As your processor works, it can start to get incredibly hot. Once it reaches a high enough temperature, it will dial back its performance levels to cool down. A good CPU cooler ensures your processor stays cooler for longer, so it can run at its fastest speeds as much as possible. That means programs and games that can benefit from your processor ramping up to its clock speeds for maximum performance. With a robust enough cooling solution, you can even keep running at those high speeds indefinitely or push your processor beyond its factory settings. Some can even keep your processor cool without making a ton of noise.
We've picked out a range of coolers from capable air coolers to liquid coolers, giving you options that will work in many different types of PC builds.
TL;DR – These are the Best CPU Coolers:
- Noctua NH-D15
- Cooler Master Hyper 212 V2
- Corsair iCue H100i RGB Pro XT
- Corsair iCUE H60i RGB Pro XT
- Noctua NH-L9i
- Noctua NH-P1
- Cryorig H7
- be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4
- Corsair A500
- ProSiphon Elite
Best CPU Cooler
OK, so paying $100 for an air cooler may sound like a lot – you can get a budget processor for that price – but the Noctua NH-D15 does a lot to earn its keep. For one thing, you can use it on a broad range of processors new and old, so you can get extra value from it by keeping it over multiple PC upgrades. Secondly, it's incredibly powerful, so you can relax about running into thermal throttling on your processor.
What's the secret to the Noctua NH-D15's power? Well, it's not much of a secret, as it's plain to see this cooler features two massive sets of aluminum radiator fins and six heat pipes to pull heat away from your CPU. Those aluminum fins would do a little passively, but Noctua has slapped two of its 140mm fans on (and they're some of the best fans in the business). The push-pull setup of the fans keeps plenty of air flowing through the cooler for over 82 cubic feet-per-minute of airflow while keeping noise limited. And, if you don't need all that cooling power, you can run the fans with a low-noise adapter.
Cooler Master Hyper 212 V2
Best Cheap CPU Cooler
There's a good reason the Cooler Master Hyper 212 cooler has such incredible staying power: its design is simple, its performance is solid, and its price is low. That's no less true with the Cooler Master Hyper 212 V2 which has a few updates you should love all while keeping you on budget with your build thanks to the under $50 price tag. It features a new design with an asymmetrical tilt to provide better RAM clearance and revised brackets for easier installation. The new Sickleflow 120 fan should provide better airflow and air pressure, and if you detest the loud fan noise, it should be 10% quieter from the previous model.
The Cooler Master 212 Hyper V2 is ready to kit out both your AMD and Intel builds alike, though make note that an additional bracket will be required for the LGA1700 socket used by Intel's latest CPUs. It features four heat pipes to draw heat away from your processor and send it out to a stack of aluminum fins. There are also x-shaped vents so hot air will head directly to the heat pipes. It really is an incredible value that should get you plenty of mileage and keep your temperatures in line.
Corsair iCue H100i RGB Pro XT
Best Liquid CPU Cooler
If you’re sold on liquid cooling your processor, then your best option is the Corsair iCue H100i RGB Pro XT. This AIO liquid CPU cooler won’t just keep your CPU cool but will also make your PC cool. That’s thanks to the RGB lighting built into the pump, which provides 16 RGB LEDs that can be customized and synced with the rest of the system through Corsair’s iCue utility.
Let’s not forget a CPU coolers primary job, though: cooling. The iCue H100i RGB Pro XT gets high marks there as well. This is a 240mm radiator after all, so it has some solid cooling potential for even high-end components. You’ll get a copper cold plate on the pump housing to pull heat away from your CPU, and that’ll run into the aluminum radiator. From there, a pair of powerful Corsair ML120 fans will keep a steady stream of air blowing past the radiator fins to send the heat out of your system. All that and the whole setup only costs $120.
Corsair iCUE H60i RGB Pro XT
Best Compact Liquid CPU Cooler
The Corsair iCUE H60i RGB Pro XT is a compact but powerful AIO liquid cooler that manages a small footprint, making it perfect for when you’re tight on space around the CPU. You get a copper cold plate on the pump to pull heat away while it delivers liquid to the 120mm radiator fitted with a 120mm fan, ensuring your PC’s internals are nice and frosty. It does all of this quietly, with the cooler reaching only 37 dBA running at max settings.
Being an all-in-one option, you don’t have to mess around with priming and filling or spend a ton of money, as the Corsair iCUE H60i RGB Pro XT will set you back less than $100. You even get 16 individually addressable RGB LEDs on the pump head for lighting effects that can match the rest of your PC build by using Corsair iCUE. You can also use that software to make adjustments to the entire cooling system by creating different profiles as well as checking temperatures.
Best Low-Profile Cooler
While many tower cases have more than enough space for beefy coolers, many mATX and ITX cases have constraints to how much you can pack in. In those cases, you'll need to think carefully about what kind of CPU cooler you can fit. Noctua's NH-L9i cooler is an extra low-profile option that can let you build out that sleek, small form-factor PC of your dreams.
The Noctua NH-L9i may not be offering as serious of cooling as other contenders on this list, but that's more or less a given for a compact PC. That said, it is still offering a sizable radiator and packs on a quality Noctua fan. The combination is enough to cool a wide variety of Intel chips, excluding many of Intel's unlocked models and Extreme Editions. With a separate mounting adapter, it can even support AMD chips on an AM4 socket. And, where compactness is only one piece of the puzzle, an included adapter will let you run the fan in a low-noise mode that drops the fan speed to 1,800RPM to lower the max fan noise down to just 14.8dBA.
Best Passive CPU Cooler
What kind of cooler doesn’t make any noise? The kind that doesn’t use any fans, doesn’t have a water pump, and has no moving parts to speak of. That’s what you get with the Noctua NH-P1. This doesn’t look like your normal cooler, as the heat sink and fins are designed very differently in order to let heat better escape the fin stack without the aid of a fan.
The Noctua NH-P1 can fit onto a ton of systems including those using the latest LGA1200 socket from Intel and the AM4 socket from AMD. But, passive cooling isn’t as aggressive as active cooling, so you’ll have to mind your component pairings. Impressively, Noctua boasts cooling performance that can keep up with a decent variety of strong-performing chips, including most AMD Ryzen 5 models (except overclocked X variants) and all 10th- and 11th-Gen Intel Core i5 models (except unlocked K variants). However, if you don’t need dead silence, you can slap on one of Noctua’s quietest fans and dramatically increase the cooling capabilities of the NH-P1.
Best Hyper 212 Alternative
Why would I even bother suggesting a cooler that costs $10 more than the 212 EVO when I already said the 212 EVO is all you need? The main reason is the H7 offers a bit more clearance which makes swapping RAM sticks easier, and it just takes up less room, so your build looks better. Plus, its smaller size doesn’t really come with any drawbacks; the H7 is slightly quieter and runs as cool (if not cooler) than the 212 EVO.
The H7 fits both AMD and Intel sockets, although again, you will likely need a bracket for AM4. There is a lot of debate as to whether the H7 is an “EVO killer,” and honestly a lot of people are just tired of the 212 EVO as it's been around forever. So, if you’re willing to spend $10 more, and are tight on space, the H7 is the way to go.
be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4
Best Silent Cooler
The be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 is true to its name, and is one of the quietest CPU coolers money can buy. It can whisk away up to 250w of heat, which is an excessive amount (a core i9-9900K has a TDP of just 95W). It can do this thanks to its massive 6mm copper heat pipes.
More importantly, it's designed to operate in near silence. Even with two or three fans strapped on and spinning as fast as possible, it'll only achieve a maximum 24.3dBA. It'll set you back a pretty penny at $90, making it one of the more expensive air coolers on the market, but if you demand silence, this is the cooler for you.
Best Flexible CPU Cooler
- See it on Corsair (out of stock)
If you want a cooler that's easy to install, can work around the rest of your kit, and will look great in your case, then the Corsair A500 is our pick. It puts two 120mm fans onto a hefty aluminum heatsink with four heatpipes to handle cooling on CPUs with up to 250W TDP. It manages that by blowing a considerable 75 cubic feet of air across the heatsink every minute.
A solid perk of this heatsink is that it can flex to fit your rig if you're using extra tall memory modules. The fans use a sliding and locking mechanism, so it's easy to move them to exactly the right position. The cooler also supports a wide range of Intel and AMD sockets.
Best CPU-Mounted AIO Liquid-Cooler
So, you want the cooling of a liquid cooler but don't want to deal with finding somewhere on your case to attach a radiator or running hoses that could potentially leak on your expensive PC components? Well, the ProSiphon Elite from IceGiant Cooling solves that with an all-in-one cooler that attaches a large 240mm radiator directly to its base for liquid cooling that all happens right above your CPU. You'll want to make sure you've got room for your RAM with this cooler, though, as it takes up a lot of space over the motherboard with 48mm of clearance for your memory modules.
This isn't your typical liquid cooler with a beefy pump. Instead, this design is gravity-driven, using an evaporator to transfer heat away from the CPU into the radiator and using condensers and gravity to send the cooled fluid back toward the CPU. The kit includes all the mounting hardware you need for a variety of Intel and AMD platforms, including Threadripper. And, it comes with four 120mm fans to set up in a push-pull configuration. It's recommended you also install exhaust fans on top of your case, as the common front-to-back case airflow won't be as effective with this cooler.
Kevin Lee is IGN's SEO Updates Editor. Follow him on Twitter @baggingspam.
Danielle Abraham is a freelance writer and unpaid music historian.