A Comprehensive CPU Coolers Buyers Guide
For many PC gamers, the stock cooling options that come bundled with their store-bought PC are good enough, especially if you’re not playing graphically-intensive games on a regular basis. Even if you build your own PC, the included fans and thermal grease that comes with your CPU is more than adequate for most setups. However, for a particular subset of PC gamers, the stock cooling options are lacking in power. For example, if you’re planning on overclocking your PC or cranking up the graphics to their maximum setting and playing for hours at a time, you need a better cooling solution. Knowing the ins and outs of the various aftermarket CPU coolers can help you choose one that is perfect for your needs.
What Is a CPU Cooler?
Simply put, a CPU cooler is a device designed to cool down your CPU. Because a CPU acts as the “brain” of your computer, it can reach scorching hot temperatures, especially during instances of heavy graphical load such as playing a modern PC game. When a CPU reaches temperatures of around 85 degrees, irreversible damage can occur, with the possibility of even a fire starting instead of your PC case! By directly cooling down your CPU, a CPU cooler is an invaluable hardware component, and as such, you’ll always find one within every modern PC. If you need a bit more cooling power, there are three primary types of CPU aftermarket coolers available: air, water and liquid.
An air-based CPU cooler is a fan that you install directly on top of the CPU, connected to it by a cable. When the CPU starts to heat up, the fan will kick in an attempt to bring the temperature down. The stronger the fan, the more load you can place on your CPU. Keep in mind that an air-based CPU cooler can only cool a CPU down so much, typically around 15 to 20 degrees.
It is possible to place such a heavy load on your CPU that an air-based cooler isn’t cut out for the job, like when you’re overclocking your CPU, and this is where water cooling comes in. In laymen’s terms, a water-based CPU cooler uses a series of tubes to transfer water to your CPU block, absorb the heat and then move the heated water away from the CPU. While most water-based CPU coolers only use distilled water, there are some liquid-based coolers which use stronger liquids, such as antifreeze solutions. With a water- or liquid-based CPU cooler, it’s possible to keep your PC at low temperatures even when running multiple PC games at one time or overclocking your CPU to an extremely high voltage.
Who Are CPU Coolers For?
In general, your average PC user will have no need for an aftermarket CPU cooler, as the stock options that come with most CPUs and PCs are fine for your basic computing tasks. Even the majority of PC gamers won’t need an aftermarket CPU cooler, provided they don’t play games for hours at a time and keep their PC out of the sun. Aftermarket CPU coolers are primarily for two types of PC users: hardcore PC gamers and overclocking enthusiasts.
The basic premise behind overclocking is to take stock hardware, such as a CPU, and force it to output more power beyond what the manufacturer designates. By doing this, you’re causing your CPU to generate much more heat than normal, which is why an aftermarket CPU cooler is essential. If you try overclocking on a stock cooler, you’re going to end up with a fried CPU.
As stated previously in this buying guide, most gamers won’t have any need for aftermarket CPU cooling systems. However, if you’re hardcore about your games and are the type of gamer to set your display settings to maximum and game for hours at a time, an aftermarket CPU cooler will help ensure that your CPU won’t overheat.
Are There Any Disadvantages To CPU Coolers?
While having an aftermarket CPU cooler provides a lot of advantages, there are two small disadvantages that buyers need to take note of when purchasing.
The first is that some air-based CPU coolers can increase the sound emanating from your computer, especially when the CPU is at maximum load. In a worst case scenario, an aftermarket air-based CPU cooler can sound similar to a jet engine when it’s at full power, which can not only break immersion when gaming but potentially annoy those around you. To counteract this, look to purchase an air-based CPU cooler with a large fan, as larger fans run at a lower RPM than smaller ones, thus keeping the noise of your air-based CPU cooler at a minimum.
The other disadvantage of a CPU cooler is that in most cases, they take up a considerable amount of space in your PC case. Whether you’re using an air- or liquid-based CPU cooler, you’re going to need an average-to-large PC case to accommodate these setups. In general, coolers taller than 160mm will not fit in an average-sized PC case. Some gamers with limited case space will need to make sacrifices when adding a CPU cooler; for example, adding a CPU cooler to your rig could stop you from adding hardware like a second graphics card due to space limitations. Ensure that you have enough room for both your CPU cooler and any future hardware additions before purchasing and installing one.
What Else Should I Keep In Mind When Buying a CPU Cooler?
One of the best parts about purchasing a CPU cooler is that, unlike other hardware components, you likely won’t need to upgrade it anytime soon. Both air- and liquid-based CPU coolers are compatible with a broad range of motherboard and CPU types, meaning that it’s one of the few pieces you can reuse when building a new PC. With this in mind, sometimes it’s better to spend a bit more and buy a high-end CPU cooler because you’ll potentially get a decade’s worth of use out of it.
If you’re using a liquid-based CPU cooler, it’s imperative that you clean it out every few months, especially if you’re using any liquid that isn’t water. It’s possible for fluid to harden in the tubes, which can cause blockages and leaks without routine cleaning.
Here’s Our List Of The Ten Best CPU Coolers Available
Now that you know about the various types of CPU coolers and have an idea about what works best for you, it’s time to make your purchase. Below, we’ve hand-picked 10 of the best CPU coolers in a variety of categories, including budget CPU coolers, air-based CPU coolers and top-rated CPU coolers.
Overall top rated CPU Coolers
The DEEPCOOL CAPTAIN240 CPU Liquid Cooler is a top-rated CPU cooler that provides a stronger liquid flow and a bigger delivery head to cool your CPU down in no time flat. This CPU cooler is compatible with a broad range of Intel CPU models, such as the i3 and the i7, along with a handful of AMD CPU models. The DEEPCOOL CAPTAIN240 CPU Liquid Cooler prides itself on its quiet operation, running so quietly that you’ll want to double check to make sure it’s working!
NOCTUA FAN NH-U9DO A3
If you’re looking for one of the best air-based CPU coolers that money can buy, look no further than the NOCTUA FAN NH-U9DO A3. This large air-based CPU cooler will keep your CPU at temperatures that were previously thought unreachable by your standard air-based CPU cooler. This CPU cooler is for more than just PC gamers, as many corporations use the NOCTUA FAN NH-U9DO A3 as part of a server rack configuration. The only downside to this CPU cooler is its enormous size, which some users find too big to fit into their PCs comfortably.
Budget CPU coolers
If you’re building a PC on the budget, the Foxnovo PCCooler Q100 is an excellent budget CPU cooler that will provide adequate cooling to your CPU. This air-based CPU cooler features a bright orange fan, letting you know at a glance whether your cooler needs cleaning. Despite its small size, Foxnovo claims that the fan on this CPU cooler is very silent, emitting almost no sound when in use. Unlike other CPU coolers, the Foxnovo PCCooler Q100 easily attaches onto your CPU in a matter of seconds, making it easy to reposition the fan.
Thanks to its small size, the Cooler Master Hyper T2 is an ideal cooler for someone who doesn’t have a lot of extra room in his or her PC case. With an easy-to-use universal mounting system, the Cooler Master Hyper T2 works on a variety of CPUs and motherboards. If you’re the type who doesn’t want to get your hands dirty, the proprietary Continuous Direct Contact base allows you to cool your CPU with minimal thermal grease than the competition.
Best Air CPU coolers
If you’re looking for an air-based CPU cooler that will keep your CPU at icy cold temperatures, you won’t find a better cooler for the job than the Kootek KC01. These are just some of the many great features this CPU cooler provides:
Aluminum fins and copper heat pipes
Increased thermal distribution leading to accelerated cooling
A universal mounting bracket
Compatibility with most AMD and Intel CPU sockets
Thermaltake Cooling Fan
Designed exclusive for the Intel i3, i5 and i7 CPU models, the Thermaltake Cooling Fan is a vast improvement over the stock fan that Intel provides. You’ll notice a significant increase in your CPU temperatures when using the Thermaltake Cooling Fan, though there is one disadvantage: the sound. If you’re able to deal with the noise the Thermaltake Cooling Fan outputs, you’ll find an excellent air-based CPU cooler at a low price.
Best Liquid CPU coolers
The Corsair Hydro Series H55 Quiet Edition Liquid CPU Cooler uses only the best materials available to provide you with a durable liquid cooling unit. The black aluminum heat exchanger and copper plate allow for more heat dissipation than with other CPU coolers while the flexible rubber hose lets you insert this cooler into even the smallest PC case. The tool-free mounting bracket means that even if you don’t have a toolbox handy, you’re still able to attach this liquid cooler to your CPU.
If you love the look of the Corsair Hydro Series H55 Quiet Edition Liquid CPU Cooler but are looking for more features, then you’ll want to try the Corsair Hydro Series High-Performance Liquid CPU Cooler H60. This liquid CPU cooler takes the notion of tool-free installation one step further by using a magnetic kit, meaning that even CPU cooler novices will have no problem attaching this product to their CPU. With thermal compound already applied at the factory, this CPU cooler is ready to install the moment you take it out of the box. The Corsair Hydro Series High-Performance Liquid CPU Cooler H60 is compatible with a broad array of CPU sockets, including the AMD AM2, AM3 and FM1 sockets along with the Intel LGA 1150, 1155 and 1366 sockets.
Best Water CPU coolers
If you’re looking to cool your CPU using just regular distilled water, then you’ll want to check out the Lepa AquaChanger 120 Cooling Unit. This CPU cooler puts an emphasis on safety with multiple features to ensure that the water stays in the tubes and not all over your PC’s expensive hardware. The elastic anti-leak rubber tube has multiple layers of protection against rips and tears while the ceramic bearing features materials designed to prevent corrosion. These features not only help protect your PC but also allow the Lepa AquaChanger 120 Cooling Unit to efficiently cool your CPU up to 30 percent faster than the competition.
If you’re looking for the most cooling performance possible in exchange for extra features, the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Extreme S CPU cooler provides a 35 percent increase in performance over your average CPU cooler. If you’re looking to spend more time gaming and less time cleaning, you’ll love the fact that the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Extreme S only needs minimal maintenance. If you’re looking to overclock your CPU to the extreme, the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Extreme S is one of the best CPU coolers for the job.