rabbit hole that is silent PC assembly. The South Korean component company specializes in helping enthusiasts reach that 0dBA silent sweet spot. In doing so, of course, will severely limit your set-up 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 if you want to build a low-power computer that completely blends into the background.

  •  This Product is only available in the US at the time of this writing. UK and Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Noctua NH-L9 

MasterLiquid ML360 Sub-Zero at an angle on a white background

(Image credit: CoolerMaster)

11. MasterLiquid ML360 Sub-Zero

Best CPU cooler for overclocking

Specifications
Type: Liquid cooler
Compatibility: LGA1200
Noise volume:
Dimensions (W x H x D): 394 x 119.6 x 27.2 mm radiator, 57.3 x 57.3 x 92.2 mm pump, 120 x 120 x 25 mm fan
Reasons to buy
+For Intel’s high-TDP chips+Has a condensation barrier
Reasons to avoid
-Loud pump

Powered by Intel’s Cryo Cooling Technology, the MasterLiquid ML360 Sub-Zero from Cooler Master allows increased performance for Intel’s high-TDP chips by letting them reach higher frequencies at lower voltages. This liquid cooler boasts a 360mm radiator and fans that are able to spin at low rpm while delivering a high air pressure to air flow ratio. Whether you’re a hardcore gamer who loves to overclock or a content creator with demanding processing needs, this is the best CPU cooler for you.

What is the most effective CPU cooler?

When it comes to cooling your CPU, there are a lot of factors at play when determining what the most effective CPU cooler for your chip and for your case will be. If you just care about keeping your temperatures down, and you don't really care about how much it will cost, something like the Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML360 Sub-Zero will be super effective. 

On the other hand, there are plenty of air coolers out there like the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo that can keep your CPU cool without costing an arm or a leg, and it's even pretty easy to install.

Do I need a CPU cooler?

CPUs generate a ton of heat, and so every single CPU out there is going to need a cooler. There will be some that will simply come with one and that'll be fine for low-to-mid range parts, but when you start going for more expensive parts (or anything by Intel) you're going to have to buy one of the best CPU coolers.

Is liquid cooling better for CPU?

Yes and no. It's true that what you'll see the pro overclockers out there use is elaborate water cooling loops, and they are frankly fantastic at keeping temperatures low. But when it comes to something you can buy off of store shelves, it's a little more complicated than that. 

If you want something that's going to rival the cooling of a custom water cooling loop out of an all-in-one liquid CPU cooler, you're going to have to shell out for something with a 280mm or 360mm radiator. But for a lot of people that's going to be a bit overkill, and you might not even have space for it in your machine. 

You also run into longevity issues. Custom loops are great because you can keep them maintained, but most AIO loops are something that you'll buy and use until it burns out, and then you'll have to replace the whole thing. An air-based CPU cooler like the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo or the Noctua NH-D15 will keep your CPU just as cool as a 120mm or even some 240mm liquid coolers, and we have never had to replace one. 

Jackie Thomas

Jackie Thomas (Twitter) is TechRadar's US computing editor. She is fat, queer and extremely online. Computers are the devil, but she just happens to be a satanist. If you need to know anything about computing components, PC gaming or the best laptop on the market, don't be afraid to drop her a line on Twitter or through email.