You want the best CPU cooler you can get, whether you’re aiming for the ultimate competitive overclocks or just a PC that doesn’t get loud under load. Choosing the best CPU cooler is an important decision in any PC build or upgrade. It 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.
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, even for overclocking. All Ryzen 2000 and 3000-series processors and some older Ryzen models ship with coolers, and many of them can handle moderate overclocks. If you want the best CPU clock speed possible, you’ll still likely want to buy an aftermarket cooler. But for many Ryzen owners, 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 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.
The Best Air Coolers You Can Buy
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.
Alternative Best Big Air CPU Cooler: See Noctua NH-U12A Review
With slightly better cooling and slightly lower noise than the above Arctic model, Noctua's NH-U12A becomes the premium choice for buyers who aren't afraid to pay big dollars for small gains.
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.
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
Alternative Best Threadripper Cooler: See Arctic Freezer 50TR Review
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.
The Pure Rock 2 represents the same passion around thermal design, silent operation and manufacturing / build quality that has made be quiet! a reputable force of the PC industry. As hardware enthusiasts, we’re often faced with some sort of compromise when decisions must be made around the purchase of specific components, although the Pure Rock 2 keeps those to a minimum.
The company’s pedigree, deeply rooted in performance and quality, are alone enough to draw the gaze of the enthusiasts. But be quiet! delivers on that pedigree at such a pleasing price point with the Pure Rock 2, it's an undeniable recommendation for serious system builders on any budget.
MORE: Best Liquid CPU Cooling