Don’t underestimate the best CPU cooler when you’re putting together or upgrading your PC. Whether you’re multitasking, editing videos, or playing the latest AAA titles, your computer and all its components need to stay cool. And, that requires a robust cooling solution such as these coolers.
From your motherboard and processor to that graphics card that you spend so much on, you want to keep them safe and running at their optimum. But, the harder they’ve pushed the more heat they produce. And, that heat can really hurt your system.
If there’s too much heat, you might experience performance issues such as thermal throttling and performance slowdowns. And, more worryingly, if things get too hot, your components could fail or, in the worst-case scenario, catch fire. So, instead of going with the cheapest or easiest option, it’s critical for the life of your PC and its precious components to stay cool. That means getting a quality CPU cooler to keep temperatures under control no matter how much work your computer is doing. And, if you want to spice up your set up a little, you'll find some that come with RGB lighting.
So, don’t skimp on this part of your system, whether you’re upgrading or building a PC. Your computer will thank you by investing in a proper cooling solution. And, take a look at our guide on how to install a CPU cooler after you’ve bought that perfect CPU cooler for your system.
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.
The Corsair H100i Elite is a smaller form factor AIO cooler than its beefier H115i Elite Capellix cousin, but it's more than capable of keeping the best processors on the market running nice and cool under load. Compatible with both LGA 1700 and AM5 sockets, this cooler is ready for the next generation of desktop processors and offers enough cooling power to handle just about anything Intel and AMD can throw at it.
We say just about since the most powerful Intel Core i9 and AMD Ryzen 9 chips can run especially hot, and these chips often need a much more substantial 360mm AIO cooling unit to properly manage their thermals, so if you're looking at the Core i7 and Ryzen 7 chips or lower down the stack, this cooler is more than capable of getting you the cooling you need.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
Why you can trust TechRadar Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
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.