Without question one of the most affordable and thus commonly upgraded components by PC builders and enthusiasts alike is the CPU cooler. While things have definitely improved in the past few years, upgrading the stock cooler that comes with AMD or Intel processors still grant you a number of improvements. Generally the main goal is to lower operating temperatures, but aftermarket coolers can also reduce operating volumes and provide a greater overclocking headroom.

There are literally hundreds of options to choose from, though not all of them will deliver the desired results. Numerous times we've found third party coolers that perform no better than the standard box cooler, or worse, improve things at the cost of increased noise output, making them impractical upgrades.

But first things first, you need to make sure that the cooler you are considering is compatible with your platform of choice and that it will fit inside your case. Another aspect is value, as aftermarket CPU coolers can vary a lot in price. For example, LGA1155-compatible coolers start at around $15 and can go above $100, so it is important to work out how much you are going to need to spend.

It is also worth mentioning that most aftermarket products are air coolers, but there's also a wealth of liquid cooling systems on offer as well. However today we're going to avoid going down that path, as we take a look at four new air cooling products.

Included in the comparison are the Thermalright True Spirit 140, Prolimatech Panther, Thermaltake Frio Advanced and Noctua NH-C14. All four are designed to support multiple platforms on both AMD and Intel camps. They range in price from just $40 all the way to $85, so it will be interesting to see how they compare and more importantly what they offer over stock cooling units.

We'll go into detail one by one and then put them to the test...

Thermalright True Spirit 140

Recently Thermalright has focused their attention towards budget cooling units, which is a surprising move from a company that almost defined the high-end air cooler. If you look at the products offered by Thermalright before the True Spirit line came about you will find the Venomous X ($70), Silver Arrow ($85), Archon ($85), AXP-140 ($70) and MUX-120 ($60).

The Thermalright True Spirit 140 is set to cost just $40, with an alternative version using a 120mm fan version at the bargain basement price of $30.

We hear the True Spirit range is designed to set a new value benchmark by using a high quality heatsink. The heatsink utilizes half a dozen 6mm copper heatpipes that pass through a pure copper base that has been nickel plated for a mirror shine.

The heatsink itself boasts that patented Thermalright Ultra style heatsink fin array which provides a huge 150mm by 125mm dispersion area. This allows the True Spirit 140 to take full advantage of that 140mm Thermalright TY-140 PWM fan which produces just 21dBA of noise at the maximum speed of 1300 RPM.

The cooler's 800 gram weight suggests this is a very large unit. Dimensions of 155mm long, 53mm wide and 170mm tall make this anything but small. The weight and size specifications alone make the $40 price point hard to believe.

Another advantage is that out of the box, the True Spirit 140 can be installed on either AMD AM2/AM2+/AM3 or Intel LGA775/1155/1156/1366 platforms without having to purchase any additional mounting kits. That said, those seeking LGA2011 support will be required to purchase a separate mounting kit as that platform was released after the True Spirit 140 was designed.

The installation process for either AMD or Intel platforms is the same. The process requires rear access to the motherboard, though this shouldn't be a big issue with most of today’s quality computer cases that provide this.

Overall we found the installation a little too fiddly, especially when compared to the other coolers featured in this article. Not only is the mounting process for the heatsink a bit awkward but the fan clips are also a pain in the proverbial, and we found mounting the 140mm fan took some persuasion. Finally, Thermalright offers a comprehensive compatibility list for the True Spirit 140 on their website, so be sure to check your motherboard off the list before purchasing.