Best CPU Cooler – Buyers Guide 2017

The best CPU cooler is one of the most important parts in every gamer’s computer. It helps keep low CPU temperatures while providing stability, reliability and efficiency. Sadly, it is usually one of the most neglected parts in most PC builds. Most argue that the price is too high and they would rather buy another part.

So if you’re looking to overclock, build a silent gaming PC or just want to put some finishing touches on that sweet rig then stick around because this buyer’s guide might be exactly what you’re looking for. From Large, Medium, Small and AIO CPU coolers, we hope you find the one.

*Disclaimer: AM4 CPU support is currently only available through the manufacturer’s mod kit and will be until further notice.

 CPU coolerSizeAMD SocketsIntel SocketsBuy Now
Best Large CPU CoolersNoctua NH-D15L160 x W150 x H135 mmFM1/ FM2(+) / AM3(+)/ AM4*LGA 2011(-3) / 115Xbest CPU cooler
PHANTEKS PH-TC14PEL159 x W140 x H171 mm (with Dual Fans)FM1/ FM2(+) / AM3(+)/ AM4*LGA 2011/ 115X/ 1136/ 775best CPU cooler
Cryorig R1 UltimateL128 x W140 x H168 mmFM1/ FM2(+) / AM3(+)/ AM4*LGA 2011/ 115X/ 1136/ 775best CPU cooler
Best Medium Sized CPU CoolersCRYORIG H7L98 x W123 x H145 mmFM1/ FM2(+) / AM3(+)/ AM4*LGA 115Xbest CPU cooler
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVOL120 x W80 x H159 mmFM1/ FM2 / AM3+/ AM4*LGA 1155/ 1151/ 1150/ 1366 best CPU cooler
Best Low Profile CPU CoolersNoctua NH-L9iL92 x W114 x H37 mmFM1/ FM2(+) /AM2(+) /AM3(+)/ AM4*LGA 2011(-3)/ 115Xbest CPU cooler
be quiet! Shadow Rock LPL134 x W122 x H50 mmFM1/ FM2(+) / AM3(+)/ AM4*LGA 2011/ 115X/ 1136/ 775best CPU cooler
Best AIO Liquid CPU CoolerCorsair H110iR: L140 x W322 x H27
F: L140 x W140 x 25mm
FM1/ FM2(+) /AM2(+) /AM3(+)/ AM4*LGA 2011(-3)/ 115X [check]best CPU cooler
Best Replacement CPU fanNoctua NF-F12 PWML120 x W120 x 25mmbest CPU cooler
Noctua NF-A14 PWML140 x W140 x 25mmbest CPU cooler

Before choosing

Sizes of CPU coolers

Many different coolers come in different sizes, some are limited by socket types, and others are limited by how much space they need. So please take these factors into considering find the best cpu cooler for you.

  1. They take up a large amount of space, with a good example being the PHANTEKS PH-TC14PE with a size of 159 x 140 x 171 mm (with Dual Fans)
  2. With these parameters, you need to be careful when you make your purchase as most mid tower cases don’t have any room for it.
  3. To add to this, when using the two fans it can cause clearance problems with RAM higher than 40mm.

Water cooling cooler should only be bought if:

  1. You’re running a mini atx build and don’t like the look of low profile CPU coolers.
  2. You’re adjusting voltages to high levels on your CPU to squeeze every last drop of performance out of it.
  3. You need the extra space they free up.

Otherwise, buy an AIR CPU cooler because this alternative provides competitive performance and temperatures when mildly overclocking or not.

Replacement CPU cooler fans

Many aftermarket CPU heatsink manufacturers always seem to neglect the fan and its importance. While most manufacturers produce high performing CPU coolers and do get good temperatures, they do this by using extremely fast spinning and loud fans. While spinning faster can bring more air in, it doesn’t necessarily provide enough pressure. The thing is you don’t really want just fast spinning fans. Instead, you want a fan that can push air with more force. Those fans are usually called SP (static pressure) and are specifically built to move air with more force through your cooler.

The only downside to having a SP fan is they generally move less air but with more force. They can also be quite useful for your computer case if you happen to have fans obstructed by lots of wires or a drive bay though. Otherwise, use normal fans.

Keep this all in mind because if you’re considering replacing that annoying old CPU cooler because it’s loud, then you might just need a new fan and you can save that extra money for something else. So I suggest to check your CPU cooler’s fan specs and compare to see what you might need. Heck, you might even be able to stick two fans on your heat sink and you might not even know.

Best Large CPU Cooler

Over these past few years, we have been introduced to a variety of large CPU coolers, but only one is the best cpu cooler. Among the plethora of them, only a few seem to shine above and those are most notably Noctua’s NH-D15, PHANTEKS PH-TC14PE and Cryorig’s R1 Ultimate. These three CPU coolers are some of the best performers and have an outstanding Price/Performance ratio currently on the market. They’re able to compete head to head vs a large AIO and even destroying small 120mm single fan AIO’s in temperature benchmarks.

All three cpu coolers come with their own PMW fans which can handle a good sum of static pressure and are even quiet. Which reminds me, the loudest CPU cooler between the three has to be Noctua’s NH-D15 at 24.60 dBA without its fan adapter. When you equip the adapter its at 19.20 dBA and that leaves the Cryorig at the loudest at 23 dBA when at 1300 RPM (100%). This isn’t bad honestly and because of their stellar performance, you don’t even need to run them at max RPM while you’re browsing the web or watching some streams.

Now as for what makes them different, well it’s not much. Besides the difference in sound, they all perform withing a 1-3 degree difference range and that really varies on your set up. So that really just leaves ascetics and sizes. While the Noctua is a favorite of many enthusiasts and gamers, it’s not particularly pretty. The NH-D15 only comes in one color and that’s just brown. As for the Cryorig R1 Ultimate, it comes in a stylish black with black aluminum heat spreaders. Lastly, the Phanteks PH-TC14PE comes in a variety of colors like black+white, white+white, blue+white and red+white so there’s at least more variety. Only one can be the best cpu cooler. 

Best Medium CPU Cooler

Our two favorite medium sized coolers have to be the Hyper 212 Evo and Cryorig H7. Both CPU coolers are quite the little beasts. They easily outperform the stock cooler that you have on your new I5 or Ryzen but they do have some differences. Of course at first glance, it’s the appearance and design. On one hand, you have the stylish looking Cryorig H7 with its sleek white/black fan and its very robust heat sink. Meanwhile, on the other, you have a much finer build that is accompanied with its somewhat transparent black fan.

After appearances, there is performance and price difference. First of all, while both CPU coolers perform at optimum temperatures they still differ in terms of sound. For example, the Hyper 212 Evo is an older model and has been suffering because of it. Performance wise, it destroys stock CPU coolers but falls behind in sound at 36 dBA while the H7 is at 25 dBA. Cooler master really hasn’t addressed this and seeing how many years have passed they might not. Still, you can replace the fan with a much better fan but at that point, it’s better to buy the H7.

So why did we include the Hyper 212 if the H7 performs the same and sounds quieter? Well, we keep an eye on prices throughout the year and the H7 never seems to drop below its $30 price tag. As opposed to the Hyper 212, it has dropped several times below $30 and at one point was even as low as $20. Thus, despite the loud fan, you should consider the Hyper 212 because it performs wells and can often be the cheapest replacement for your stock cooler.

Best Low Profile CPU Cooler

The last of our highly suggested and great performing AIR CPU coolers we have tested are these two little CPU coolers the Noctua NH-L9i and be quiet! Shadow Rock LP. Both of these fans easily outperform any stock cooler while being relatively small. They can easily fit into any mini-atx build and take up very little space. For example, the Noctua NH-L9i has a maximum size of 37mm in height with a 92mm fan. Meanwhile, the Shadow Rock LP comes with a 120mm fan and a maximum height of 50mm. Both also have enough room for clearance for RAM and shouldn’t be a concern and above all, they are cheap.

Both the Noctua NH-L9i and the Shadow Rock LP do their jobs with very little noise. First up we have Noctua’s NH-L9i that comes in with its 23.6 dBA at 2,500 RPM without its low noise adapter and 14.8 dBA at 1,600 RPM with it. Meanwhile, the Shadow Rock LP brings its fan to a speed of 1,600 RPM spin and noise levels at 20 dBA.

While Noctua’s CPU cooler looks good on paper, it falls short in performance if you’re considering noise level. That’s because it has to spin at 1,600 RPM to be quieter than the Shadow Rock LP. Also, let us not forget the 92mm fan it has. Because of this, it will have higher temps when you lower its fan speed so I highly suggest picking the Noctua NH-L9i only if you want a super quiet heat sink. Otherwise, if you want a solid cpu cooler with a decent noise level then pick up the Shadow Rock LP.

There’s a reason both coolers are rivals as for the best CPU cooler, but fall short when compared to the AIO liquid.

Best CPU Cooler AIO liquid

Best CPU cooler

The current best CPU cooler that is AIO liquid is Corsair’s H110i. This radiator can fit two 140mm fans and because of that, this CPU cooler outperforms many competitors. It’s able to easily keep temperatures stable even when overclocking to higher voltages. On top of that, it only has a $120 price tag.

Now, the big issue with this AIO Liquid CPU cooler is the size. Being a dual 140mm radiator means it won’t fit in everyone’s case. Especially for those who have slim cases, as there won’t be any space for it. However, if you’re looking for a smaller size, there are two alternatives that still perform great but just not at the H110i’s level. They are the H100i and the H60. The H100i is the dual 120mm radiator so it takes up a little bit less room. Then next we have the H60, the smallest one out of both as this little boy has a single 120mm fan and radiator, but still good on its own. As such, you don’t need a whole lot of space and only costs around 60.

There are others who argue that only AIO (all in one) water cooling systems are worth it. However, that’s not the case, as everyone can easily benefit from an aftermarket CPU cooler at a low price. Especially considering that you can reap the benefits for just a measly $30.

Finally, another concern might arise with each AIO CPU cooler and that is noise. All three different variations of the Corsair Liquid cooling units have a noise level of 35 dBA and that’s partly because of the radiator making noise. So while it might keep your temperatures low, it will also make your computer a little bit louder. You could replace the fans with better SP fans which will reduce some noise, thus making it the best cpu cooler.

Best Replacement CPU fans

 

If you’re looking for some replacement CPU cooler fans then check out both the Noctua NF-F12 and NF-A14. The NF-F14 is their 120mm fan that brings 54 cfm at a low 23 dBA and static pressure at 2,61 without the low noise adapter. Now with the adapters, speed drops to 43 cfm and noise will drop to a very low 18 dBA with static pressure at 1,83 mm. Thus making them an ideal pick for you if you want to replace that annoying or loud CPU 120mm fan.

As for the NF-A14’s, well they’re the 140mm edition and this fan brings a whopping 84 cfm with a higher but still low for its performance 24 dBA along with 2.08 mm static pressure without its low noise adapter. Now if you use the adapter then speed drops to a 67 cfm but noise drops to 18.5 dBA along with its static pressure at 1.51mm. Having a really high static pressure and low noise makes these a must buy if you’re looking for that 140mm radiator fan replacement. The Noctua NF may not be the best cpu cooler, but you will definitely see impressive results. 

My only gripes with Noctua is their refusal to make different colors besides using a variation of light/brown. Honestly, I think more people would buy them because having only brown really limits the user when it comes to matching, and boy do I love matching my gaming rig. Alternatively, you could buy the Industrial Versions which are a black plus a bit of brown, but the specs are much different. The Industrial versions run at 2,000 RPM with noise levels at 31 dBA making them much louder, but they also bring in 100+ cfm which is great.

Something to also take into consideration is that all Noctua fans come with a 5-year warranty.

Conclusion – Best CPU Cooler

I hope you all found the right information to find the best cpu cooler and I wish you luck in picking up that next CPU cooler because it really is one of the most important parts you could ever settle with. They’ll work hard for you, and are one of the few pieces that can still stay after upgrading.

If you’re wondering what heat sink I use, well its the PHANTEKS PH-TC14PE black/white edition for my old i5 3570k. Its done a wonder full job and I don’t even need to run the fans above 65% because my temps stay below 50c on load or even when I am playing ARMA 3 or Black Desert. Not sure why that occurs but I consider it very impressive since the 3570k, or any Ivy Bridge Intel CPU for that matter, run hotter than the surface of the sun.

Featured image by Michael Saechang

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