Best CPU Coolers 2023: AIO and Air Coolers

Best Cooling Cover
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Whether you’re after impressive CPU overclocks, or just looking to build a PC that's silent under load, you should choose your CPU cooler carefully. Picking the best CPU cooler for your processor is a key decision in any CPU upgrade or new PC build. The best CPU cooler will make a major difference in your system's temps, noise, and even performance -- especially if you're overclocking. 

If your CPU cooler can’t keep up with the heat your processor is generating, that may result in lower performance or possibly even a shorter lifespan for your processor--and no one wants that.

Also, don't forget to consider thermal paste or another thermal interface material (TIM). Most coolers come with some kind of paste, either in a small syringe or packet or pre-applied to the metal cold plate. To make sure you're getting the most efficient thermal transfer between your CPU and cooler plate, check out the many products we thoroughly tested to find the best thermal paste for your CPU.

Best CPU Coolers For You

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If you’re not sure if you want to go the air cooling route (a big metal heatsink with fans) or opt for a liquid-cooled AIO (a pump attached to a radiator and fans), there are a few things to consider. Large air coolers tend to take up more internal space in your PC case, or at the very least they need more vertical clearance off your best motherboard, which can limit your case options. Air coolers can also be louder and less efficient than liquid coolers at moving heat away from your CPU and out of the chassis. These days, though, that’s not cut and dry. If you can go the extreme route, there are fanless air cooling options like Noctua's Colossal NH-P1 as well for the ultimate truly silent cooling option, although you'll still need case fans to move the warmed air out of your case.

Air coolers usually cost less than AIOs, though that line is also blurring as AIO coolers are getting increasingly affordable, while high-end air coolers reach toward and sometimes above the $100 range. On the extreme air side of the cooling line, the Ice Giant Prosiphon Elite has an MSRP of $170, which competes with many large AIO coolers. And Cooler Master's MasterLiquid PL360, an admittedly pretty (and pretty big) AIO cooler, is $190.


If money isn't a major concern and silent operation and low temperatures are important to you, you may want to consider a custom cooling loop. For more on how these tend to perform (and how good they look), check out our Blue Shift build feature. Just know that custom cooling loops are always much more expensive than nearly all other cooling alternatives, and they can make future component upgrades much more complicated.

Our tested picks for air and liquid cooling options are below. But first we'll discuss some quick shopping tips to help you choose the best CPU cooler for you.

Quick Shopping Tips

When choosing the best CPU cooler for your needs, consider the following:

  • Own a recent Ryzen CPU? You may not need to buy a cooler, but it depends on the model. Most Ryzen 2000 and 3000-series processors and some older Ryzen models ship with coolers, and many of them can handle moderate overclocks. But Ryzen 5000 CPUs don't ship with coolers in the Ryzen 7/9 range. AMD's first Ryzen 7000 don't ship with coolers, although previous-gen AMD coolers will work. If you want the best CPU clock speed possible, you’ll usually want to buy an aftermarket cooler anyway. But for many Ryzen owners who don't plan to push their silicon to the limit, the best CPU cooler might just be the free one in the box or one you already have from a previous build.
  • If opting for a large air cooler, be sure to check clearances before buying. Big coolers and low-profile models can bump up against tall RAM and even VRM heatsinks sometimes. And tall coolers can cause clearance issues with your case door or window. Be sure to check the dimensions and advertised clearances of any cooler you're considering and your case before buying.
  • Remember that, all else being equal, more fans equals better cooling, but more noise. The coolers that do the best job of moving warm air away from your CPU and out of your case are also often the loudest. If fan noise is an issue for you, you’ll want a cooler that does a good job of balancing noise and cooling. If you can set your cooler's fan speeds based on temperatures in your motherboard's BIOS, that should also help.

For much more detail on how to choose the right cooler (and cooler type) check out our 2022 CPU cooler buying guide

The Best Air Coolers You Can Buy Today

Best Big Air CPU Cooler: Thermalright Peerless Assassin 120 SE (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
Best Big Air CPU Cooler

Specifications

Dimensions: 155 x 125 x 110 mm
Weight: 25.75 oz (730g)
Fans: (2) 120 x 25 mm
Socket Support: 115x, 1200, 1700; AM4, AM5
Warranty: 2 years

Reasons to buy

+
Capable of cooling 200W
+
With Alder Lake CPUs
+
Budget-friendly price of just $36 USD
+
Extremely quiet
+
Exceptionally strong performance at lower TDPs

Reasons to avoid

-
None of consequence

Thermalright's Peerless Assassin 120 SE lives up to its name, delivering the best performance from an air cooler that we've tested on Intel's Alder Lake at a price that undercuts the competition. In our tests, it performed so well when cooling our Core i9-12900K that we re-tested it multiple times to be sure the results were correct. The Peerless Assassin 120 SE cooled the CPU when it was drawing over 200 watts better than our tested competition, and at lower thermal/TDP settings, it performed much better than the competition. 

The cooler's two 120mm fans did their job of dissipating all that heat at low noise levels, making at just 34.5dB at max speed, and 33dB at 50% speed. It's also available in in silver/gray, white or black, so it should fit in with most build themes if you care about matching aesthetics. Whether you care about value or not, you should consider this cooler for your next system build, so long as your case has room for it.

Read: Thermalright Peerless Assassin SE review 


Best Big Air CPU Cooler: Deepcool Assassin III (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
Best Big Air CPU Cooler Alternative

Specifications

Dimensions: 171.5 x 139.7 x 133.4mm
Base Height: 38.1mm
Weight: 42.7oz (1210g)
Fans: (2) 140 x 25mm
Socket Support: 115x, 1366, 2011x, 2066; FM2(+), FM1, AM2(+), AM3(+), AM4
Warranty: 5 years

Reasons to buy

+
Budget friendly
+
Silent operation
+
Excellent thermal performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Lack of RGB lighting options
-
Incomplete AMD and Intel CPU socket support

With twin cooling towers, seven heatpipes and two 140mm fans, the GamerStorm Assassin III from Deep Cool brought us the lowest temperature of big-air coolers. Pairing that thermal performance with low noise makes it our choice for air-cooling big CPUs, with great looks and easy installation qualifying as bonuses.

Read: Deepcool Assassin III review

Much like the DeepCool's AS500, DeepCool's new AK500 is an excellent alternative for those who don't quite have the room or the budget for a true big air cooler. It punches above its cooling class, delivering excellent temps for its $59.99 MSRP. But at the moment it's still tough to find from major sellers in the U.S.


(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
Best Mid-size Air CPU Cooler

Specifications

Dimensions: 127×117×158 mm
Base Height: -
Weight: 36.7oz (1040g)
Fans: (1) 120 x 25mm
Socket Support: AMD AM4, AM5; Intel 2066, 2011x, 1200, 1700, 115x
Warranty: 3 years

Reasons to buy

+
Capable of cooling 200W
+
with Alder Lake
+
Low noise levels +Reasonably priced

Reasons to avoid

-
Installation can be slightly difficult
-
No ARGB (a pro for some)

DeepCool’s AK500 performs great in our testing when paired with Alder Lake's Core i9-12900K at loads over 200W – and it keeps the CPU cool while running nice and quiet. Priced as low as $55 when we wrote this, the AK500 delivers an impressive combination of silence, performance, and value that's tough to beat.

Read: DeepCool AK500 review 


Best AMD Threadripper Air CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-U14S
Best AMD Threadripper Air CPU Cooler

Specifications

Dimensions: 171.45 x 151.4 x 52.3mm
Base Height: 25.1mm
Weight: 36.5oz (1035g)
Fans: (1) 140 x 25mm
Socket Support: AMD TR4, SP3
Warranty: 6 years

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent performance
+
Very low noise levels
+
Simple, secure installation

Reasons to avoid

-
Premium price
-
Tall cooler height poses compatibility issues in smaller cases

The Noctua NH-U14S TR4-SP3 provides whisper-quiet cooling with big league thermal performance – the kind of overclocked Threadripper performance that sneaks into quality 360 AIO cooling performance. Armed with six nickel-plated copper heatpipes and a NF-A15 140mm PWM fan, the AMD-friendly NH-U14S TR4-SP3 is a silent thermal assassin. For Threadripper air cooling, this cooler checks all the boxes for enthusiasts and overclockers alike.

Read: Noctua NH-U14S review

Best Threadripper Cooler Alternative: Arctic Freezer 50TR (opens in new tab)

Neither as cool nor as quiet as Noctua's NH-U14S, the Artice Freezer 50 TR got our attention for its lower price. The value advantage could be important to current builders hoping to save money by using AMD's previous generation 2000-series parts.


Best Budget Air CPU Cooler: Zalman CNPS10x Performa Black (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
Best Budget Air CPU Cooler

Specifications

Dimensions: 155.6 x 136.7 x 69.9mm
Base Height: 33mm
Weight: 29.7 oz (842g)
Fans: (1) 135 x 25mm
Socket Support: AMD, Intel 115x, 1200, 2011, 2066
Warranty: 2 years

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent performance
+
Budget price
+
Extremely silent operation

Reasons to avoid

-
Spring tension screws are not integrated into mounting base 

The Zalman CNPS10x Performa Black is a mid-size, quad-heatpipe cooler that features jet-black style and a single, ultra-silent 135mm fan that rips through CPU thermal loads for your multi-core desktop enthusiast processor.

Its $45 price and cooling potential that nips at the heels of the pack leaders puts the Zalman CNPS10x Performa Black in a strong position to be a system builder favorite when extra dollars need to be spent on other components. Zalman has given the system building community an excellent, no-frills cooling option that looks great and lets you focus your money where it needs to go.

Read: Zalman CNPS10x Performa Black review

Best Budget Air Cooler Alternative: be quiet! Shadow Rock Slim 2


Other CPU Coolers We Tested

We've tested dozens of CPU chillers, from big air blowers to low-profile limboing chillers for SFF systems, and AIO and open-loop setups big and small. While many deliver in terms of cooling performance, silence, or attractive RGB-lit looks, making them stand out in specific ways or for a specific type of user, not all of the CPU coolers we test can make the best list. 

Below are some of the recent air coolers and AIOs we’ve tested that didn’t quite make the cut. One of these may still be a worthwhile option for you. Just know that the better options for most people are in the list of Best Air Coolers above, or the Best AIO Coolers page.

Cooler Master PL360 Flux (9/11/2022)

Cooler Master's PL360 Flux is very quiet and did a good job of chilling our Alder Lake Core i9 CPU at up to 200W in our testing. It also includes ARGB lights and software for adjusting your hue and fan speeds. It also has a fairly thin radiator which may help you fit it in more cases. But its primary downside is a fairly high price in the crowded and competitive 360mm AIO cooler market.

Read: Cooler Master's PL360 Flux review

Corsair H100i Elite (9/9/2022)

The Corsair H1000i Elite is one of the quietest coolers we've tested, and includes the company's iCue suite for RGB and fan adjustments, as well as system monitoring. And in testing it was capable of cooling our Alder Lake Core i9 CPU at up to 200W. But at around $140, it faces stiff competition from the likes of DeepCool's LS520, which costs about $20 less while delivering better cooling performance. 

Read: Corsair H100i Elite review

Cougar Forza 85 (8/28/2022)

Cougar's Forza 85 is a very good and fairly quiet tower air cooler that was able to cool our Alder Lake Core i9 CPU at up to 200W. It also comes with a fan splitter and clips to let you add a second fan for even better performance. At around $70, it would be a strong contender for our Best Coolers list, if DeepCool's AK500 didn't perform better for around $10 less. 

Read: Cougar Forza 85 review

Saving on the Best CPU Coolers

Whether you're shopping for one of the products that made our best CPU coolers list or one that didn't, you may find some savings by checking out our list of Newegg promo codes or Corsair coupon codes.

MORE: Best Liquid CPU Cooling (opens in new tab)

MORE: How To Choose A CPU Cooler (opens in new tab)

MORE: CPU Benchmark Hierarchy

Matt Safford

After a rough start with the Mattel Aquarius as a child, Matt built his first PC in the late 1990s and ventured into mild PC modding in the early 2000s. He’s spent the last 15 years covering emerging technology for Smithsonian, Popular Science, and Consumer Reports, while testing components and PCs for Computer Shopper, PCMag and Digital Trends.

  • abryant
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/id-3707693/cooling.html
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Thanks for including a down-draft cooler. I feel better having direct airflow on the VRM, which tower-style coolers don't provide. RAM temps also typically benefit.

    An interesting test would be to measure the difference that occurs when you reverse the fan direction of such a cooler. So, flip the fan and run it as an updraft cooler. The rationale is that case exhaust fans are often right next to the CPU, in which case they'd be fighting the airflow of a downdraft cooler. However, if you instead run it in the updraft direction, the airflow rate should benefit and more of the hot air should get exhausted.
    Reply
  • Carsten_3
    I wonder why you link a 5 month old review, instead of reviewing the latest ENERMAX LIQTECH TR4 II serie?
    As the old Enermax LIQTECH TR4 360mm AIO Liquid CPU Cooler got 35% 1 star customer reviews on Amazon.
    Reply
  • madymadme
    why is swiftech water cooler included here ?
    Reply
  • fredfinks
    Should be stated that gunk builds up on the insides of liquid coolers. Also theres chance of pump failure & leaks.

    A big dumb block of metal, combined with a top notch fan (i.e. the noctua - guaranteed for 7 years) will function for a LONG time.
    The only thing stopping it being mounting kit obsolescence. (low & behold noctua will send out a mounting kit in future if you ever need it, for free anywhere in world)
    Indefinite lifespan. Eff liquid AIOs. (custom loops go ahead)
    Reply
  • bit_user
    21349247 said:
    A big dumb block of metal, combined with a top notch fan (i.e. the noctua - guaranteed for 7 years) will function for a LONG time.
    The enemy of air is dust. Of course, this also applies (somewhat) to liquid cooling radiators.

    Bigger, slower fan = less dust buildup.

    I also run a positive-pressure case setup, with removable dust filters behind the intake fans. This has worked remarkably well at keeping the case clean.

    Of course, it also helps not to have pets.
    Reply
  • medicjambi
    It would be nice to see stats on how much cooling each one provides. As in how many watts of energy it can dissipate or cool, etc. I've not been able to find the cooling capacity on these coolers. I understand the larger the radiator and more fans equal more cooling capacity, but it would be nice to see how much each is able to cool.
    Reply
  • medicjambi
    I have the Liquid Freezer 240 and I was able to find the stats that it is able to dissipate 300 Watts TDP. Information like that should be listed in a review like this. That's quite the oversite there Tom's Hardware. You guys are slipping.
    Reply
  • jill.and.molly.bff
    The most important aspect of a cooling system is its heat dissipation capacity, which CPU makers express as Watts TDP. If the cooler's TDP capacity does not at least equal the CPU's, the CPU will overheat under heavy load. Can't even imagine why this important fact is entirely omitted from the article...
    Reply
  • Chupacabra69
    Err where are the cooling performance comparisons.. is this an opinion or marketing piece?
    Reply