The best liquid cooler for your PC is probably an all-in-one unit. Offering many of the benefits of liquid cooling, which can be more capable than air, an all-in-one cooler isn't a hassle to set up or upgrade like a custom loop is. Generally, liquid coolers offer a great middle ground for performance and convenience. And they generally don't leak, either, before you ask.
There's a lot to consider: the radiator size and case compatibility, the cooling capacity, value for money, noise levels, reliability, and looks are important too. But we've narrowed it down with our list of coolers below, all tested by us., and our favourite liquid cooler is the Corsair iCUE H170i Elite Capellix XT for its monstrous performance and quiet operation.
You’ll also want to choose a cooler that can handle the TDP of your processor. A 120mm cooler is a no-no with some CPUs. Do you overclock? Are low noise levels a priority, or is cooling ability your main concern? You’ll want to look at the fan specifications and noise ratings.
If AIO doesn't seem to be for you, our all-encompassing best CPU coolers list might be more up your street.
Best AIO coolers
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There's a whole lot of cooling performance on offer with the Corsair iCUE H170i Elite Capellix XT. If you can look past its absolutely ridiculous name, that is.
This cooler's excruciatingly long name does hint at its massive size, at least. This is a triple 140mm fan cooler, and as such requires plenty of room inside a chassis to mount it. You'll need a gap for a 420mm radiator to sit somewhere, and only some larger or cleverly designed cases can manage it. But in return it can run those three fans relatively slowly, and that means quieter operation, yet with excellent thermal performance.
This is actually the liquid cooler we have hooked up to our test rig right now, and we've found it to be excellent for keeping Intel and AMD's latest CPUs in check. That includes today's best CPUs, such as the Ryzen 9 7950X and Core i9 13900K, which all ran without any issue whatsoever with this cooler attached.
There are smaller sizes available with the same fans and cooler setup as this 420mm beast. The most popular of the lot is perhaps the 240mm version, which should fit most modern PC cases.
If you're looking for over-the-top cooling, however, it's this 420mm liquid cooler that we feel is best for the job.
Deepcool is well known for its capable AIOs at affordable prices, and the Gammaxx L240 V2 is one of the cheaper 240mm coolers on the market. That makes it a great option for users looking to step up from air cooling into the world of AIO cooling.
The Gammaxx 240mm features basic RGB lighting on the pump head and fans. There’s a more expensive ARGB version, should you really want it. Deepcool likes to talk about its ‘Anti-leak technology’, which seeks to maintain an optimal pressure balance inside the loop. Which certainly can’t hurt.
The Gammaxx 240 is capable of cooling most processors, too, though, like many of the chip chillers on this list, it draws the line at AMD's Threadripper beasts. But it keeps the rest running with remarkably low noise levels, which is one of the main reasons we recommend it.
At idle the L240 is effectively silent. As you’d expect, you will start to see an increase in temperatures and noise levels with high TDP processors, especially when overclocking. Our 5800X CPU with PBO enabled is about the maximum we’d consider appropriate for a 240mm cooler. Under load, the fans can and do ramp up quite a bit.
If you’re after a 240mm AIO that’s inexpensive and quiet under less demanding loads, then the Deepcool Gammaxx L240 is a great choice. Sure, its noise levels can get high if you push it hard, but at this price it comes highly recommended.
Many AIO coolers come with fancy screens or ARGB fans, but those features usually push up the cost and add exactly zero to the actual cooling capacity of the unit. Enter the MSI MAG CoreLiquid P240. It won't win the local AIO beauty pageant, but it will cool your CPU and do it at a great price.
The P240 is a newer model, which means it comes with LGA 1700 compatibility right out of the box. It will fit pretty much any socket from the last 10 years, with the exception of AMD's Threadripper models.
The P240 features a slightly unusual design. The pump isn't inside the head unit as you might expect but inside the radiator itself. MSI claims that this can extend the pump's life by moving it away from the rapid temperature changes experienced by the CPU block.
The noise levels of the P240 are very good, though when stressed by the demanding all-core load of our PBO-enabled Ryzen 5800X test system, the fan speeds and noise levels ramped up. A hot CPU like a 12900K will be beyond it, especially if you overclock it.
Sometimes, less is more. If unicorns dancing on rainbows isn't your thing or you're looking for a capable and quiet AIO cooler that you can install and forget, then the MSI CoreLiquid P240 is an easy recommendation.
Asus wouldn't be the first name on most people's lips regarding affordability. Still, the TUF Gaming LC 240 offers great value for money, and thanks to its support for addressable RGB, it's a good way to add color and capable cooling simultaneously, all without having to spend a whole lot of your hard-earned cash.
As an Asetek-built unit underneath, it is similar to many other coolers. Still, Asus has chosen to include fans tuned for low noise operation, with a maximum noise rating of 29dB(A). Even when running at full speed, it stays hushed, which means it won't deliver the low temperatures of some other 240mm units. But this won't be a concern unless you're loading up a high-core count processor for long periods.
If you're looking for an affordable AIO with ARGB support that's also quiet and affordable, then the LC 240 ARGB is well worth a look. Install it and you'll forget you’re even running a liquid cooler. One of the other key characteristics of the TUF brand is reliability, and the LC 240 ARGB comes with a six-year warranty for that little bit of extra peace of mind.
The Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML360R RGB isn't the newest cooler on the market, but it's been one of our favorites for a long time. It offers a good blend of cooling performance and ARGB customizable good looks. It just so happens to be one of the better-value RGB-supporting 360mm coolers on the market. What's not to like?
The ML360R comes with its own RGB controller, which is great if you hate installing too much software on your system. There might be a bit of cable spaghetti, but with some careful routing, this shouldn't be a problem.
Performance-wise, the ML360R is very good, though AIO manufacturing has come a long way, and it's no longer the class-leading performer it once was. That probably sounds too harsh because the ML360R is certainly no dud and will easily handle a modern high-core count processor.
The Cooler Master ML360R is a very good all-rounder. If your case can handle a 360mm rad, you'll find it offers a great blend of cooling ability, good noise levels, ARGB good looks, and, as it is now a mature market entrant, offers very good value for money. The ML360R is an oldie but a goodie, and it remains our favorite AIO.
Sometimes only the best will do, and short of a fully custom loop, it's hard to go past the NXZT Kraken Z73. It's pricey, to be sure, but it is oh-so-pretty and has the awesome performance to go with it.
The highlight of the Z73 is its head-mounted LCD. It can display monitoring info in conjunction with NZXT’s CAM software, or you can use your own custom GIFs. It adds a lot of cost to the unit, but it really does look great. Do note that the fans don’t have any lighting at all. This one is all about the pump head.
The Kraken Z73 can tame pretty much any chip you care to throw at it. Its fans can run as high as 2800 RPM, which means it can get loud, but we don’t mind having some optional headroom for times when you want outright performance—noise levels are damned. Under normal circumstances, it is hushed indeed.
The Kraken Z73 is pricey, no doubt about it, but it’s the kind of cooler you’ll want to show off. It provides excellent cooling performance, there’s a lot of headroom for OC, and once you’re done with that, you’ll spend ages playing with the LCD on the way to creating a truly unique look for your rig.
Is an AIO cooler worth it?
If you really want to go all out, you’re maybe better off with a fully custom water-cooling loop, but they are complicated, expensive, require maintenance, and have far more points of failure. AIOs are simple, they’re all but maintenance-free, they're cheaper, and they cool almost as well, at least the 360mm ones do, anyway.
Is an AIO better than an air cooler?
The first question people have is usually this: Air or water? Air cooling is generally cheaper and simpler. High end air coolers are better than ever but they're very bulky, and good quality AIOs generally outperform them. Water cooling is more efficient, as water is a better thermal conductor, which means it's better at transferring heat away from your CPU. There remains a tiny risk of leakage, but this is becoming exceedingly rare.
Noise levels are highly dependent on the fans used, but other than outliers, such as comparing a 120mm AIO to a twin tower/fan combo, a good quality AIO will be quieter than an air cooler when presented with a high heat load.
In terms of actual peak cooling performance there's not a lot in it between the best of each category, but AIOs are generally quicker at getting from peak to idle temperatures than a straight air cooler is.
Do you need to refill AIO coolers?
The reliability of AIO coolers has come a long way. AIO leaks are exceedingly rare. Like any other mechanical device, there’s always the low possibility of a pump failure, but luckily, modern CPUs have protection built in should it get too hot. The bottom line is that you can run an AIO in your system with peace of mind. Coolers can 'degrade' over time as coolant slowly evaporates or falls out of the solution. Still, these kinds of things are becoming less of a concern as manufacturers learn new tricks and methods after years of testing and feedback. A modern AIO should serve you well for many years.
Can you use an AIO on any CPU?
As we move towards late 2021, an important thing to consider is socket support. LGA1700 compatibility is only just becoming a topic of discussion. So, if you plan on building a 12th Generation system, pay close attention to the list of supported sockets. Stock from earlier in 2021 will lack support. You can expect manufacturers to offer compatible mounting kits and updated SKU's, but if you're in doubt, check with the retailer or manufacturer to ensure your cooler choice includes LGA 1700 support.