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Best CPU Coolers 2021: AIO and Air Coolers

Included in this guide:

Cooler Master MasterAir MA410M
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Whether you’re targeting for world-record overclocks or you're just after a  PC that doesn’t get loud under load, you should pick the best CPU cooler you can afford. Choosing the best cooler for your best CPU is an important decision in any processor upgrade or new PC build. The best CPU cooler will make a big difference in temperatures, noise, and even performance -- especially if you're overclocking. 

If your current CPU cooler can’t keep your processor’s heat under control, that could mean slower performance and/or a shorter lifespan for your processor--and clearly, no one wants that.

Don't forget to consider thermal paste or another thermal interface material (TIM), though. Nearly all coolers will come with some kind of paste, whether it's pre-applied or in a small syringe or tube. But to make sure you're getting the most efficient heat transfer between your CPU and cooler plate, 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 with air cooling (a hefty metal heatsink and fans) or opt for a liquid-cooled AIO (a pump attached to a radiator and fans), 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. Air coolers 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 usually 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 silent 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.

For much more detail on how to choose the right cooler (and cooler type) check out our 2021 CPU cooler buying guide

The Best Air Coolers You Can Buy Today

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

1. Cooler Master MasterAir MA624 Stealth

Best Big Air CPU Cooler

Specifications
Dimensions: 165.1 x 149.4 x 127.0 mm
Base Height: 31.8mm
Weight: 46.3 oz (1312g)
Fans: (2) 140 x 25 mm
Socket Support: 115x, 1366, 1200, 2011x, 2066; FM2(+), FM1, AM2(+), AM3(+), AM4
Warranty: 5 years
Reasons to buy
+Great cooling performance+Integrated center fan simplifies install+Additional 120mm fan for tall DIMMs
Reasons to avoid
-Premium price

Cooler Master has pulled out all the stops to release an excellent option in the large heatpipe cooler arena. The MasterAir MA624 Stealth trades blows with some of the best CPU coolers we’ve tested. It even comes with a third 120 mm fan to use when tall DIMMS create clearance problems. The MasterAir MA624 Stealth doesn’t glitter with RGB lighting, which many will find refreshing. But it does shine on merit, as an effective near-silent thermal solution for some of the most potent desktop CPUs from both Intel and AMD--as long as you don’t count Threadripper.

Read: Cooler Master MasterAir MA624 Stealth review

Best Big Air CPU Cooler: Deepcool Assassin III (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

2. Deepcool Assassin III

Best Big Air CPU Cooler Alternative

Specifications
Dimensions: 171.5 x 139.7 x 133.4mm
Base Height: 38.1mm
Weight: 42.7oz (1210g)
Fans: (2) 140 x 25mm
Socket Support: 115x, 1366, 2011x, 2066; FM2(+), FM1, AM2(+), AM3(+), AM4
Warranty: 5 years
Reasons to buy
+Budget friendly+Silent operation+Excellent thermal performance
Reasons to avoid
-Lack of RGB lighting options-Incomplete AMD and Intel CPU socket support

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.

Read: Deepcool Assassin III review

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.

Best Mid-size Air CPU Cooler: Cooler Master MasterAir MA410M

3. Cooler Master MasterAir MA410M

Best Mid-size Air CPU Cooler

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Excellent cooling performance+Mid-size cooler occupies less space+Thermal probe provides thermal load display via RGB lighting
Reasons to avoid
-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: Cooler Master MasterAir MA410M review

Best AMD Threadripper Air CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-U14S

4. Noctua NH-U14S

Best AMD Threadripper Air CPU Cooler

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Excellent performance+Very low noise levels+Simple, secure installation
Reasons to avoid
-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: 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.

Best Budget Air CPU Cooler: Zalman CNPS10x Performa Black (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

5. Zalman CNPS10x Performa Black

Best Budget Air CPU Cooler

Specifications
Dimensions: 155.6 x 136.7 x 69.9mm
Base Height: 33mm
Weight: 29.7 oz (842g)
Fans: (1) 135 x 25mm
Socket Support: AMD, Intel 115x, 1200, 2011, 2066
Warranty: 2 years
Reasons to buy
+Excellent performance+Budget price+Extremely silent operation
Reasons to avoid
-Spring tension screws are not integrated into mounting base 

The Zalman CNPS10x Performa Black is a mid-size, quad-heatpipe cooler that features jet-black style and a single, ultra-silent 135mm fan that rips through CPU thermal loads for your multi-core desktop enthusiast processor.

Its $45 price and cooling potential that nips at the heels of the pack leaders puts the Zalman CNPS10x Performa Black in a strong position to be a system builder favorite when extra dollars need to be spent on other components. Zalman has given the system building community an excellent, no-frills cooling option that looks great and lets you focus your money where it needs to go.

Read: Zalman CNPS10x Performa Black review

Best Budget Air Cooler Alternative: be quiet! Shadow Rock Slim 2

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.

MORE: Best Liquid CPU Cooling

MORE: How To Choose A CPU Cooler

MORE: CPU Benchmarks Hierarchy

Matt Safford
Matt began piling up computer experience as a child with his Mattel Aquarius. He built his first PC in the late 1990s and ventured into mild PC modding in the early 2000s. He’s spent the last decade covering emerging technology for Smithsonian, Popular Science, and Consumer Reports, while testing components and PCs for Computer Shopper and Digital Trends. When not writing about tech, he’s often walking—through the streets of New York, over the sheep-dotted hills of Scotland, or just at his treadmill desk at home in front of the 50-inch 4K HDR TV that serves as his PC monitor.
  • abryant
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/id-3707693/cooling.html
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Thanks for including a down-draft cooler. I feel better having direct airflow on the VRM, which tower-style coolers don't provide. RAM temps also typically benefit.

    An interesting test would be to measure the difference that occurs when you reverse the fan direction of such a cooler. So, flip the fan and run it as an updraft cooler. The rationale is that case exhaust fans are often right next to the CPU, in which case they'd be fighting the airflow of a downdraft cooler. However, if you instead run it in the updraft direction, the airflow rate should benefit and more of the hot air should get exhausted.
    Reply
  • Carsten_3
    I wonder why you link a 5 month old review, instead of reviewing the latest ENERMAX LIQTECH TR4 II serie?
    As the old Enermax LIQTECH TR4 360mm AIO Liquid CPU Cooler got 35% 1 star customer reviews on Amazon.
    Reply
  • madymadme
    why is swiftech water cooler included here ?
    Reply
  • fredfinks
    Should be stated that gunk builds up on the insides of liquid coolers. Also theres chance of pump failure & leaks.

    A big dumb block of metal, combined with a top notch fan (i.e. the noctua - guaranteed for 7 years) will function for a LONG time.
    The only thing stopping it being mounting kit obsolescence. (low & behold noctua will send out a mounting kit in future if you ever need it, for free anywhere in world)
    Indefinite lifespan. Eff liquid AIOs. (custom loops go ahead)
    Reply
  • bit_user
    21349247 said:
    A big dumb block of metal, combined with a top notch fan (i.e. the noctua - guaranteed for 7 years) will function for a LONG time.
    The enemy of air is dust. Of course, this also applies (somewhat) to liquid cooling radiators.

    Bigger, slower fan = less dust buildup.

    I also run a positive-pressure case setup, with removable dust filters behind the intake fans. This has worked remarkably well at keeping the case clean.

    Of course, it also helps not to have pets.
    Reply
  • medicjambi
    It would be nice to see stats on how much cooling each one provides. As in how many watts of energy it can dissipate or cool, etc. I've not been able to find the cooling capacity on these coolers. I understand the larger the radiator and more fans equal more cooling capacity, but it would be nice to see how much each is able to cool.
    Reply
  • medicjambi
    I have the Liquid Freezer 240 and I was able to find the stats that it is able to dissipate 300 Watts TDP. Information like that should be listed in a review like this. That's quite the oversite there Tom's Hardware. You guys are slipping.
    Reply
  • jill.and.molly.bff
    The most important aspect of a cooling system is its heat dissipation capacity, which CPU makers express as Watts TDP. If the cooler's TDP capacity does not at least equal the CPU's, the CPU will overheat under heavy load. Can't even imagine why this important fact is entirely omitted from the article...
    Reply
  • Chupacabra69
    Err where are the cooling performance comparisons.. is this an opinion or marketing piece?
    Reply