You should pick the best CPU cooler you can afford, whether you’re shooting for world-record overclocks, or you just want a PC that doesn’t get loud under load. Choosing the best cooler for your best CPU is an important choice in any processor upgrade or new PC build. It can make a major difference in temperatures, noise, and even performance -- especially if you're overclocking. If your current cooler can’t keep your CPU’s heat low enough, that could also mean slower performance and/or a shorter lifespan for your precious processor--and clearly, no one wants that.
Don't forget to consider thermal paste or another thermal interface material (TIM), though. To make sure you're getting the most efficient heat transfer between your CPU and cooler, check out the many thoroughly tested products in our roundup to find the best thermal paste for your CPU, which we've revamped with new products for 2021.
Best CPU Coolers For You
If you’re not sure if you want to go the air cooling route or opt for a liquid-cooled AIO, there are a few things to consider. Big air coolers tend to take up more internal space in your PC case, particularly when it comes to vertical clearance off your best motherboard. They can also be louder and less efficient at moving heat away from your CPU and out of the chassis, though these days that’s not always true. If you can go the extreme route, there are fanless options like Noctua's Colossal NH-P1.
Air coolers tend to cost less than AIOs, though that line is blurring as well. AIO coolers are getting more affordable, while high-end air coolers reach toward and sometimes above the $100 range. While it's an extreme case (in price, size and cooling abilities), the Ice Giant Prosiphon Elite has an MSRP ($170) that competes with many large AIO coolers.
If money isn't a major concern and quiet operation and low temperatures are important to you, you may want to consider a custom cooling loop. For more on how these can perform (and how good they look), check out our Blue Shift build feature.
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. Note, though, that the most-recent Ryzen 5000 CPUs don't ship with coolers in the Ryzen 7/9 range. If you want the best CPU clock speed possible, you’ll still likely 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.
- 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.
The Best Air Coolers You Can Buy Today
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.
Best Big Air CPU Cooler Alternative: See Noctua NH-U12A
With slightly better cooling and slightly lower noise than the above Arctic model, Noctua's NH-U12A becomes the premium choice for buyers who aren't afraid to pay big dollars for small gains.
Note that DeepCool's AS500 is also 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 while it has been released in the UK, we're still waiting for stock to show up here in the USA.
The Cooler Master MasterAir MA410M is our pick for an excellent performing mid-size air cooler, especially considering the aggressively designed exterior shell and the inclusion of addressable RGB lighting from within the cooling tower itself. Sitting on the upper range of the affordable pricing tier, $67 (£60) might cause budget system builders to balk a bit, but considering the features and performance, it definitely deserves those few extra dollars.
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
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.
The Pure Rock 2 represents the same passion around thermal design, silent operation and manufacturing / build quality that has made be quiet! a reputable force of the PC industry. As hardware enthusiasts, we’re often faced with some sort of compromise when decisions must be made around the purchase of specific components, although the Pure Rock 2 keeps those to a minimum.
The company’s pedigree, deeply rooted in performance and quality, are alone enough to draw the gaze of the enthusiasts. But be quiet! delivers on that pedigree at such a pleasing price point with the Pure Rock 2, it's an undeniable recommendation for serious system builders on any budget.
Read: be quiet! Pure Rock 2
Best Budget Air Cooler Alternative: Arctic Freezer 34 Esports Duo
We also recently took a look at revamped old favorite in the budget air cooling realm, Cooler Master's Hyper 212 Evo v2. It's a solid low-priced, low-noise cooler at around the same price as the Pure Rock 2, with a simplified installation compared to previous models. But it struggles with high-core count CPUs, especially when overclocked. Unless you see it on sale, the Pure Rock 2 and Arctic Freezer 34 Esports Duo are both better options at about the same price.
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.
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