Eight Low-Profile CPU Coolers For Your Compact PC, Reviewed

Test Settings And Methodology

One point of testing all these coolers is to find one that really allows overclocking in tight spaces. The problem is that cramped PCs are usually warm without even beginning to overclock. Given the problems of small enclosures and the lack of custom-fit solutions (such as the one found in my boss’ Tiki), I picked the O/C settings from our ASRock M8 review.

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Test System Configuration
CPUIntel Core i7-4770K (Haswell): 3.5-3.9 GHz, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache, LGA 1150, Overclocked to 4 GHz at 1.05 V
MotherboardAsus Z87-Pro Rev 1.02, BIOS 1007 (05/17/2013)
RAMG.Skill F3-17600CL9D-8GBXLD (8 GB) at DDR3-1600 C9 Defaults
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 4600
Hard DriveSamsung 840 Series MZ-7PD256, 256 GB SSD
SoundIntegrated HD Audio
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit Networking
PowerCorsair AX860i: ATX12V v2.3, EPS12V, 80 PLUS Platinum
OSMicrosoft Windows 8 Professional RTM x64
ChipsetIntel INF
Benchmark Configuration
Prime95v27.9, AVX FFT length 8K, continuous for at least 2 hours
RealTemp 3.70Maximum Temperature, All Cores Averaged
Galaxy CM-140 SPL MeterTested at 1/4 m, corrected to 1 m (-12 dB), dB(A) weighting

Another market for compact cooling is found in home theater systems, where stock cooling solutions might be too noisy. Thus, acoustics are an important consideration in today’s analysis.

The cooling capacity versus noise debate brings up a point made by one of our readers in our recent closed-loop cooling finale. Some products achieve their best cooling-to-noise ratio at a fan speed that’s significantly below maximum. Other coolers behave as if they need more powerful fans to reach their full potential. Readers suggested that we retest everything using a common fan arrangement, but that doesn’t work in a low-profile device comparison where many of the test subjects can’t hold a common fan configuration, or would no longer fit within the low-profile theme using standardized fans.

We don’t like playing favorites, but we also don’t like punishing a company for adding the extra capacity of a 3600 RPM fan when the product operates optimally at 1800 RPM. On the other hand, it would be arbitrary to pick our own fan speed and apply it to all products regardless of design factors.

So, I’ve left it to manufacturers to decide what speed to use. If the product includes a two-speed selector, I test both speeds. If it includes a resistor wire, I’ll use it. If it’s an analog controller, I’ll test the top and bottom speed settings. At this time, I cannot find a fairer method to compare cooling to noise other than to rely on the hardware included with the cooler.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • CommentariesAnd More
    Good article.
  • laststop311
    I knew the noctua was going to win before I even looked at the results.
  • lowguppy
    It is really nice to see a low profile round up when a year ago it was hard to find low profile coolers at all. I have to ask though, were these tested on an open bench or in an enclosure? I think to really judge them you have to put them in a box. Maybe not that silly ASRock chassis, but something a like a BitFenix.

    Also, every mini-ITX motherboard is a little different. It would take some work, but it would be nice to see coolers cross referenced with different motherboards for compatibility. Just reading reviews it is pretty common to find one or two "Didn't fit my board" comments while other reviewers found the coolers to fit perfectly.
  • Someone Somewhere
    Several others asked us for a few additional millimeters of headroom, though that would have resulted in a viscous cycle

    Do you mean vicious? Because I'm fairly sure the cycle wouldn't be a thick liquid.
  • slomo4sho
    I am surprised that the Cooler Master GeminII didn't make this list.
  • GoliathPtXs
    i feel that only a few of them ( like 3 or 4 ) are really low profile coolers, rest are just normal size, bearing in mind that the big ones are labeled as tower coolers...
  • cheesyboy

    It's good to see consistency ;)
  • AJSB
    Those things are WAY TOO BIG for really compact mITX systems....

    I'm using one from Titan that is really small: 107x70x12.5mm (official dimensions are incorrect) for the skived copper heatsink and can use 60mm or 70mm fans...i'm using a Titan fan that is 70x70x10.

    Really compact....check my build at www overclock net:D

    I i will add soon more pics and you will see something that is really small.
  • Amdlova
    i got here the cp 12 se14 on the lian li v 351 pushed the 3770k 4.6ghz... not bad at all now the noctua is cooling the 3470 no problems.
  • -Fran-
    11933622 said:
    I am surprised that the Cooler Master GeminII didn't make this list.

    I was going to post precisely that.

    I have one for my A8 8350 (100W) and it does a wonderful job inside a TT SD200.

    And this is the CM cooler we're talking about: CM GeminII M4