If you're spending money on the best gaming CPU without investing in the best CPU cooler, you're not getting the most out of your processor. Most gaming modern CPUs are unlocked, meaning that they can be overclocked and run at a much higher clock speed provided you have the proper systems in place to keep it within its temperature limits. This means investing in either a real big heatsink or AIO radiator to draw all that heat away from your processor and out of your system by an array of the best PC case fans. While the stock fans provided by the manufacturer are typically enough to prevent any damage while running at base clock speeds, you'll want to consider upgrading as soon as you start opening the throttle on that new CPU.
Thankfully, most CPU coolers are pretty similar in terms of performance. While this argument does have its share of skeptics and die-hards, the difference between air and water cooling isn't that great. This means you'll primarily want to look at form factor and aesthetics when choosing what kind of cooler you want. By design, AIO radiator coolers like the Corsair H115i RGB Platinum tend to look a little neater than the giant block of metal used by heatsinks.
However, heatsinks like the Cooler Master MA410M tend to be a little cheaper and have fewer points of failure than AIO blocks, but also tend to be a bit louder as well. Ultimately your choice is more likely to depend on how much free space you have in your case rather than how much you have to spend. In short, even with the best PC cases, there is no cardinal rule when it comes to cooler or fan placement, so always consider the amount of real estate you'll need before committing.
You may not have an unlocked, or super high-performance CPU right now, but with Black Friday right around the corner, you may find yourself investing in one sooner than you think. CPU coolers are a great way to protect that investment and get the most out of your hard-earned cash.
Best CPU coolers
1. Corsair H115i RGB Platinum
The best liquid CPU cooler
Type: Liquid cooling | Compatibility: Intel 1366, 115x, 2011, 2066; AMD AM2, AM3, AM4, sTR4 | Fan speed: 360-2200RPM | Noise volume: 28-50dBA | Dimensions: 280 x 120 x 30 mm | Weight: 1.8 lbs (830g)
Corsair was one of the first hardware manufacturers to bring all-in-one liquid coolers to market. It's only fitting that their latest cooler has dethroned our previous king. The H115i has always been a strong contender for the throne of best liquid CPU cooler, only narrowly beaten by NZXT's Kraken X62.
The updated H115i Pro was a definite improvement, but NZXT's infinity mirror CPU block design was and still remains one of the most beautiful RGB implementations we’ve seen in any product. It hasn't been until seeing Corsair’s latest contender, the H115i Platinum, that we’ve been able to let the Kraken go.
The H115i Platinum is available in black or a stunning white with a set of addressable RGB LED fans and CPU block. It’s a real head turner in any build but also has excellent software and performance to back it up.
2. Noctua NH-D15
The best air cooler in 2019
Type: Fan and heatsink | Compatibility: Intel LGA 1150 – 2066; AMD AM2 – AM4, FM1 – FM2+ | Fan speed: 300-1500RPM | Noise volume: Up to 24.6dBA | Dimensions: 165 x 150 x 161 mm | Weight: 2.91 lbs (1.32kg)
It may be one of the most expensive air coolers we've tested but Noctua's flagship NH-D15 is our top choice for high-end air coolers. Based off of the company's award-winning D14, the NH-D15 performs just as well as a handful of all-in-one liquid coolers and even beats a few of them both in performance and noise levels. The cooler features a dual tower heatsink and comes with two high airflow 140mm fans.
Even working at 100 percent speed the cooler ran quieter than just about all of its competitors. If you aren't a fan of liquid cooling or don't have the space to mount a radiator, the NH-D15 is about as good as it gets for air cooling. The only downside we could find is its bulkiness which could potentially cause problems with RAM clearance.
3. EVGA CLC 240
Liquid cooling at an affordable price
Type: Liquid cooling | Compatibility: Intel LGA2066/2011/2011-v3/1150/1151/1155/1156/1366 AMD AM2-AM4, FM1-FM2, TR4 | Fan speed: 500-2400RPM | Noise volume: 16-40dBA | Dimensions: 276 x 122 x 53 mm | Weight: 1.8 lbs (.82kg)
EVGA's latest CLC liquid coolers are our favorite mid range pick because of their excellent performance per dollar. Matching performance of the latest coolers from Corsair and NZXT, the 240mm CLC costs a fraction of the price while only sacrificing on a few features. The included fans can get very loud at full speed, but we found the cooler to run well enough without ever reaching those levels.
While you won't get the fancy addressable RGB lighting you'd find in NZXT, Thermaltake or Cooler Master's latest designs, the EVGA CLC does have the same sleeved tubing and a single RGB light on the pump head that can be controlled through the software. If you don't care for all of the bells and whistles, EVGA's CLC 240 offers exceptional performance with little compromises.
4. Cooler Master MA410M
A mid-range air cooler with RGB lighting
Type: Fan and heatsink | Compatibility: Intel LGA2066, LGA2011 v3, LGA2011, LGA1151, LGA1150, LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1366, AMD AM4, AM3+, AM3, AM2+, AM2, FM2+, FM2, FM1 | Fan speed: 650-1,800RPM | Noise volume: 6-31dBA | Dimensions: 112 x 131 x 165 mm | Weight: 2.5 lbs (1.13kg)
Cooler Master has always been our highest recommended choice for a budget aftermarket cooler. For as little as $30 or so, the famed Hyper 212 has provided well over 25% performance gains against stock cooling options. The company has also introduced some great liquid coolers over the years, but it wasn’t until the new MasterAir series came around that the company began giving even the best coolers a run for their money.
The MasterAir MA410M is an excellent option that not only cools a system well, but also lights it up beautifully. If you just want pure high performance air cooling, Noctua’s NH-D15S is almost impossible to beat. But if you can accept slightly lesser performance, the MA410M has a modern blacked out appearance with addressable RGB lighting.
5. Corsair H60 (2018)
All-in-one liquid cooling for the price of air
Type: Liquid cooling | Compatibility: Intel 115x, 2011/2066; AMD AM2-AM4 | Fan speed: 600-1700RPM | Noise volume: Up to 28.3dBA | Dimensions: 157 x 120 x 52 mm | Weight: 1.32 lbs (.6kg)
Corsair was one of the first manufacturers to bring all-in-one liquid cooling to the masses. Nearly a decade after the company first launched its Hydro series, Corsair is once again leading the charge with the updated H60 (2018) as our top choice for liquid cooling on a budget.
Priced $20 cheaper than our best high end air cooler, the 120mm H60 offers nearly identical thermal and noise performance at a fraction of the cost. The updated cooler features a white LED illuminated pump head, 120mm radiator and one of Corsair's latest 120mm PWM fans. Our tests put the performance of the new H60 far ahead of its other 120mm competitors and even in line with a few 140mm and 240mm coolers.
6. Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
Longtime king of budget air cooling
Type: Fan and heatsink | Compatibility: Intel LGA 775 – 2066; AMD AM2 – AM3+, FM1 – FM3+, AM4 | Fan speed: 600-2000RPM | Noise volume: 9-36dBA | Dimensions: 120 x 79.7 x 158.5 mm | Weight: 1.3 lbs (0.59kg)
Cooler Master's budget-friendly Hyper 212 CPU cooler has been around for well over ten years now. With experience like that it comes as no surprise that the newer Hyper 212 Evo has become a renowned pick for affordable performance. Priced around $30, the latest update to the Hyper 212 Evo features four direct contact heatpipes, an improved aluminum heatsink and a 120mm high airflow fan.
From our testing we found that the Hyper 212 Evo reduced CPU temperatures by up to 20 degrees celsius when compared to stock cooling. Another added benefit is the fact that the cooler itself isn't a whole lot larger than a stock one, meaning it tends to stay out of the way of larger RAM modules. With such a low price point, we can't find any reason why we'd stick to a stock cooler over this.
7. Noctua NH-L12S
High-performance air cooler for low-profile builds
Type: Fan and heatsink | Compatibility: Intel LGA 1150 – 2066; AMD AM2 – AM4, FM1 – FM2+ | Fan speed: 450-1850RPM | Noise volume: Up to 23.9dBA | Dimensions: 128 x 146 x 70 mm | Weight: 1.14 lbs (0.52kg)
Noctua is a brand that has become synonymous with high performance air cooling. With their iconic brown fans and premium build quality, the company's coolers often find themselves at the top of our testing charts. The NH-L12S came in as our best choice for a compact cooler that's designed for mini-ITX and small form factor builds. It's extremely low-profile, measuring as low as 70mm with the slim 120mm fan installed underneath the heatsink.
In high-profile mode, the fan is installed on top and provides more than enough clearance for most RAM modules. While we wouldn't use the NH-L12S on a performance CPU with a TDP higher than 110W, it's very quiet and provides a significant boost over stock coolers so we'd highly recommend it for all HTPC and small form factor builds.
8. Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML360R
A giant radiator for extra-quiet cooling
Type: Liquid cooling | Compatibility: Intel LGA2066, LGA2011 v3, LGA2011, LGA1151, LGA1150, LGA1156, LGA1155, LGA1366, AMD AM4, AM3+, AM3, AM2+, AM2, FM2+, FM2, FM1 | Fan speed: 650-2000RPM | Noise volume: 6-30dBA | Dimensions: 394 x 119 x 27 mm | Weight: 5.6 lbs (2.56kg)
When you’re looking for the best liquid cooling options available, efficiency and effectiveness when it comes to heat dissipation are of utmost importance. The best way to approach this is to use a radiator with the largest surface area possible. For most modern mid-sized cases and full towers, this means a 360mm radiator. Equipped with three 120mm fans, these coolers take up quite a bit of space and can be relatively costly when compared to a single 120mm liquid cooler.
Cooler Master’s 360mm MasterLiquid ML360R is our favorite choice. It features a beautiful CPU block design with a muted centerpiece logo which makes for a really clean lighting setup. Combined with three addressable RGB fans, the ML360R cools well and runs quiet while providing some sexy lighting for your whole build.
Choosing the right CPU Cooler
Like most components, choosing the right CPU cooler depends on a number of variables including performance requirements, case compatibility, budget restrictions and aesthetics. In order to find the best CPU coolers for you, we tested all coolers' performance using Prime95 and a mixture of modern PC games for extensive stress testing. Our top selections were made based on thermal performance, noise, value and overall feature sets.
If you aren't sure whether you need an air cooler or a liquid cooler, it really comes down to budget and compatibility. We'd never recommend a stock cooler to any PC gamer so those on tight budgets should definitely still consider a cheap aftermarket air cooler. If you have a little bit more spending room, liquid coolers can offer a whole lot more—from advanced RGB lighting to intelligent software control.
Some of you may be wary about putting liquid near your expensive components, but rest assured all of the coolers recommended in this guide are backed with great warranties that will cover you in the event of a manufacturer failure.