Not everyone has the desktop real estate for a full-sized tower. Others may have the space, but prefer a cleaner, more minimalist approach to PC building. If you hope to keep the footprint small, you’re probably considering a MicroATX or Mini-ITX PC case. It’s not the size of the PC that matters, after all, it’s the components you put in it. That’s why today we are going to take a look at the best low profile CPU coolers currently available.
That said, you do need to consider how you’ll fit all those components. This can be frustrating even at the best of times, but it’s nigh on impossible if you’re using a CPU cooler with a giant radiator or a massive fin stack.
Don’t worry. We rounded up eight of the best low-profile CPU coolers of 2020 to make it easy for you to find the perfect fit for your system.
Zoom In: 8 Best Low Profile CPU Coolers for Gaming
Starting with the top pick, let’s work our way through the top low-profile CPU coolers on the market.
1. Noctua NH-L9
The best low-profile CPU cooler overall
Manufacturer: Noctua | Type: Air | Dimensions: 95 x 95 x 37mm | Compatibility: Intel 115x or AM4 | Warranty: 6-year | Price: 💰💰
Our top pick for the best low-profile CPU cooler probably doesn’t surprise anyone. Noctua is known for making the best computer fans on the, and the NH-L9 continues that trend, keeping your CPU temps nice and frosty.
Noctua makes different versions of the L9, depending on whether you need fixtures for AMD or Intel-based sockets. The Noctua NH-L9A fits on AM4 sockets, while the Noctua NH-L9i works with Intel LGA1150, 51, 55, and 56 sockets. The L9i is definitely the one to get if you’re trying to find the best low-profile CPU cooler for the i7 8700k.
The Noctua NH-L9 is small, even for a low-profile CPU cooler. That said, it achieves temps that are more than competitive with other coolers on the market since it makes such efficient use of its minimal footprint. The biggest issue Noctua fans have been struggling with over the years is the company’s baffling insistence on maintaining their horrendous brown and tan color scheme. Aesthetics shouldn’t be anyone’s first priority when choosing computer parts, but there’s a limit to what people are willing to tolerate.
Luckily, both the AMD and Intel variants of the cooler are finally offered in a blackout edition. You can get the cool, quiet fans you’ve been dreaming of without having to cover your glass side panel in shame. You won’t find anything better in terms of raw performance at this price point.
2. NZXT Kraken M22
The best low-profile liquid CPU cooler
Manufacturer: NZXT | Type: Liquid | Dimensions: 152 x 120 x 32mm | Compatibility: Intel 115x & AM4 | Warranty: 3-year | Price: 💰💰💰
Just because you’re building a small form factor PC, doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the liquid cooling elite. Many SFF cases have sufficient space to add a 120mm radiator, and that’s all the space the NZXT Kraken M22 needs.
120mm AIO liquid coolers get a lot of flak in the community because they’re more expensive than most mid-range air coolers without being able to outperform them in heat tests. You usually need a larger radiator before you start to see liquid coolers blowing air cooler temps out of the water. The competition is a little different in an SFF case, though. There isn’t room for a giant fan stack or a giant radiator, so a 120mm might be a more viable option. It’s worth considering if you’re looking for the best low-profile CPU cooler for overclocking.
The M22 is pricy compared to most of the coolers on this list, but you start to see why when you take a look at the features the M22 offers. In addition to its superior cooling capabilities and quieter fan, it also features several advanced lighting modes. You can use NZXT’s CAM software to customize the lighting effects, including their own “infinite mirror” effect, which can give your PC a premium look. Pretty swanky.
3. Cryorig C7 Cu
The best high-end low-profile CPU cooler
Manufacturer: Cryorig / Type: Air / Dimensions: 97 x 97 x 47mm / Compatibility: Intel 115x & AM4 / Warranty: 6-year / Price: 💰💰💰💰
Copper is exceptionally good at conducting heat. It’s also very expensive. That’s why most coolers only incorporate copper into individual heat pipes instead of the entire heatsink.
But what if they didn’t?
Introducing the Cryorig C7 Cu. Though its design is nearly identical to Intel’s stock coolers, the C7 boasts a 40% increase in cooling performance — all thanks to its top-of-the-line copper construction and premium craftsmanship. It’s not half bad to look at either.
The biggest downside is the price, but at least you can see where your money’s going.
4. Be Quiet! Dark Rock TF
The best two-stack low-profile CPU cooler
Manufacturer: Be Quiet! / Type: Air / Dimensions: 162.5 x 140 x 131mm / Compatibility: Intel 115x & AM4 / Warranty: 3-year / Price: 💰💰💰
What’s better than one fan keeping your CPU cool? Two!
The Be Quiet! Dark Rock TF boasts two separate fin stacks with two separate 135mm fans, providing exceptional heat disbursement. Its funnel-like shape allows space for low profile RAM on SFF motherboards while maintaining superior fin-volume for heat dissipation. Not to mention, the larger-size fans keep things super quiet, though that shouldn’t be surprising given the brand.
As for our favorite feature? The blackout coloring on the fin stacks and copper piping give it a cool, industrial look without relying on flashy RGB.
That’s all well and good, but there are a few downsides to this cooler as well. First of all, it’s the most expensive CPU on this list. The price can be a tough pill to swallow, even with all the perks this cooler offers. Secondly, it’s massive. At 135mm in height, it barely qualifies as low profile despite the horizontal fan alignment. You have to be very careful to make sure the case you selected has room. Don’t squeeze it in if it’s too snug, as you don’t want the fan pressed up against the side panel, obstructing airflow.
5. Thermaltake Engine 27 1U
The best tiny low-profile CPU cooler
Manufacturer: Thermaltake / Type: Air / Dimensions: 91.5 x 91.5 x 27mm / Compatibility: Intel 115x / Warranty: 3-year / Price: 💰💰💰
At only 27mm tall, the Thermaltake Engine 27 1U is truly minuscule. This is all thanks to Thermaltake’s innovative design that incorporates the fan into the fin stack itself!
The fan is metal, and it’s contained within the fin stack like a turbine. This means the fan actually absorbs and helps dissipate heat generated by the CPU. It also means that the fan is incredibly quiet. The metal blades don’t whip through the air, generating noise like plastic ones. This unique design is as much a selling point for the cooler as its performance.
It doesn’t achieve the lowest temperatures on the block, but that’s mostly due to its incredibly small size. You would be hard-pressed to find any air cooler with this small a footprint, and even harder pressed to find one that can outperform it.
This little guy is a must for any Intel users who are tight on space, especially if they have an affinity for chrome.
6. Arctic Alpine 12
The best cheap low-profile CPU cooler
Manufacturer: Arctic / Type: Air / Dimensions: 95 x 95 x 77mm / Compatibility: Intel 115x / Warranty: 6-year / Price: 💰
Just because you want an upgrade over Intel’s stock cooler doesn’t necessarily mean you’re looking to spend big bucks on a new one. The Arctic Alpine 12 is a reliable choice for anyone looking to see a substantial increase in performance without breaking the bank.
It isn’t the prettiest, and it doesn’t achieve the same levels of performance as many of the coolers on this list — but it doesn’t need to. It’s compact and affordable. It also features tool-free installation and pre-applied thermal paste, so all you have to do is pop it on your motherboard and call it done.
It doesn’t get much easier than that.
7. Cooler Master MasterAir G100M
The best low-profile RGB CPU cooler
Manufacturer: Cooler Master / Type: Air / Dimensions: 145 x 145 x 74.5 mm / Compatibility: Intel 115x & AM4 / Warranty: 2-year / Price: 💰💰
Cooler Master is known for making budget items that are still competitive with premium brands. While their Hyper 212 Evo has been the air cooling budget-favorite for years, it’s not the most attractive model around.
That’s where the MasterAir G100M comes in. This bad boy has a much more aesthetically pleasing frame. It’s unique, dome-like design coupled with Cooler Master’s vibrant RGB fan blades gives the cooler a striking appearance that makes it stand out from others. It also comes with a wired controller that allows you to control the color and select the lighting mode. And you’ve got six pre-optimized choices: static, stars, cycle, breathing, cycle-breathing, and mirage.
Unfortunately, the MasterAir G100M doesn’t get temps as low as other coolers at this price point, and many users have reported that the fan makes a fair amount of noise. Also, the price isn’t competitive enough to drive customers who care more about performance to buy. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t function adequately. It’s still a big step up from most stock coolers. It just isn’t quite at the level of other coolers at this price point.
But hey, look how pretty it is!
8. AMD Wraith Prism
The best stock low-profile CPU cooler
Manufacturer: AMD / Type: Air / Dimensions: 136 x 159 x 96mm / Compatibility: AM4 / Warranty: 3-year / Price: 💰💰
The old guard of PC builders has a pretty negative opinion of stock coolers. They generally don’t even consider them as an option. But things have changed in recent years. AMD has been working hard to ensure that their stock coolers are part of the selling point for why people should buy team red.
The AMD Wraith Prism Cooler achieves respectable temperatures out of the box. It keeps your CPU cool enough that most users haven’t had trouble achieving some modest overclocking with the cooler’s partner CPU.
It’s not bad to look at either. The cooler comes with per-RGB LED control from the ring, which illuminates the transparent fan blades and can be controlled via the LED Control Utility. The software does require motherboard support, however. Fortunately, ASRock RGB LED, ASUS Aura Sync, Biostar VIVID LED DJ, Gigabyte RGB Fusion, and MSI Mystic Light all support it. It also interfaces with Razer Chroma.
The Wraith Prism could be a great way to save some money on a build if you were planning on going Ryzen 7 or 9, anyways.
Buyer’s Guide: Low-Profile CPU Cooler
Let’s go over what to look for when buying a new low-profile CPU cooler.
1. Socket Compatibility
The first thing to consider when purchasing a CPU cooler is what kind of CPU you plan on using. AMD and Intel utilize different sockets, so you need to make sure that whichever cooler you buy has the appropriate fixtures for it to attach correctly.
Modern AMD CPUs use the AM4 socket, while most modern Intel CPUs use LGA1150, LGA1151, LGA1155, or LGA1156. LGA115x supports all of these. Be sure to check the specifications on the cooler you plan to purchase to make sure that it will work on your CPU/motherboard.
Next, you need to think about what case you’re going to be housing everything in. While low-profile CPU coolers will work in larger cases, they’re not optimized for it. You normally buy low-profile CPU coolers to fit in MicroATX and Mini-ITX cases. Small form factor cases like these require smaller motherboards and have limited room for things like radiators and fin stacks.
Check the case’s specifications and find out how much room there is for a CPU cooler. You need to ensure that there’s enough vertical space between the motherboard and the side panel and between the cooler and your RAM.
3. Style & Price
Now that you’ve eliminated coolers that don’t support your CPU or case, consider your budget vs. your needs.
Think about what you want in a CPU cooler. Will your case have a glass side panel to show off stunning RGB? Are you thinking about overclocking and need to keep your CPU as cool as possible? Are you going to drop the big bucks and get something top of the line, or would you rather save your money and allocate it towards getting a beefier GPU?
Each use case is different, so it’s up to you to choose the cooler that’s best for your system.
Our Process: Rounding up the Best Low Profile CPU Coolers
For this guide on low-profile CPU coolers, our writers spent several hours researching over 25 of the most popular options from brands big and small. After comparing this data, we then read user reviews and narrowed our list down to the top 8 low-profile CPU coolers on the market. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.
We hope you’ve found the perfect model for your setup. Happy Gaming!