Last updated on January 27th, 2020
Adequate, and even overkill, cooling is more important than ever. It’s always been that if your rig is running too hot that your hardware could be damaged. And for a longtime, CPUs have been capable of throttling their performance when overheating. But recent CPU gens can actually get boosted performance when they’re kept cool.
So, if you’re looking for the best CPU cooler to avoid these potential woes– or to take advantage of your CPUs boosted performance– then check out our CPU cooler reviews below, as well as the included guide with information on what to look for.
Table of Contents
1. Noctua NH-D15
Best air cooler on the market
- Type: Air Cooling
- Compatible Sockets: Intel LGA2066, 2011-0, 2011-3, 1156, 1155, 1151, 1150/ AMD AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, FM1, FM2, FM2+, and AM4
- Max Volume: 24.6 dBA
- Height: 165mm
- TDP: 220W
- Compatible with tons of sockets
- Very impressive performance
To start us off, we’re looking at the Noctua NH-D15. Noctua is an Austrian company that takes pride in their over engineered cooling products. They became known for producing some good CPU fans, neigh, the best CPU fans on the market.
Although their two-tone beige and brown color scheme became infamous for its outdated looks, it didn’t stop these powerful, quiet fans from carving a niche in the market for Noctua. More recently, they’ve released more contemporary colors, like black and grey.
Noctua’s knowledge hasn’t only gone towards making more attractive products, however, as the NH-D15 proves that they’ve also learned a lot in the engineering department. In fact, it’s widely considered to be the most powerful air cooler on the market and is easily the best 1151 CPU cooler to cool Intel’s hottest processors.
The drawback? This thing is massive; it won’t fit into all cases. The dual tower design uses two fans and comes in at a towering 165mm in height. That said, it is designed to avoid blocking RAM slots and will offer 64mm of clearance for your memory, which is enough for most RAM modules.
2. NZXT Kraken
AIO water cooler in tons of sizes
- Type: Water Cooling
- Compatible Sockets: Varies by size
- Max Volume: 38 dBA
- Height: 53mm
- TDP: Varies by size, 400W+
- Available in sizes from 120mm to 360mm
- Easy to install
- Pretty loud under load
When it comes to cooling, nothing beats water’s specific heat capacity and its flow rate makes it much better at cooling than air.
However, until recently, water cooling your computer was only an option for custom loop builders experimenting with their own setups. Thankfully, in the last several years many manufacturers have taken to making all in one, or AIO water coolers that have a pump, hoses, radiator, and fans all set up and ready to use.
NZXT has made the best liquid CPU cooler on the market with their Kraken AIO, which is easy to install. The pump is, subjectively, the best looking on the market and is a small round shape with customizable RGB lighting and an infinity mirror effect that looks great. However, the way the hoses come out of the water block can block some RAM slots on certain motherboards, which can be a hassle.
It is worth noting that what sockets you can put it on will depend on the size you get. The smallest 120mm model will only go on some Intel sockets, but as you go up in size the compatibility improves and begins to include more AMD sockets (if you click our link to the listing you’ll see they have a nice chart there for socket compatibility).
The Kraken can be outfitted with a 120mm, 140mm, 240mm, 280mm, or 360mm radiator giving you tons of options to get the best fit for your case and the most cooling possible. The fans make this cooler surprisingly noisy under heavy load for a water cooler, but under most normal CPU loads it’s actually spinning the fans so slowly that it is completely silent.
3. be quiet! Dark Rock 4
Whisper Silent, All-Black CPU Cooler
- Type: Air Cooling
- Compatible Sockets: LGA1150, 1151, 1155, 1156, 1366, 2011-3, 2066, AM2+, AM3+, AM4, FM1, and FM2+
- Max Volume: 21.4dBA
- Height: 160mm
- TDP: 200W
- Incredibly quiet
- Cool all black design
- Notoriously hard to mount
When planning a highly color coordinated PC build, it can be hard to find a heatsink that matches the rest of your system. Luckily, be quiet! offers an awesome all black heat sink with its Dark Rock 4. This is the best heat sink for aesthetics.
The cooler uses a meticulously engineered arrangement of twelve densely arranged heat pipes to distribute heat into the heatsink fins efficiently. It also maximizes the usable area of the fins giving this nearly as much cooling power as the much larger NH-D15. This efficient design helps make this arguably the best air cooler for overclocking thanks to it’s sustained heat dissipation capacity.
Be quiet! lives up to their name with this heatsink, as it reaches a maximum noise level of only 21.9 dBA when under load. For most purposes, this means the fans are entirely silent, as most rooms have an ambient sound level that is higher than this. It’s also possible to mount a second fan to this heatsink with the included second mount for even greater cooling performance, but this will make it noisier depending on the fan you choose.
The Dark Rock coolers have always had a reputation for being incredibly difficult to install. The mounting brackets are awkward and have even been repeatedly redesigned by be quiet! to no effect. If you choose to use this in your system be prepared for a solid half hour of curse word slinging and knuckle busting.
4. Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo
Best budget CPU cooler
- Type: Air Cooling
- Compatible Sockets: LGA 2066, 2011, 1366, 1156, 1155, 1151, 1150, AM4, AM3, AM3+, AM2, FM2, FM2+, FM1
- Max Volume: 36 dBA
- Height: 150mm
- TDP: 150W
- Very affordable
- Widely Compatible
- Lesser cooling performance
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly CPU cooler that still offers solid performance, then the Hyper 212 Evo from Cooler Master is probably ideal for you. This cooler is the most affordable on our list by a significant margin but still offers enough performance to be suitable for gaming or other demanding tasks.
The way Cooler Master was able to achieve the cooling performance of the Hyper 212 while keeping the size and cost down is with their continuous direct contact heat pipe design. Most air coolers use a block of aluminum to absorb the CPU’s heat with heat pipes that run through the aluminum block to carry the heat up to the fins.
But, the Hyper 212 is designed with the heat pipes in direct contact with the surface of the processor rather than being embedded in an aluminum block, which allows for more efficient heat transfer. This design also makes it the best AM4 cooler thanks to its ability to make good contact with AMD’s wide CPU dies and transfer heat away from the numerous spread out cores.
This cooler can also be equipped with a second fan to further improve cooling performance. The included fan can get pretty loud when under load, but replacing it with a more silent fan, like one from Noctua, is always an option.
5. Noctua NH-L12S
Best small form factor cooler
- Type: Air Cooling
- Compatible Sockets: LGA1150, 1151, 1156, 2011, 2066, AM2+, AM3+, AM4, FM1, and FM2+
- Max Volume: 23.9 dBA
- Height: 70mm
- TDP: 165W
- Very small air cooler
- Quiet operation
- Less cooling than larger coolers
Any small form factor project comes with a number of challenges. Amongst them is cooling, especially if it has gaming grade hardware in it.
GPUs and CPUs can throw off tons of heat, rapidly increasing the temperature inside the small internal volume of the case. This compounds the problem and causes your GPU and CPU to run even hotter. You can quickly end up throttling your hardware, hurting performance or worse yet, damaging your hardware.
For those trying to solve the problem of cooling in a small form factor case, Noctua offers the NH-L12S. This tiny cooler features a unique design that puts the heat pipes and heat sink fin array in a horizontal orientation (rather than vertical like most). The fan is then mounted underneath this sideways looking heatsink in order to maximize space.
This design allows the NH-L12S to achieve very impressive cooling with a total height, including the fan, of only 70mm meaning it will fit in practically any case. This diminutive cooler is easily the best CPU cooler for gaming in a small form factor.
6. ASUS ROG Ryuo
Highly Customizable AIO Water Cooler with an OLED Display
- Type: Water Cooling
- Compatible Sockets: LGA1150, 1151, 1152, 1155, 1156, 1366, 2011, 2011-3, 2066, AM4, TR4
- Max Volume: 37 dBA
- Height: 45mm
- TDP: 300W
- OLED display on water block
- Excellent cooling
- Very expensive
ASUS has produced many interesting products under the Republic of Gamers, or ROG, brand. The products are often innovative and the kind of thing that nobody asked for, but now that you know it exists you feel the need to get it.
The Ryou AIO certainly matches this description and is the best-closed loop CPU cooler for those who want something unique to add a special level of customization to their PC. On the top of the water block lies a 1.77” full-color OLED display that you can customize through software to display nearly anything, along with a vibrant light ring that makes this arguably the best RGB CPU cooler on our list.
You can set it to display images or animations or have it constantly displaying temperatures for you to monitor your hardware in real time. The Ryou comes in either 120mm or 240mm sizes, both of which offer solid cooling thanks to the powerful model 12 fans ASUS includes with the cooler. This is the most expensive AIO of this size on the market, but it offers unique features that make up for the price for some people.
7. Corsair Hydro H5
Best SFF AIO Water Cooler
- Type: Water Cooling
- Compatible Sockets: LGA 1156, 1366, 1155, 1150, 1151, AM2, AM3, FM1, and FM2
- Max Volume: 42 dBA
- Height: 34mm
- TDP: Up to 180W
- Very small form factor
- Incredible cooling for the size
- Loud and whiny
- Difficult to Mount
Usually, water cooling is incredibly difficult to integrate into small cases, but luckily Corsair offers the Hydro H5, a small form factor water cooling AIO. This unique design uses a pretty normal cooling block and tubing, but it feeds into a unique slim form factor radiator that is encased in a shroud and uses a blower style fan.
This blower fan layout is similar to what most reference GPUs use and makes the radiator and fan assembly thinner as well as allowing you to exhaust the CPU’s heat directly out of the case.
For the size, this cooler also offers incredible performance; however, it is very difficult to mount and not even compatible with some motherboards. In addition, the smaller fan runs at higher speeds in order to move enough air, which makes it the loudest cooler on in our roundup, and also the most high pitched.
This high pitch whine can be pretty grating while under heavy load. Combine this with the difficult mounting, and this should only be considered a last resort if you must have an AIO for your SFF build.
How to Pick the Best CPU Cooler for Your Needs
When you’re shopping for the best cooling system– whether that be best computer fan or water cooler– there are a handful of things you should be keeping in mind. In addition to the below, you should also be thinking about the space inside your case as well as the actual layout of your motherboard, since CPU coolers can get in the way.
TDP, or Thermal Design Power
The first thing to look at when it comes to shopping for a cooler is the thermal design power, or TDP. This is the exact amount of energy that the cooler is designed to dissipate in watts. Every CPU has a minimum TDP, but going higher is always desirable.
Most CPUs now have a boost clock, or a higher frequency they can reach if kept cool enough. As such, it is usually better to have a CPU cooler that has a higher TDP than your CPU demands. Additionally, excess TDP will lead to a longer life for the CPU and can even let you add some overclocking in if you’re interested in squeezing even more performance out of your chip.
Liquid cooling will always offer a substantially higher TDP than air cooling, so if you plan to overclock, we suggest going with something like the NZXT Kraken. The larger the radiator the better. A 360mm radiator will be able to keep even the most unruly of beasts in check.
For context, the i7 6700k in the system that is being used right now has a measly 120mm radiator but manages to sustain its 4.2Ghz boost clock even during extended gaming or rendering sessions.
While the rated thermal design power is obviously important, some people care more about having the quietest computer than the fastest. This can be especially true in things like media center computers where the workload won’t be too intense but noise would be very distracting.
The be quiet! Dark Rock 4 is by far the quietest cooler on our list when under load at a mere 21.4 decibels. This is quieter than any but the most secluded rooms in rural homes. If you have the AC running or are even just breathing you will likely drown out the minute amount of sound that this cooler makes, even while under load.
It’s also important to note that water coolers have a reputation for being very quiet as well. While on paper, the ones on our list look like they might not be very quiet, the sound level we have listed is for the fans running at full bore.
One of the advantages to water cooling is that water cooling is incredibly efficient, and in most cases, your fans won’t spin up all the way even when under a significant load. A fan running at low RPM pushing air across a radiator will provide about as much cooling as a fan spinning like mad blasting air across heat sink fins.
RPM, or Rotations Per Minute
Revolutions per minute, or RPM, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. A measurement of how many times the fan blades and hub will make a full turn each minute. In general, higher RPM fans will push more air and produce more noise.
However, it is important not to over interpret this stat. In reality, fan performance is measured through static pressure, which is how hard the air is being pushed, and the total volume of air that is being pushed per minute. Getting into this is far outside the scope of this article though, but we will have an in depth fan guide up soon.
Also, the design of different coolers requires different types of fans. Water coolers have very dense fin arrays in their radiators, so fans with higher static pressure are needed to push the air through.
On the other hand, large heat sinks are easier to push air through, but need more air to pass over the less efficient fins in order to cool themselves properly. Just know that generally, higher RPMs mean higher performance, and can also mean more noise.