Whether you’re aiming for impressive CPU overclocks or just looking to build a PC that's silent under load, you should choose your CPU cooler carefully. Picking the best CPU cooler for your processor is a key decision during any new PC build or CPU upgrade. The best CPU cooler for your build will make a major difference in your system's temperatures and fan noise. In certain setups, it can even deliver better performance by keeping boost clocks higher for longer.
If your CPU cooler can’t keep up with the heat your processor generates, you'll get less performance and, possibly, a shorter lifespan for your processor--and no one wants that.
Don't forget to consider thermal paste or another thermal interface material (TIM). Most coolers these days ship with some kind of paste, either in a small syringe or packet or pre-applied to the metal cold plate. But to get the most efficient thermal transfer between your CPU and cooler plate, check out the dozens of products we've thoroughly tested to find the best thermal paste for your CPU.
Best CPU Coolers For You
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If you’re not sure if you want to go the air cooling route (a big metal heatsink with fans) or opt for a liquid-cooled AIO (a pump attached to a radiator and fans), there are a few things to consider. Large air coolers tend to take up more internal space in your PC case, or at the very least they need more vertical clearance off your best motherboard, which can limit your case options. Air coolers can also be louder and less efficient than liquid coolers at moving heat away from your CPU and out of the chassis. These days, though, that’s not cut and dry. If you can go the extreme route, there are fanless air cooling options like Noctua's Colossal NH-P1 as well for the ultimate truly silent cooling option, although you'll still need case fans to move the warmed air out of your case.
Air coolers usually cost less than AIOs, with surprisingly solid options like the Amazon Basics CPU cooler costing less than $30. But AIO coolers are also getting increasingly affordable (and also more expensive), while high-end air coolers reach toward and sometimes above the $100 range. On the extreme air side of the cooling line, the Ice Giant Prosiphon Elite has an MSRP of $170, which competes with many large AIO coolers. There are, though, also decently performing air coolers that cost less than $30.
If money isn't as imperative as silent operation and low temperatures, you may want to consider a custom cooling loop. For more on how these tend to perform (and how good they look), check out our Blue Shift build feature. Just know that custom loops are always much more expensive than all other common cooling alternatives, and they can make future component upgrades much more complicated.
Our tested picks for air and liquid cooling options are below. But first, we'll discuss some quick shopping tips to help you choose the best CPU cooler for you.
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, but it depends on the model. Most Ryzen 2000 and 3000-series processors and some older Ryzen models ship with coolers, and many of them can handle moderate overclocks. But Ryzen 5000 CPUs don't ship with coolers in the Ryzen 7/9 range. AMD's first Ryzen 7000 don't ship with coolers, although previous-gen AMD coolers will work. If you want the best CPU clock speed possible, you’ll usually want to buy an aftermarket cooler anyway. But for many Ryzen owners who don't plan to push their silicon to the limit, the best CPU cooler might just be the free one in the box or one you already have from a previous build.
- 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 heatsinks 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 equals better cooling, but more noise. The coolers that do the best job of moving warm air away from your CPU and out of your case are also often the loudest. If fan noise is an issue for you, you’ll want a cooler that does a good job of balancing noise and cooling. If you can set your cooler's fan speeds based on temperatures in your motherboard's BIOS, that should also help.
The Best Air Coolers You Can Buy Today
Thermalright's Peerless Assassin 120 SE lives up to its name, delivering the best performance from an air cooler that we've tested on Intel's Alder Lake at a price that undercuts the competition. In our tests, it performed so well when cooling our Core i9-12900K that we re-tested it multiple times to be sure the results were correct. The Peerless Assassin 120 SE cooled the CPU when it was drawing over 200 watts better than our tested competition, and at lower thermal/TDP settings, it performed much better than the competition.
The cooler's two 120mm fans did their job of dissipating all that heat at low noise levels, making at just 34.5dB at max speed, and 33dB at 50% speed. It's also available in in silver/gray, white or black, so it should fit in with most build themes if you care about matching aesthetics. Whether you care about value or not, you should consider this cooler for your next system build, so long as your case has room for it.
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.
Much like the DeepCool's AS500, DeepCool's new AK500 is an excellent alternative for those who don't quite have the room or the budget for a true big air cooler. It punches above its cooling class, delivering excellent temps for its $59.99 MSRP. But at the moment it's still tough to find from major sellers in the U.S.
DeepCool’s AK500 performs great in our testing when paired with Alder Lake's Core i9-12900K at loads over 200W – and it keeps the CPU cool while running nice and quiet. Priced as low as $55 when we wrote this, the AK500 delivers an impressive combination of silence, performance, and value that's tough to beat.
Read: DeepCool AK500 review
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
Best Threadripper Cooler Alternative: Arctic Freezer 50TR
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 Zalman CNPS10x Performa Black is a mid-size, quad-heatpipe cooler that features jet-black style and a single, ultra-silent 135mm fan that rips through CPU thermal loads for your multi-core desktop enthusiast processor.
Its $45 price and cooling potential that nips at the heels of the pack leaders puts the Zalman CNPS10x Performa Black in a strong position to be a system builder favorite when extra dollars need to be spent on other components. Zalman has given the system building community an excellent, no-frills cooling option that looks great and lets you focus your money where it needs to go.
Other CPU Coolers We Tested
We've tested dozens of CPU chillers, from big air blowers to low-profile limboing chillers for SFF systems, and AIO and open-loop setups big and small. While many deliver in terms of cooling performance, silence, or attractive RGB-lit looks, making them stand out in specific ways or for a specific type of user, not all of the CPU coolers we test can make the best list.
Below are some of the recent air coolers and AIOs we’ve tested that didn’t quite make the cut. One of these may still be a worthwhile option for you. Just know that the better options for most people are in the list of Best Air Coolers above, or the Best AIO Coolers page.
Cooler Master PL360 Flux (9/11/2022)
Cooler Master's PL360 Flux is very quiet and did a good job of chilling our Alder Lake Core i9 CPU at up to 200W in our testing. It also includes ARGB lights and software for adjusting your hue and fan speeds. It also has a fairly thin radiator which may help you fit it in more cases. But its primary downside is a fairly high price in the crowded and competitive 360mm AIO cooler market.
Read: Cooler Master's PL360 Flux review
Corsair H100i Elite (9/9/2022)
The Corsair H1000i Elite is one of the quietest coolers we've tested, and includes the company's iCue suite for RGB and fan adjustments, as well as system monitoring. And in testing it was capable of cooling our Alder Lake Core i9 CPU at up to 200W. But at around $140, it faces stiff competition from the likes of DeepCool's LS520, which costs about $20 less while delivering better cooling performance.
Cougar Forza 85 (8/28/2022)
Cougar's Forza 85 is a very good and fairly quiet tower air cooler that was able to cool our Alder Lake Core i9 CPU at up to 200W. It also comes with a fan splitter and clips to let you add a second fan for even better performance. At around $70, it would be a strong contender for our Best Coolers list, if DeepCool's AK500 didn't perform better for around $10 less.
Read: Cougar Forza 85 review
Saving on the Best CPU Coolers
Whether you're shopping for one of the products that made our best CPU coolers list or one that didn't, you may find some savings by checking out our list of Newegg promo codes or Corsair coupon codes.
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