If you want to push your CPU to the point where it begs for mercy, you’re going to need a good cooler. Like most PC components, there are different options for those with different wants and needs—you wouldn’t want to force a massive tower into a micro-ATX case, for example, and you don't need a $160 watercooler if you're never going to overclock. We’ve rounded up what we believe are the best in each category by taking into account performance, price, noise levels, and design.
- Best Air Coolers
- Best Low-Noise Cooler
- Best Low-Profile Cooler
- Best All-In-One Liquid Cooler
- Best Budget All-In-One Cooler
Best Air Coolers
Noctua has a stellar reputation when it comes to CPU coolers, and with good reason. Even though it’s been around a while (earning a repeated recommendation from TechSpot), you’ll struggle to find an air cooler that performs as well as the Noctua NH-D15.
Thanks to its six aluminium heat pipes and two 140mm fans (with PWM support), not only do you get exceptional cooling from this component, offering performance comparable to many liquid coolers, but it also has the advantage of being exceptionally quiet, with a noise volume between around 34 dBA and 43 dBA depending on the load.
Noctua's easy-to-use SecuFirm 2 mounting system makes installation a breeze, but one of the best features of this cooler is that it comes with a six-year manufacturer’s warranty.
There are some caveats, though: this is one massive, heavy unit. Measuring 160 x 150 x 135mm and weighing almost 3 pounds, it takes up plenty of space—you’ll need to be careful when moving a PC with this inside. And despite its performance, some people might not be willing to spend so much on an air cooler, even though there are pricier options.
The Noctua supports most modern Intel and AMD sockets and is currently priced at ~$90 on Amazon.
With a similar size, weight and price as Noctua’s offering—if a bit noisier—is the CryoRig R1 Ultimate, which lets users add an optional third fan. And if you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of cooling performance for a lower price, check out the Scythe Mugen 5 Rev. B, which is $48.
Budget Coolers That Are Much Better Than Stock
If you're not after top cooling performance (i.e. no heavy overclocking), but still want to improve upon what your stock CPU cooler offers for as little money as possible, here are three proven choices for about $30.
But first, you should know, AMD's Wraith Spire is surprisingly good for a stock cooler (nearly matching the venerable Hyper 212 Evo), on the other hand Intel's stock coolers are meant to be replaced by enthusiasts.
With that said, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo is perhaps the most popular budget CPU cooler you will find, rocking it as far back as 2011! It's a solid choice for about $30.
Two similarly priced options are nearly as popular and arguably a little better: the Cryorig H7 offers superior cooling performance and generates less noise than the CM 212, and it's just $35. Finally, the DeepCool Gammaxx 400 is a well liked option, if perhaps more obscure and underground than the other two, usually selling for around $25.
Best Low Noise Cooler
If you’re after that perfect combination of low sound levels and top cooling performance, then you can’t beat the Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3. While there are a handful of coolers that are slightly quieter and cheaper, this is an ideal choice for those who want to heavily overclock their PCs while keeping everything as silent as possible. According to the company, noise is 26 dBA even at 100 percent PWM function.
Despite being one of the quietest air coolers on the market, the Dark Rock Pro still gives the NH-D15 a run for its money in terms of pure performance. Not surprisingly, it’s also about the same weight and price (for the most expensive model) as Noctua’s top cooler and is similarly chunky, though installation arguably isn’t as easy.
The Dark Rock Pro comes with two SilentWings PWM fans—120mm and 135mm—and supports an extra 120mm fan. Buyers also get a 3-year warranty. Plus, it looks a lot more stylish than the NH-D15’s beige and brown color scheme.
Alternatives include Noctua’s NH-U9S. In addition to excellent performance, it reduces noise through its single, more efficient NF-A9 fan and comes with a Low-Noise Adaptor that reduces the maximum fan speed for even quieter operation.
Best Low-Profile Cooler
Thanks to the popularity of HTPC and Mini-ITX systems, there are a large number of low-profile CPU coolers on the market, which made picking one no easy task. But for top performance and low noise, it’s another entry from Noctua with the NH-L12S.
This cooler—a successor to the popular NH-L12–hasn’t been out very long. It's slim, NF-A12x15 120mm fan offers better cooling performance compared to the previous version’s 92mm model. The fan can be installed on top of the fins to give extended clearance for RAM modules up to 48mm, or underneath the fins so the overall height is only 70mm. It also boasts PWM support and Low-Noise Adaptors for automatic speed control and ultra-quiet operation.
The NH-L12S fits almost every CPU socket, old and new. And while caution is advised when using it on CPUs with more than 95W TDP, it’s been shown to work with no problems when pushed beyond this point.
At around $50, it’s competitively priced against similar coolers. But like the NH-D15, the brown and beige color is likely to be the one thing that puts people off.
Other quality low-profile coolers include the Silverstone Argon AR06 and the Thermalright AXP-200R. And if you’ve got enough room for one in your case, the Be Quiet! Shadow Rock LP range offers excellent performance in relatively small packages.
Best All-In-One Liquid Cooler
It seems that most people prefer all-in-one liquid coolers these days; they tend to offer better performance over their air-based cousins and are less hassle than custom loops. As such, there are plenty of options to choose from.
NZXT’s Kraken X62 offers some of best performance you’ll get from an AIO with a 280mm radiator, but it also looks absolutely stunning. Not everybody loves RGB lighting, but being able to control the effects through the CAM+ software, and combined with the brilliant Infinity Mirror design, makes this the perfect cooler to show off through your glass side panel.
Unlike its predecessors, the X62 is also one of the quietest AIOs around; even in performance mode on a heavily overclocked CPU, it’s hard to notice any noise at all. Add to this an easy installation process and compatibility with a large number of sockets and you’ve got what is arguably the best AIO cooler available.
Although a handful of buyers have reported problems with the X62’s pump, it does come with a six-year warranty for that extra piece of mind. And while not everybody is a fan of the occasionally skittish CAM+ software, it may be the $160+ price tag (more, if buying through third-party Amazon sellers) that turns people away. But if you want the best, be prepared to pay for it.
Vying for the top spot in this category is the AlphaCool Eisbaer 240, which allows users to add other components to its loop but doesn’t have the Kraken’s looks. If you’re after something a bit cheaper, Corsair’s H100i v2 offers excellent performance and is currently on offer for just $109 on Amazon.
Best Budget All-In-One Cooler
Opting for liquid instead of air doesn’t mean you’re being forced to spend over $100. You can get all the benefits of an AIO without the hefty price tag by choosing Corsair’s Hydro Series H60, which is available for just $60 on Amazon.
Having used one of these coolers myself for many years, I can attest to its quality. The H60 kept my overclocked CPU cool with its updated static pressure fan, which is based on Corsair’s SP120, and even when at maximum speeds the noise wasn’t noticeably loud. Plus, it looks much more expensive than it actually is.
One of the best elements of the H60 is its simple installation process. This was by far the easiest cooler I have ever had to install, partly thanks to its magnetic multiplatform mounting bracket kit. And things are made all the quicker and easier (and cleaner) thanks to the pre-applied thermal compound.
This is a budget AIO, so don’t expect the kind of performance you’d find in liquid coolers that are over twice the price. But the H60 should still be enough for all but the most enthusiastic of overclockers. For a great all-rounder that does an excellent job, looks sleek, and doesn’t cost a fortune, look no further than Corsair’s reliable offering.
One More Budget AIO to Look At
A close contender for the top position in this category is the Arctic Liquid Freezer 120. For ~$10 more, this unit comes with two fans and offers solid performance and low noise-levels, though its build quality might not quite match the H60.