If you’re planning to overclock or CPU or just want it to operate at lower temperatures, you should consider looking at CPU coolers. CPU coolers were once considered an optional item, but now they are an essential part of any custom-built mid to high-end desktop PC.
There are different types of CPU coolers available, but we still think that air CPU coolers are the most reliable due to their safe operation, cost-effectiveness, and quiet performance.
Best CPU Coolers Reviewed
There are lots of options to choose from in air coolers for your CPU, but it’s a slippery slope as you’ll be tempted to buy more expensive liquid coolers if you delve too deep. Not all air coolers perform cooling functions as well, and some are just downright gigantic.
We’ve handpicked the 5 best air CPU coolers available in 2018. To help you understand the intricacies of air cooling and why it’s still preferred by many over AIO liquid cooling, there’s a detailed buyer’s guide after the product reviews.
The Best Air Cooler You Can Buy
The Noctua NH-D15 offers very quiet operation with its giant 140mm fans and massive heat sinks and an array of heat pipes. This CPU cooler supports all major sockets, and its performance can rival some great liquid coolers as well.
The Noctua NH-D15 is by far the best air CPU cooler you can buy. It is the perfect alternative to liquid cooling if you lack the space to mount radiators in your rig.
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo
The King of Affordable CPU Cooling
The Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo has been around for a decade, and it still continues to remain one of the most popular air coolers in the market. Updated to support all major Intel and AMD CPU sockets, this air cooler provides great aftermarket cooling at an affordable price.
You just can’t go wrong with the Cooler Master 212 Evo. It has withstood the test of time and still remains the finest budget choice among aftermarket CPU coolers.
There’s no sugarcoating it: the Noctua NH-D15 is hands down the best CPU air cooler you can buy. It is one of the quietest air coolers out there and can support just about any modern socket.
It is indeed expensive for an air CPU cooler, and it doesn’t quite have the amazing looks you’ll find in other CPU coolers (particularly ones for gaming), but it performs better in the cooling function than any other air cooler and is the quietest among its competitors.
All of this is possible thanks to its six heat pipes that run through a dual tower heat sink. Two high airflow 140mm fans run at speeds from anywhere between 300 to 1500 RPM for optimal convection. The result is cooling that can match many all-in-one liquid coolers and even beats a few of them in performance and noise levels.
Anyone looking for an alternative to liquid CPU cooling in an air cooler format won’t find a better product than the Noctua NH-D15. Just make sure you can fit this behemoth in your desktop case without troubling your RAM cards.
- Very quiet performance
- High quality components
- Fantastic cooling
- Supports almost all types of chipsets
- Gigantic and heavy
The Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo has withstood the test of time. It’s been around for more than ten years now, getting regularly updated to fit on all the major Intel and AMD sockets. For its price, it’s simply unparalleled, and will perform better than any stock cooler that comes with your system, including the very good Wraith coolers from AMD (except for maybe the Wraith Max).
Cooler Master hasn’t tinkered too much with the design, though there are some changes. This Cooler Master CPU cooler continues to feature four heat pipes and a 120mm high airflow fan. The aluminum heat sink has been greatly improved, and the result is the difference in cooling of up to 20 degrees Celsius when compared to stock coolers.
Combine that with the fact that this cooler isn’t even that large or bulky, and you can set up some tall RAM cards without worrying about it interfering them. It’ll provide good enough cooling for some decent overclocking, though you shouldn’t expect yourself to push any records with it.
- Fantastic value
- Supports all modern sockets
- Narrow and not very tall
- Loud at 100% speed
Cryorig isn’t as well known as companies like Noctua, Cooler Master, or Corsair, but they do make some great CPU coolers. Our favorite CPU air cooler from these guys is the Cryorig H7 Quad Lumi. This is an RGB air CPU cooler that can support almost all modern Intel and AMD sockets.
The cooler itself is mid-sized, sitting comfortably between the mega-giants like the Noctua NH-D15 and narrower ones like the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo. It features a 120mm fan that cools off a quad heat pipe setup. The cooling performance is decent for the price and will allow for great overclocking.
The RGB lighting on the cooler is embedded in the heat sink, which is an odd design choice. This means that the fan itself doesn’t light up. Instead, your motherboard and the Cryorig logo will be the ones with the disco show.
- Dual channel RGB lighting
- Great design that doesn’t interfere with RAM
- Good cooling
- Fan isn’t RGB
This monstrosity is a real looker. Be Quiet’s Dark Rock Pro 3 CPU cooler maintains an old school air cooler look in a stylish finish that suits all types of builds. If the Noctua NH-D15’s beige and brown colors are spoiling your PC’s internal looks, the Dark Rock Pro 3 is a great alternative.
Its performance is very similar to our top picks. It has an extremely quiet operation and utilizes a whopping seven heat pipes with aluminum caps. Packed in this monster are two black 120mm fans. It has a very high capacity, a TDP of up to 250W.
The Dark Rock Pro 3 will, however, demand a premium price. It is priced similarly to the Noctua NH-D15, and Noctua’s CPU cooler has larger fans and quieter performance. Aesthetically though, the Dark Rock Pro 3 looks much better, especially in gaming rigs. You couldn’t go wrong with either one, and that’s why it’s hard not to include the Dark Rock Pro 3.
- Quiet performance
- Fantastic cooling
- Aesthetically pleasing
- Very heavy and bulky
- Difficult to install
You might think this is a passive CPU cooler, but the fan is actually featured underneath the heat sink. This is a low profile offering from Noctua, ideal for individuals building a compact mini-ITX or other small form factor computer.
Performance wise, this is the best low profile air cooler out there. It supports all modern Intel and AMD sockets. It has a profile as low as 70mm and features a slim 120 fan sandwiched between the base and the heat sink. You can change the fan’s position and mount it on top of the heat sink if you wish for more clearance for modern RAM modules.
As with most Noctua air CPU coolers, the operation is the quietest among its competition. The cooling is also fantastic and unparalleled among low profile coolers. It’s not the most attractive looking CPU cooler out there, but its functionality is great for its purpose, and it is a major improvement over stock CPU coolers.
- Quiet performance
- Very low profile
- Provides plenty of clearance when fan is mounted on top
- Excellent performance for a low profile cooler
- Hard to replace RAM while installed
- Can’t handle TDP higher than 110W
This is probably going to be the biggest question in your mind. Should you go for an air CPU cooler or an all-in-one liquid cooler?
There’s a clear winner here when it comes to overall cooling performance: liquid cooling. However, Liquid coolers take up more space due to the pipes and radiators and are often a tad noisier than air coolers. Perhaps most importantly, they are much more expensive.
Air coolers remain a popular choice among many users because they provide quiet operation despite their enormous size. They cost less as well and are more easily available.
Additionally, there is a small risk with liquid coolers. In case of any failure, a liquid cooler will spill all its juice on your precious, expensive rig. Although reliable companies do offer full coverage warranty in case of such mishaps, no one wants to go through that experience.
One of the main reasons anyone would want to go for an after market cooler is the noise. Stock coolers are noisy, and they need to be running at higher speeds at all times to keep the CPU, which only makes things worse.
Aftermarket air coolers are specifically designed to operate more quietly, despite the larger fans and elaborate heat sinks/pipes. If noise is an issue for you, make sure you buy the quietest possible air CPU cooler.
Any aftermarket CPU cooler will be much better at cooling your CPU than the stock cooler. Modern CPUs tend to run at lower power when they reach temperatures above 90C. A good CPU cooler will keep your CPU’s temperature below 70C. A great one will keep the temperatures below 60C. Bear in mind these are temperatures when the CPU is running at 100%.
Finally, there’s the size. You don’t want to buy a CPU cooler only to embarrassingly find out it doesn’t fit in your PC case, or that your tall RAM is in constant contact with the fan housing. You should only buy a CPU air cooler once you’ve finalized all the other parts. This way, you can determine what cooler size fits your casing.
Should I invest in a CPU cooler even when I won’t overclock my CPU?
Yes, though you won’t need a very big or expensive one. Any kind of intensive task such as gaming, video editing, or simulation will put a huge load on your CPU. Stock CPU coolers are just not designed to provide adequate cooling for prolonged periods while the CPU is running at 100%. If you plan to do any sort of CPU intensive task on your computer, you should invest in a CPU cooler.
Does the number of heat pipes determine the effectiveness of a CPU cooler?
Yes and no. The effectiveness of a CPU cooler comes from how all the components work together. This includes the heat pipes, the heat sink, the base, and the fans. Determining the effectiveness of a CPU cooler just from a single component is naïve.
Is fan speed important?
Fan speed measured in RPM (revolutions per minute), and the higher fan speeds range from anywhere between 1500 to 3000 RPMs for CPU coolers. It’s easy to think that fan speed is very important. After all, a higher fan speed means more airflow, right? It’s not quite as simple as that.
The job of the fan is to continuously cool the heat sink. The heat sink and the heat pipe’s design is actually more important than the fan speed.