Last updated: Tuesday, July 17, 2018
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 all important 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 will have to take into account your specific configurations, we’ve written some guidelines to help you on your way. Let’s get started!
Zoom Out: Comparison Table of the 10 Best CPU Coolers
Here is our comparison chart of the top picks for this year. For detailed information, check out our ‘Zoom In’ section for detailed information on each unit.
|Cooler Master Hyper 212||Fan and Heatsink||600-1600 RPM|
|DEEPCOOL GAMMAXX 400||Fan and Heatsink||900-1500 RPM|
|CRYORIG H7 Tower Cooler||Fan and Heatsink||330-1600 RPM|
|MSI Core FROZR L/a>||Fan and Heatsink||500-1800 RPM|
|Noctua NH-U14S||Fan and Heatsink||300-1500 RPM|
|ARCTIC Liquid Freezer 120||Liquid||500-1350 RPM|
|CORSAIR Hydro Series H60||Liquid||600-1700 RPM|
|DeepCool Gamer Storm||Liquid||600-2200 RPM|
|Cooler Master MasterAir Maker 8||Fan and Heatsink||600-1800 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.
Most folks will focus on getting that powerful CPU and GPU. Certainly, that is step 1 to having a rig that can handle all the latest games and then some. But a lot of people forget about the all important step #2: ensuring the CPU and GPU stay cool with running for prolonged periods of time.
While most computer parts are manufactured with heat reduction in mind, there is no effective 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 utilizes CPU fans due to their efficiency and inexpensiveness. These fans work alongside a heat sink. A heat sink absorbs the heat from critical energy producing components. A CPU fan then kicks in to dissipate the heat and provide ventilation.
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 as an added bonus liquid cooling setups just plain look cool. 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 really necessary for everyday users. That said, power users and overclockers are probably going to want the extra heat reduction that liquid cooling offers. Some gamers don’t want the hassle of installing a liquid setup but many of the best CPU liquid coolers are easy enough to integrate with standard builds.
Proponents of air CPU coolers do point out liquid cooling is more maintenance heavy. For example, liquid coolers are prone to rusting 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 won’t need to change the liquid itself.
At it’s 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 is funneled to the water or cooling agent. Here the heat is cycled through the liquid until it cools. This symbiotic process continues as the microchips and PC parts continue generating electrical energy.
Making Your Choice
The best CPU cooler for your project will match your needs to a T, so to speak. Extra power never hurt anybody (well…), but meeting the demands of your rig is the most important factor in choosing a CPU cooler. Lucky for us computer geeks, there are a plethora of options out there!
Furthermore, no matter which route you take, 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 the parts as much as possible; 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, we’ll say it again: it’s all about finding the right cooler for you. Where to start? Let’s check out some of the best CPU coolers on the market.
Zoom In: 10 Best CPU Coolers of 2018
Consumer Rating: 4.8/5
- Comes with wonderful instructions, a heat sink, and all the components needed to get up and running quickly.
- Quiet and effective: the large 150mm design utilizes premium components including powerful 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 certain to meet all your needs.
Consumer Rating: 4.3/5
- With a cutting edge water pump, a 49mm radiator, and 2 high airflow fans, this is the best liquid cooling system, unrivalled in price and performance,
- Compatible with virtually all PC cases offering a 120mm fan mounting option.
- Fantastic heat dissipation from this all-in-one solution.
- While certainly one of the best AIO water coolers, the fans on the Arctic 120 may need upgrading. Fortunately, they’re not difficult to swap should the need arise.
Verdict: The Arctic Liquid Freezer is the best AIO cooler at such an incredible price.
Consumer Rating: 4.3/5
- 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 refilled 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 an incredibly well rounded cooling system. The H60 is the best liquid cooler considering its fantastic price point and versatility.
Consumer Rating: 4.6/5
- The unique fin system provides optimal airflow, turbulence reduction, and incredible heat dissipation.
- Copper heat pipes give the H7 better heat distribution and superior performance.
- Economically viable; fantastic quality and great bang for the buck make the H7 one of the best air coolers across the board.
- Fairly large fan; can prove difficult 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.
Consumer Rating: 4.3/5
- Universal socket compatibility makes this affordable cooler the goto for almost any budget conscious user.
- 4 copper heatpipes in direct contact with the CPU maximize heat dispersement at a rapid pace.
- Built with high quality materials often found in high end models. And it looks awesome to boot!
- Purely an air cooling system, but the Gammaxx does it well. Very 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.
Consumer Rating: 4.4/5
- One of the first products to offer emerging 3D Vapor Chamber technology, this cooler will put you ahead of the curve.
- 8 heatpipes and a huge heat sink for incredible performance.
- Designed with the hardcore gamer in mind, the Maker 8 is the best CPU cooler for gaming.
- Fairly expensive cooling system but worth the investment for hardcore gamers. The performance is unparalleled.
Verdict: The MasterAir Maker 8 is not only a cooling powerhouse for gaming, it’s arguably one of the best fans for cooling. Period.
Consumer Rating: 4.4/5
- The Hyper 212 is not only one of the best selling coolers on the market, it’s one of the best budget CPU coolers. And it doesn’t sacrifice on performance.
- Several direct contact heatpipes 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 materials are of a slightly lesser quality and must be thoughtfully maintained.
Verdict: A fantastic CPU cooler designed for the conscious user. Provides an unbeatable deal given overall performance and style.
Consumer Rating: 4.2/5
- Flexible design with universal socket compatibility makes it a breeze to install.
- Thermaltake’s radiator, waterblock, and pump are efficiently crafted with high performance parts designed to withstand intense heat.
- Curved fans that run at speeds up to 2000rpm for superior heat dissipation.
- 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.
Consumer Rating: 4.2/5
- Certainly one of the sexiest coolers on the market, this beauty is powerful and stunning.
- Silent double blade fan helps create a superior circulation system capable of delivering over 10% better heat circulation.
- All-in-one design makes this the best closed loop CPU cooler at such an affordable price point.
- Take your time with the installation as leaks have been reported due to rough handling.
Verdict: The DeepCool Gamer Storm is another great offering in the Captain EX series. One of the best AIO water coolers; many higher end features are thrown into this gorgeous unit.
Consumer Rating: 4.4/5
- Crafted with quality materials, the Frozr L incorporates MSI’s award winning 120mm fan design for powerful cooling.
- A copper base and superior thermal compound allow for great heat dissipation.
- The design is specifically configured to fit many rigs. This includes both Intel and AMD.
- The cooler is large and may prove a tight fit for many builds; modifications may be necessary.
Verdict: While the design is wonderful and the price is right, the FrozR L doesn’t contain any breathtaking features. Still, a solid design all around makes this one of the best CPU coolers.