Especially in the overclocking scene, there's no task more daunting than to find the best CPU cooler for the job. Keeping frequencies high while simultaneously tending to the thermal needs of your processor can be painstaking when you're doing it alone. But who says you can't get a little help from the experts? At PC Gamer, we've tested every fan, heatsink and radiator we could get our hands on in order to recommend only the finest air- and liquid-based cooler on the market.
From brands you trust and recognize—like NZXT, Noctua and Corsair—to those on the up and up—like Cryorig and Thermaltake—we've sorted out a list of category-defining coolers paving the way for higher clock speeds at modest temperatures. Today, the best CPU cooler is a drastic departure from those that swept the PC hobbyist space a decade ago. Topping off our rankings is the NZXT Kraken X62, a robust liquid cooler measuring 280mm wide due to its dual-fan configuration. Considering its massive width, it's tough sell for anyone sporting a small form factor case such as the best mini-ITX case or even the some of the best mid-tower cases.
Rather, you might have to shell out for the best full tower case if you're hankering for an extra long one. Obviously, that's not the case for everyone. Some of us value our portability and apartment space. And for that reason, we've gone ahead and shepharded precisely seven honorable mentions. A handful you might recognize, such as the enthusiast fav air cooler, the Noctua NH-D15 and the aggressively priced Corsair H60 have also made the cut. No matter what size your PC or how deep your pockets, we hope you'll find what you're looking for below. Stay breezy.
The best liquid CPU cooler with excellent RGB lighting
Type: Liquid cooling | Compatibility: Intel 1150-1156,1366,2011,2011-3,2066 AMD TR4, FM1-FM2+ AM2-AM4 | Fan speed: 500-1800RPM | Noise volume: 21-38dBA | Dimensions: 315 x 143 x 56 mm | Weight: 2.84 lbs (1.29kg)
Like Corsair, NZXT is also one of the first manufacturers to bring all-in-one liquid coolers to market. The company's original Kraken X40 and X60 were the first to integrate software controlled RGB lighting to the pump head so it's only fitting that NZXT was also the first to introduce addressable RGB lighting with the Kraken X42 and X62. Available for close to two years now, the Kraken X62 has developed a very strong reputation thanks to its chart topping performance and unique aesthetics. The pump head features a nifty infinity-mirror design that really accentuates the addressable RGB lighting while sleeved tubing and sleek fans also help make this cooler stand apart from the crowd. We chose the 280mm X62 because of its balanced performance and price, but the 360mm X72, 240mm X52, 140mm X42 and 120mm M22 are also all great choices using the same beautiful design.
The best air cooler you can buy 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.
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.
A mid-range air cooler with RGB lighting
Type: Fan and heatsink | Compatibility: Intel LGA 1150 – 2066; AMD AM2 – AM4, FM1 – FM2+ | Fan speed: 330-1600RPM | Noise volume: 10-25dBA | Dimensions: 145 x 123 x 98 mm | Weight: 1.56 lbs (0.71kg)
When it comes to CPU coolers, Cryorig may not be as recognizable a name as Cooler Master or Noctua but the up and coming company sure knows how to get the job done. The original Cryorig H7 proved to be a formidable air cooler, beating several name brands in its price range. The newer H7 Quad Lumi takes performance even further with the addition of another direct contact heatpipe, improving performance by 15 percent. The company also added snazzy RGB lighting that can be controlled via NZXT's CAM software. If you're looking to spend a little bit more on a high performance air cooler that also looks fantastic, look no further than the H7 Quad Lumi.
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.
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.
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.
A giant radiator for extra-quiet cooling
Type: Liquid cooling | Compatibility: Intel LGA 2066/2011-3/2011/1366/1156/1155/1151/1150 AMD AM4/FM2/FM1/AM3+/AM3/AM2+/AM2 | Fan speed: 500-1400RPM | Noise volume: 19.8-24.7dBA | Dimensions: 393 x 120 x 52 mm | Weight: 3.55 lbs (1.6kg)
Surface area is extremely important when it comes to heat dissipation. If you have a larger case that can support a 360mm radiator, a handful of manufacturers are now offering these massive all-in-one liquid coolers. Our favorite of the bunch is Thermaltake's Floe Riing 360. While the thermal performance is about the same as some of the smaller 280mm coolers we've tested, the Floe Riing 360 was up to 30 percent quieter. With such a large radiator, you don't need to have fans working so hard to cool things down. The three included fans also feature addressable RGB lighting to match the pump head. With great software controls and expandability for even more lighting, the Floe Riing 360 is the perfect cooler for any RGB enthusiast.
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.
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