Best Air Coolers
Lower CPU temperatures provide improved stability, efficiency and reliability. This benefits everyone, from overclockers seeking the highest work rate, to efficiency enthusiasts trying to achieve the least energy per unit of work. Nothing promotes cooling value better than a big passive heat sink and a cheap active fan. Designs that improve airflow while also reducing noise drive higher cooling-to-noise performance ratios.
We rank performance by a cooling-to-noise ratio, and value as performance-per-dollar. The formula for success has always involved a mixture of increased surface area and improved airflow to keep temperatures low, along with highly-conductive materials to promote the transfer of heat between the CPU and the cooling surface. Maximizing performance usually requires a large heat sink, though some of these models are too large to fit mid-sized or smaller cases. We divide the range into Big Air solutions over six inches tall, Mid-sized coolers that are between three and six inches tall, and Low-profile coolers that are less-than three inches tall.
Big coolers generally require a tower, though a few Mini-ITX gaming cubes are designed extra tall to compensate. Mid-sized coolers fit most mid-sized cases and motherboards, albeit with reduced performance of smaller fans and sinks. Low-profile coolers are under three inches tall and are generally designed for low-profile cases. Due to various socket positions of different motherboards, it's important to compare the actual specifications of each cooler to the motherboard as well as the case.
Best Big Air CPU Cooler
Best Mid-size Air CPU Cooler
Best Low-profile Air CPU Cooler
MORE: Best Liquid Coolers