Skip to main content

Roundup: Six Sub-$40 Performance CPU Coolers Compared

Big Cooling At A Small Price

Our tests continuously show the benefits of overclocking on system performance, where a few simple adjustments often allow tweaked mainstream hardware to outperform even the most expensive factory-spec’d parts.

And yet, many buyers overclock in search of value rather than breakneck speed, and that value can vanish fairly quickly if you have to buy premium aftermarket heatsinks and fans to support ambitious overclocking efforts.

The good news for value-seekers is that today’s CPU air coolers perform so well that more expensive options are—in most cases—no longer needed. This editor has even found several instances where a big heat sink and fan beats a similarly-sized liquid-cooling configuration priced nearly twice as high.

While some air cooling components can be expensive, the majority should fit into all but the tightest budgets.

Of course, the cheapest way to go is using the cooler that comes with boxed retail processors. But those are often barely adequate for running the CPU at stock speed. That's why we're taking a look at the next level in CPU cooling: a group of six new $20-40 “universal” models that could help you turn just about any modern CPU into a performance monster.

Value/Performance CPU Cooler Features
Corsair A50Deepcool Ice Matrix 400Gelid Tranquillo
Top Height6.56"6.35"5.95"
Base Height1.57"1.90"1.15"
Center to Front2.18"1.87"2.35"
Number of Fans111
Fan Size120 mm120 mm120 mm
PWMNoYesYes
Weight23 Ounces22 Ounces23 Ounces
AMD OrientationUpdraftCross flowUpdraft
Intel Sockets775, 1156, 1366775, 1156, 1366775, 1156, 1366
Web Price$38$38$35
Value-Performance CPU Cooler Features
Rosewill RCX-ZAIO-92Xigmatek GaiaZalman CNPS10X Performa
Top Height5.38"6.19"6.00"
Base Height1.56"1.40"1.50"
Center to Front2.25"2.07"2.25"
Number of Fans111
Fan Size92 mm120 mm120 mm
PWMYesYesYes
Weight17 Ounces22 Ounces27 Ounces
AMD OrientationUpdraftCross flowBoth
Intel Sockets775, 1156, 1366775, 1156, 1366775, 1156, 1366
Web Price$20$30$35

Corsair is the only brand in today’s comparison to include a non-PWM fan with its package. Most enthusiast motherboards now support both PWM and voltage-based fan speed controls, but it’s a feature to keep in mind for the few motherboards that lack this capability.

  • amk09
    i wished you included a cooler such as the coolermaster hyper 212, that seems to be a highly recommended cooler and it would have been nice to see how it squared up against these ones.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    amk09i wished you included a cooler such as the coolermaster hyper 212, that seems to be a highly recommended cooler and it would have been nice to see how it squared up against these ones.We did:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/lga-1156-heatsink,2535-4.html
    That's why the same system was used for both tests. It's all mentioned in the article, too.
    Reply
  • Twoboxer
    Its incomprehensible that the Hyper 212 was left out of this kind of review. That decision makes this article worthless.
    Reply
  • Wolygon
    "Its incomprehensible that the Hyper 212 was left out of this kind of review. That decision makes this article worthless."


    Read the article before posting please.
    Reply
  • Twoboxer
    Sorry, I read your Opening page, the thermal results page, and the conclusion page. Did I miss how these products compare to the Hyper 212?
    Reply
  • dogman_1234
    ^ Or water cooling. It was a great article but, How about comparing to Hydro cooling and add an AMD system too. Intel is great at generating heat, AMD is better thought!
    Reply
  • duk3
    How did the Zalman CNPS10X Performa get into this review at $35?
    Reply
  • sudeshc
    was waiting for this kind of article for some time now, thanks toms. Loved the article, thinking about to go with Zalman's Cooler.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    duk3How did the Zalman CNPS10X Performa get into this review at $35?It was $35. It went up at Newegg about a week ago, but if you look around enough you might find the launch price elsewhere.
    Reply
  • Just wanted to say thanks for the article. And I think it's extra awesome that you actually respond to the comments/questions (I just read through the other roundup from earlier this year).
    Reply