Almost all CPUs come with a stock cooler with the exception of for instance Intel Skylake K-series CPUs, where a third-party cooling system is needed. That’s really no surprise since no overclocker would want to use the stock HSF anyways. If you haven’t got a dedicated CPU cooler on your PC, then this is certainly the first upgrade that you will want to consider, and we highly recommend it if you want to overclock your CPU for higher performance. But which CPU cooler is right for you and your budget? Do you want to achieve a lower noise, a higher overclock or just want it to look awesome if you have a window in your best PC case.
This Buyer’s Guide will aid you in the process of selecting your next CPU cooler. We have much experience in building PCs and we have tested out many CPU coolers on the market, including all the popular choices that seem to be mentioned everywhere we go. This guide is updated on a monthly basis to ensure that all the picks mentioned in this guide are up-to-date.
Disclaimer: Clicking on a product name link will bring to you to the appropriate Amazon.com (.co.uk, .de, etc) product listing, where you can check the price, customer reviews and more information about the product or similar products.
Some things to keep in mind when selecting the best CPU cooler for your needs are:
Larger coolers will in most cases perform better, but keep size in mind, as you can run into some clearance issues with your graphics card, RAM and perhaps even the side panel of your case if the cooler is very large.
Larger fans are less noisy because they run at a lower RPM to get the same cooling effect as smaller fans.
Coolers that are taller than 160mm will probably not fit in a mid-size case. Coolers with 140mm fans are usually taller than 160mm, but double-check to be sure.
Tower-style coolers are better than downdraft coolers if they are the same size or price.
Are you wondering if you should get a liquid cooler? We recommend them in the following use-cases:
You are overclocking to a very high level on a quad-core, hexa-core or even octa-core processor with a lot of extra voltage
You need extra space in your case for components and your hands
You need a very good cooling setup for a build that does not offer much space for an air cooler of the tower-style.
You move your PC very often so you need a CPU cooler that will not be dismantled in the process.
Keep in mind that liquid coolers are never quiet, even at idle work, because of the pump noise. Air coolers are quiet at idle work. Also keep in mind that a CPU cooler is a PC component that doesn’t need to be changed every few years. They don’t really change over the years and they can be re-used again and again. The only thing you have to change is the thermal paste (thermal interface material, also known as TIM or TP) and the best products in this category are the Arctic Silver 5, Arctic MX4 and Noctua NT-H1.
Best Budget Case Fan
We included this part to those of you simply looking for a cool case fan for some decent money. Well, let’s get started then. First off, we have the best budget case fan 2017, the Corsair Air Series AF120. Costing only $20, this small case fan, that can be bought in single or twin packs, is a great choice if you want a small and budget friendly case fan with LED lights. This will add flair and will make your PC very cooling as well. Found in blue, purple, red and white LED colors, it allows great customization as well. You can add one, two or even more to your rig, and since they are very quiet and provides a decent airflow, they won’t bother you.
If you want a little bit more power, although not much, then we recommend the Corsair Air Series AF140 instead. This CPU air cooler is not available in twin pack, but has a significantly larger airflow of 67,8 CFM. This air cooler can also be found with LED lights and this model has an airflow of 66,4 CFM. It produces an unnoticeable amount of more noise than the LED version of the AF120 and is a little larger as well (140mm x 25mm), so if you have the clearance available in your case, you should definitely get the AF140 instead of the AF120.
Best Budget CPU Cooler
The best budget CPU cooler 2017 is currently the DeepCool 12cm Fan CPU Cooler. It outperforms the other CPU coolers in this specific price range and fits Intel LGA 775, Intel LGA 1156, Intel LGA 1155, AMD FM2, AMD AM2, AMD AM2+ and AMD AM3. This brilliant cooler for CPU costs roughly $20 and has a blue color to it. More precisely, it features a 12cm blue PWM intelligent fan with high airflow and is very quiet as well. Furthermore, the DeepCool air cooler boasts dual heat pipes with aluminum fins for faster heat dissipation. The design is original DAC auxiliary cooling design and it has a great cooling rate as well. We’re sure that you will like this CPU air cooler.
Best CPU Cooler For The Money
If you want the best value for the money CPU cooler, then the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO is the obvious choice. This one really needs no introduction and there’s a reason that it’s the most popular CPU cooler on the market and has been it for years now.
The Hyper 212 EVO comes with a 120mm pulse-width modulation (PWM) fan with easy access to speed control and it has direct-touch heat pipes to transfer the heat even better. Standing only 159mm tall, it’s relatively compact and fits any standard ATX case and most micro ATX cases as well. The Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO is not the best CPU cooler on the market, but it sure is the best one for the money, costing only $30.
Best Overall Air CPU Cooler
If you want the best overall CPU cooler, we’ve got two picks for you and they’re both from the same company. First off, we have the smaller Noctua NH-U12S, which is just under 160mm tall and should, therefore, fit in standard ATX cases as well. The Noctua NH-U12S (and NH-U14S for that matter) are very efficient and user-friendly CPU coolers. You can literally install the CPU cooler in minutes and did I mention that they are both very quiet as well. The Noctua NH-U14S has a maximum acoustical noise of just 22,4 dB(A). That’s very quiet!
The Noctua NH-U14S is the larger model and it costs $10 more. This CPU cooler is more powerful and we believe it is the best CPU cooler on the market, although not the most powerful. Standing 165mm tall, this should be the tallest cooler you can fit in standard ATX cases. At this size, you will most likely not be able to fit it in a micro ATX case, so keep that in mind.
The ultra high-end NF-A15 140mm fan produces very little noise: only 24,6 dBA. Considering the cooling efficiency, that’s very quiet!
Best High-End Air CPU Coolers
For those of you who are willing to spend a little bit extra, there are certain CPU coolers with dual radiators and fans as well as multiple heat pipes which will nicely complement overclocking even the latest CPUs. These are big (and heavy), so make sure you got enough room in your PC case.
The Noctua NH-D15 features two PWM 140mm fans and six heat pipes which consequently ensures low temperatures even at high performance. Though its design may not be appealing to most people, it’s at least easily installable and practical.
Another powerful air cooling CPU is the BE QUIET! Dark Rock Pro 3 which offers 7 heat pipes and two PWM fans (135x22mm and 120x25mm). It’s compatible with the following sockets: Intel LGA 775, 1150, 1156, 1136, 2011 and AMD’s AM2 (+), AM3 (+), FM1, FM2, 754, 939, and 940.
Both of these CPU coolers offer the best performance with included temperature, noise, and price parameters. At the moment, the Dark Rock Pro 3 is more affordable, and since it’s faster, quieter, and has a more attractive design, it’s our top recommendation for the high-end CPU cooler.
If you need more cooling power, we suggest you take a look at liquid cooling solutions, which we will discuss now. Also don’t waste your money on a single-fan liquid CPU cooler, as they are not very efficient considering the size and price.
Best Liquid CPU Cooler For The Money
If you’re going the liquid route, then choosing a single-fan CPU cooler is not a good idea, since the Noctua air coolers above will outperform this and are much quieter, but if you really want one anyway, then the very budget-friendly Corsair Hydro Series H60 is the best pick hands down. This single-fan liquid CPU cooler is very compact and can fit most cases. If you have enough space in your rig to get a dual-fan liquid cooler, then you certainly should.
The Corsair H60 is the best budget CPU cooler, costing around $60 and is the best-selling water cooler on Amazon. It comes pre-applied with thermal paste and is compatible with LGA 1150, LGA 1155, LGA 1156, LGA 1366, LGA 2011, AM2, AM3, FM1 and FM2. It also comes with a five-year warranty.
Ultimate CPU Water Cooler System
You want to the ultimate liquid CPU water cooler route and want a sick cooling system for your super overclocked CPU? For this task, we have found the Corsair Hydro Series H100i v2 to be the best choice. This liquid CPU water cooler is the best 240mm cooler on the market right now, not to mention also one of the most budget-friendly ones as well. 240mm refers to the width of the radiator, which in this case means that it costs of two fans with 120mm width.
A liquid cooler of this caliber will outperform any air cooler you can find, but make sure that you really need it and that you have enough space for it. It’s easily installed and has a neat desktop application for LED lights and performance customization. Most modern cases have enough clearance for one 240mm liquid cooler but double-check with your specific case and if you are still unsure, ask us in the comments below.
Corsair really knows how to produce good liquid coolers. If you have space, then the Corsair Hydro Series H110i Extreme is for sure the best CPU cooler with a liquid system. The H110i Extreme has two 140mm fans running at 2100RPM and a super efficient 27mm radiator. It also comes pre-applied with thermal compound and has a fan airflow of 113 CFM.
Once again, be sure to check if your case can fit a 280mm water cooler before purchasing this model. So there you have it. We hope we helped you find the best CPU cooler for your budget and your needs.