Whether you’re aiming for the ultimate competitive overclocks or just a PC that doesn’t get noisy under load, choosing the right CPU cooler is an important decision in any PC build or upgrade that can make a big difference in temperatures, noise and (particularly if you're overclocking) performance. If your existing cooler can’t keep your chip’s heat under control, that could mean slower performance and / or a shorter lifespan for your precious processor, and no one wants that.
If you’re unsure whether you want air cooling or 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 the motherboard. They can also be louder and less efficient at moving heat away from your choice of CPU and out of the chassis, though that’s not always the case. Air coolers also tend to cost less than AIOs, though that line is blurring as well.
Credit: Omar Zain/Shutterstock
Quick Shopping Tips
When choosing a CPU cooler, consider the following:
- Own a recent Ryzen CPU? You may not need to buy a cooler, even for overclocking. All Ryzen 2000-series processors and some older Ryzen models ship with coolers, and many of them can handle moderate overclocks. It you want the best CPU clock speed possible, you’ll still likely want to buy an aftermarket cooler, but for many Ryzen owners, that won’t be necessary.
- 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 heat sinks 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=better cooling, but more noise. The coolers that do the absolute best job of moving warm air away from your CPU and out of your case are also often the loudest. If fan noise is a problem for you, you’ll want a cooler that does a good job of balancing noise and cooling.
- RGB lights can be nice, but make sure there’s a way to turn them off. Many coolers these days include RGB fans and / or lighting. This can be a fun way to customize the look of your PC. But be sure there’s a way, either via a built-in controller or when plugging the cooler into a compatible RGB motherboard header, to turn the lights off without turning off the PC. If you're going to watch a movie or play a stealthy game, you probably don't want bright lights shining in your face.
Best Air Cooling
be quiet! Dark Rock 4
1. be quiet! Dark Rock 4
Best Big Air CPU Cooler
Dimensions: 158.8 x 136.9 x 75.4mm | Base Height: 41.3mm | Weight: 51.9oz (1471g) | Fans: (1) 135 x 22mm | Socket Support: AMD FM2(+), FM1, AM2(+), AM3(+), AM4, Intel 775, 115x, 1366, 2011x, 2066 | Warranty: 3 years
Pros: Strong air-cooling performance • Quality build and design • Quiet operation • Supports most current CPU sockets
Cons: Premium price • Not as quiet as other coolers
The be quiet! Dark Rock 4 performs well against other similarly sized and outfitted coolers, while standing out for its intimidating yet understated design. A monolithic tower cooler shouldn’t require RGB lighting or flashy accent stickers to look great, and be quiet! checks these boxes--or rather, it chooses not to check them.
With a retail price of $75 (£65) at launch (and still holding there as of this writing), the be quiet! Dark Rock 4 is expensive for an air cooler. But make no mistake: Even though it's one step down the Dark Rock lineup, this is still a premium device for keeping your CPU temps under control.
Read Review: be quiet! Dark Rock 4
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Cooler Master MasterAir MA410M
2. Cooler Master MasterAir MA410M
Best Mid-size Air CPU Cooler
Rating: 4.5/5 (Editor's Choice)
Dimensions: 158.8 x 132.4 x 58.2mm | Base Height: 37.88mm | Weight: 43.87oz (1247g) | Fans: (2) 120 x 25mm RGB | Socket Support: AMD FM2(+), FM1, AM2(+), AM3(+), AM4, Intel 7115x, 1366, 2011x, 2066 | Warranty: 5 years
Pros: Excellent cooling performance • Mid-size cooler occupies less space • Thermal probe provides thermal load display via RGB lighting
Cons: Fans kick up a bit more noise than others by comparison
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.
Read Review: Cooler Master MasterAir MA410M
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Reeven RC-1001b Brontes
3. Reeven RC-1001b Brontes
Best Low-Profile Air CPU Cooler
Dimensions: 59 x 105 x 114mm | Base Height: 17.78mm | Weight: 12oz (340g) | Fans: (1) 100 x 12mm | Socket Support: Intel 115x, 1366, 775 | Warranty: 2 years
Pros: Cheap • Quiet • Performs as well as larger rivals while occupying less space
Cons: No support for 130W CPUs including Intel LGA 2011x sockets
At only $35 (not available in the UK), the Reeven RC-1001 Brontes blows away the competition by matching the performance of larger downdraft style coolers, while occupying a minimum amount of space. Thanks to its small size, the Brontes should be a perfect choice for all but the smallest of cases.
Read Review: Reeven RC-1001b Brontes
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4. Noctua NH-U14S
Best AMD Threadripper Air CPU Cooler
Rating: 4.5/5 (Editor's Choice)
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
Pros: Excellent performance • Very low noise levels • Simple, secure installation
Cons: 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 Review: Noctua NH-U14S
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