Choosing the best CPU cooler for any given build is no easy task. Air or liquid? Where should I place it? This brand, or that one?
These are all essential questions without a simple answer. However, the right cooler combined with good cooling practices will allow you to make the most of all your processing power. And while the best CPU cooler for your build varies, we’ve written some guidelines to help you on your way. Let’s get started!
Note that the products discussed here are independently chosen by our editors. At no extra cost to you, HGG may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
- 1 Zoom Out: Comparison Table of the 10 Best CPU Coolers
- 2 CPU Cooler Guide Part I: What are CPU Coolers?
- 3 CPU Cooler Guide Part II: Types of CPU Coolers
- 4 CPU Cooler Guide Part III: How to Maintain CPU Coolers
- 5 CPU Cooler Guide Part IV: How to Install a CPU Cooler
- 6 Zoom In: A Closer Look at the 10 Best CPU Coolers in 2021
Zoom Out: Comparison Table of the 10 Best CPU Coolers
Here is our comparison chart of the top picks for this year. For more information and in-depth specs, check out our ‘Zoom In’ section below.
|DEEPCOOL GAMMAXX 400||Fan and Heatsink||900-1500 RPM|
|Cooler Master Hyper 212||Fan and Heatsink||600-1600 RPM|
|ARCTIC Freezer Xtreme||Fan and Heatsink||800-1500 RPM|
|MSI Core FROZR L||Fan and Heatsink||500-1800 RPM|
|Noctua NH-U14S||Fan and Heatsink||300-1500 RPM|
|CORSAIR Hydro Series H60||Liquid||600-1700 RPM|
|CRYORIG H7 Tower Cooler||Fan and Heatsink||330-1600 RPM|
|Cooler Master MasterAir Maker 8||Fan and Heatsink||600-1800 RPM|
|DeepCool Gamer Storm||Liquid||600-2200 RPM|
|Thermaltake WATER 3.0 Dual Riing RGB||Liquid||1000-2000 RPM|
CPU Cooler Guide Part I: What are CPU Coolers?
CPU Coolers, or central processing unit coolers, remove the excess heat generated by computer components. This ensures that a computer maintains an acceptable temperature; too much heat and your CPU will be damaged. Naturally, more powerful coolers are required for more powerful computers. If you’re looking for better overall performance, a good CPU cooler is a necessary investment.
People often focus on their CPU and GPU, with little thought for much else. While that is step #1 to building a rig that can handle all the latest and greatest games, there are other considerations. Namely, the all-important step #2: ensuring the CPU and GPU stay cool while running for prolonged periods.
While most computer parts are manufactured with heat reduction in mind, there is no practical way to remove all the generated heat without a separate unit. Enter CPU coolers. The best CPU coolers effectively cool your PC. Air and liquid cooling are currently the two most prominent methods as they offer powerful cooling technology at a reasonable price.
CPU Cooler Guide Part II: Types of CPU Coolers
Here’s a quick overview of the two common types of CPU coolers.
The most common form of CPU cooling is air cooling. Air cooling uses CPU fans due to their efficiency and inexpensiveness. These fans work alongside a heat sink, which absorbs the heat from critical energy-producing components. The rig gets too hot, and the CPU fan kicks in to dissipate the heat and provide ventilation. Easy!
This is by far the most common and versatile option. Air cooling is the preferred method for the vast majority of users, and the best CPU air coolers are versatile enough to handle more strenuous processing.
Liquid CPU coolers offer better performance, are much quieter, and look really cool. In fact, liquid cooling may conjure up the image of hardcore techies running those crazy builds. Why? Because while liquid cooling does a great job, it’s not necessary for everyday users. That said, power users and overclockers may want the extra heat reduction that liquid cooling offers. And though many gamers don’t want the hassle of installing a liquid setup, many of the best CPU liquid coolers are easy enough to integrate with standard builds.
Proponents of air CPU coolers do point out that liquid cooling is more maintenance heavy. For example, liquid coolers are prone to rust and/or leakage over time. Fortunately, most liquid CPU coolers are closed-looped systems, and the liquid is made to last until the pump goes out. So you don’t need to worry about changing the fluid itself.
At its core, liquid cooling incorporates the principle of thermodynamics. In other words, heat moves from warmer objects to cooler objects. The energy generated from the computer gets funneled to the water or cooling agent, where ’it’s processed and cooled. This process continues as the microchips and PC parts keep generating electrical energy.
Making Your Choice
The best CPU cooler for your project must match your needs, as meeting the demands of your rig is the essential factor in choosing a CPU cooler. Lucky for us computer nerds, there are a plethora of options out there (we’ll get to that in a minute).
But regardless of which cooler you choose, there are some healthy practices to keep in mind when working with CPU cooling systems.
CPU Cooler Guide Part III: How to Maintain CPU Coolers
No matter which cooling system you choose, here are our top 3 tips maximizing efficiency:
- Keep it clean.
Dust and other particles will hinder the performance of your CPU’s components, including your cooler. PC Gamer has created a comprehensive cleaning guide that covers all the bases.
- Ensure optimal airflow.
Optimal airflow and channel routing allow for the proper disbursement of heat. Separate all parts as much as possible, and leave room for everything to breathe, from your motherboard to the main chassis.
- Choose the best cooling system for your build.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: it’s all about finding the right cooler for you.
CPU Cooler Guide Part IV: How to Install a CPU Cooler
Installing a CPU cooler can be tricky if you’re not technically inclined. Fortunately, there are a ton of excellent guides out there that can get you up and running in no time.
We’ve pulled the following video from Cryorig over on Youtube. He goes over the installation process of the H7 Cooler Tower from our top 10 list of best CPU coolers. All you’ve got to do is follow along with your own cooler. Just don’t forget the thermal paste!
You can check out the video below:
Zoom In: A Closer Look at the 10 Best CPU Coolers in 2021
Next, let’s take a closer look at each of the 10 options from the table above. They all offer different advantages, and we’ve laid out the pros and cons of each unit.
If you’re looking for a sleek CPU cooler, the DeepCool is all that and more. This universal 120mm PWN fan comes with 4 powder heat pipes that fit into any compatible Intel or AMD socket. The result? Exceptional cooling performance. Oh yeah — and the integrated blue LED is sure to liven up your entire setup.
- Universal socket compatibility makes this affordable cooler the goto for any budget-conscious user.
- 4 copper heat pipes in direct contact with the CPU maximize heat disbursement at a rapid pace.
- Built with high-quality materials often found in high-end models. And it looks fantastic to boot!
- Purely an air cooling system. But, the Gammaxx does it well.
Verdict: The DeepCool Gammaxx 400 is a sweet release from a reputable company. Astonishing features at a fraction of the cost makes this the best budget CPU cooler available.
The Cooler Master Hyper 212 is known as one of the most affordable and efficient CPU coolers on the market. It’s packed with 4 heat pipes, which maintain direct contact with your CPU for maximum dissipation. Best of all? It’s incredibly versatile and ready for easy installation on Intel and AMD sockets.
- Several direct contact heat pipes and dual fans offer powerful cooling features.
- The timeless design makes the Hyper 212 the best low profile CPU cooler at such a great price.
- The Hyper 212 is not only one of the best selling coolers on the market, it’s also one of the best budget CPU coolers. And it doesn’t sacrifice on performance.
- The materials are of slightly lesser quality and must be thoughtfully maintained.
Verdict: A fantastic CPU cooler designed for the conscious user. It provides an unbeatable deal given overall performance and style.
The ARCTIC Freezer Xtreme is an attractive all-in-one solution that delivers excellent cooling performance. Moreover, it’s a low noise model with 4 separate heat pipes, ensuring whisper-quiet heat disbursement and efficiency. Combine that with its quick install time, and you’re ready to play the most intensive games on max settings.
- Fantastic heat dissipation from this all-in-one solution.
- Low noise impeller ensures smooth quiet operation.
- Compatible with virtually all PC cases offering a 120mm fan mounting option.
- The airflow isn’t very directional, so you’ll need to ensure your unit is routed correctly.
Verdict: The ARCTIC Freezer Xtreme is among the best CPU coolers at such an incredible price.
MSI is known for its high-quality gadgets ranging from laptops to monitors and more. So you can be sure that the FrozR L Cooler is up to snuff. After all, it’s loaded with a 120mm fan and copper base for superior cooling and all-around performance. It’s also ultra adaptable, and ready for an Intel or AMD CPU right from the box.
- A copper base and superior thermal compound allow for excellent heat dissipation.
- Crafted with quality materials, the Frozr L incorporates MSI’s award-winning 120mm fan design for powerful cooling.
- The cooler is large and may prove a tight fit for many builds; modifications may be necessary.
- The cooler is large and may prove a tight fit for many builds.
Verdict: While the design is terrific, and the price is right, the FrozR L doesn’t contain any breathtaking features. Still, a robust design all around makes this one of the best CPU coolers.
The Noctua CPU Cooler is an award-winning fan that’s guaranteed to keep your unit at the optimal temperature. That’s because it spins at a record 1500 RPM, and boasts a slim design that balances performance and practicality — an exceptional choice for air cooling.
- Comes with concise instructions, a heat sink, and all the components needed to get up and running quickly.
- Quiet and capable: the large 150mm design utilizes premium components including robust fan pads and sturdy hardware.
- With a near-perfect consumer rating, you can rest assured this is one of the best CPU fans on the market.
- Large design will not work with many builds; be sure to check and compare your mount size against any potential cooler.
Verdict: The Noctua Single Tower CPU Cooler is arguably the best cooling fan on our list. Offering a superior experience at a great price, the Noctua Single Tower is sure to meet all your needs.
If you’re seeking one of the best AIO liquid coolers, look no further than the Corsair H60. This new and improved model features enhanced micro-fin copper cold plates for never before seen heat dissipation and all-around performance. Moreover, its low profile and quiet operation ensure an excellent fit for any rig.
- Quiet and balanced cooling thanks to cutting edge engineering and quality components.
- Copper thermal plate for superior cooling; comes with thermal compound already applied for faster installation.
- Self-contained cooling system that never needs refilling makes the H60 the best liquid CPU cooler for permanent builds.
- While Corsair went through great lengths to make the installation hassle-free, the design isn’t totally user-friendly.
Verdict: Corsair designed the H60 to be a well rounded cooling system. The H60 is the best liquid cooler considering its fantastic price point and versatility.
A proprietary Fin System for total airflow optimization? Check. Air turbulence reduction and pure copper heat pipes? Check again. This model packs it all and is sure to provide the maximum cooling performance that your rig needs. Plus, it features Cryorig’s Jet Fin Acceleration System, a trademarked piece of tech that provides out of this world temperature control.
- Copper heat pipes give the H7 better heat distribution and superior performance.
- The unique fin system provides optimal airflow, turbulence reduction, and incredible heat dissipation.
- Economically viability combined with fantastic quality make the H7 one of the best air coolers across the board.
- Relatively large fan; can prove challenging to install.
Verdict: The Cryorig H7 Tower Cooler is the best air cooler CPU system at a reasonable price. Offering fantastic performance and proprietary technology, it’s a no brainer.
Cooler Master is known for their awesome PC accessories, and the MasterAir Maker 8 is no exception. This powerful cooler features 8 separate heat pipes and a giant heatsink to deliver the best performance possible. Not only that, it’s also got a 3D Vapor Chamber, which revolutionizes the cooling process for unrivaled cooling.
- 8 heat pipes and a huge heat sink offer incredible performance.
- Designed with the hardcore gamer in mind, Maker 8 is the best CPU cooler for gaming.
- One of the first products to offer emerging 3D Vapor Chamber technology, this cooler will put you ahead of the curve.
- Relatively expensive cooling system, but worth the investment for hardcore gamers.
Verdict: The MasterAir Maker 8 is not only a cooling powerhouse for gaming, it’s arguably one of the best fans for cooling all around.
If you’re looking for an easy installation process, the DeepCool Gamer Storm 240EX is just the ticket! This powerful AIO liquid cooler is ready to go right out of the box, and it works beautifully thanks to the high-density water microchannel with 10% better heat dissipation. It’s also packed with a proprietary silent double-blade fan and attractive design for top-notch ergonomics.
- One of the best AIO coolers on the market — this beauty is both powerful and stunning.
- All-in-one design makes this the best closed-loop CPU cooler at such an affordable price point.
- Silent double-blade fan helps create a superior circulation system capable of delivering over 10% better heat circulation.
- May need regular maintenance, as minor leaks have been noted by online reviewers
Verdict: The DeepCool Gamer Storm is another great offering in the Captain EX series. One of the best AIO water coolers with many high-end features.
Talk about a looker! The Thermaltake 3.0 is an AIO water cooling system that delivers style and performance. This is all thanks to the sleek rainbow LEDs, dual fans, smart controllers, and a copper base plate for maximum efficiency. Factor in Thermaltake’s commitment to quality, and you’re looking at the best CPU cooler for intense gaming.
- Flexible design with universal socket compatibility makes it a breeze to install.
- Curved fans that run at speeds up to 2000rpm offer superior heat dissipation.
- Thermaltake’s radiator, water block, and pump are crafted with high-performance parts designed to withstand intense heat.
- The fans can become noisy without proper maintenance.
Verdict: The Thermaltake Water 3.0 CPU cooler is the best water cooling system for those seeking a superior brand and user-friendly experience.